Does the International Building Code (IBC), or International Residential Code (IRC) require a timer on bathroom vent fans? (I realize all code is local, but just trying to get the standard rule.)

  • Uniform Building Code is deprecated. Use International Building Code (IBC), or International Residential Code (IRC) instead. – Tester101 Feb 3 '15 at 16:04
  • @Tester101 Thanks. Edited to reflect and added a new tag – bib Feb 3 '15 at 16:42

IRC - 2006

  • Requires bath fans only if no operable window.
  • Bathroom ventilation can operate intermittently at a minimum of 50 cfm or continuously at a minimum of 20 cfm, the same as 62
  • Bath fans must meet the design airflow either through on airflow either through on site testing or using their certified rated flow at 0.25” water column.
  • Bath fans must be rated at 3.0 sones or less or be replaced by a pickup grille for a remote fan.

Also I don't think the IRC has had any major updates in this area since this 2006 publication. So no mention at all in the IRC of timers.


On the west coast especially right now it is all about energy efficiency. They want everything on timers and dimmers. We did two houses in Oregon last spring and the inspector mentioned the timers we had on our fans. (I have put timers on bathroom fans for at least 10 years as my "cheap" install) So he tells us it is code but that he has been passing some without, given they promise to upgrade to this. He shot me a link and I will throw in a quote that should answer your question:


The code now requires that intermitte nt fans be controlled by a dehumidistat, timer or similar means of automatic control. This requirement can be found in Section M1507.4. A light switch controlling both the fan and light is not considered an automatic mean s of control, and is no longer allowed in rooms containing a bathing fixture. It is speculated that the use of a 30 minute or 60 minute spring-wound wall switch timer will be the predominate means of controllin g the typical bath fan system under the 2008 code. Some folks are confused by the language “.....o r similar means of automatic control.” The intent was not to have the fan come-on automatically, but to shut-off automatically. When using a dehumidistat, the humidly percentage is set by the user, and when the humidly level reaches that set point the fan will turn on automatically and run until humidity levels dr op below the set point. The same applies to a spring- wound timer, the intent is to have the user manually set the timer to shut-off sev eral minutes after they have left the room. This new code language is not expected to cu re all moisture related problems associated with a bathing facilities because it still requires participation from the occupants of the home, but it’s a good start. Although a minimum and/or maximum duration for the timers was not specified in the code, it is recommended that a minimum 30 minute or maximum 60 minute timer be used. The use of longer duration timers is not recommended since there is no need for the fan to run for hours after the user leaves the area. The 30 min./60 max. numbers were discussed during the code review process and this was the recommendation of the code change committee.

What’s an example of “.....or similar means of au tomatic control”? One example might be a motion detector/sensor which turns on when it senses moveme nt in the room and stays on for a period of time after movement has stopped. This method is frequently used successfully to activ ate lights in commercial bathrooms, and there’s no reason it couldn’t be used for residential bath fans too. The intent of this language was not to limit the activation of the fan to a timer or a dehumidistat, but to allow for some design flexibility and allow the use of new technologies.

I think if I remember you are in NY. I do most of my work in IL/MO. I doubt the energy conservation codes have passed through in our areas yet. But... they are coming and it is a good thing. If you want exacts this will probably be a state by state resolution and then you have to have someone locally enforcing it. So to answer your question is it code? Yes and no. Should it be standard now for anyone doing an install? Yes.

  • I am in NY and I will include either a timer or humidity control, but just wanted to know the rules. I will also ask the inspector during the rough-in inspection. – bib Feb 3 '15 at 15:41
  • I would be curious to see the exacts in NY. NY is pretty progressive but not as much as CAL/ORE/WAS. Most of these types of regulations seem to spread start in CAL/NY and then spread to midwest. We don't even think about it now. We have energy audits for almost all houses we are selling. The auditors have a higher score variance based on lighting/dimmers/timers than insulation or hvac. That is how much of a difference it is. – DMoore Feb 3 '15 at 15:45
  • 2
    I think this is where the quote is from, which seems to be pointing to Oregon Residential Specialty Code (ORSC), which seem to be local amendments to the IRC. The version I could find (ORSC 2011) was based on IRC 2009, and added an article for sound ratings as well as the section you're referring to. – Tester101 Feb 3 '15 at 16:25
  • For reference, here is the actual text From 2011 Oregon Residential Specialty Code. "M1507.4 Rooms with bathing or spa facilities. All rooms containing bathing or spa facilities shall be provided with a mechanical ventilation system controlled by a de-humidistat, timer, or similar means of automatic control. – Tester101 Feb 3 '15 at 16:25
  • @Tester101 PDF the inspector sent me from some Oregon building code requirements. Thank you for link! – DMoore Feb 3 '15 at 16:26

I can't quote chapter and verse, but in 10+ years, I've never had a building inspector ask for one. To me, that tells me it's not in the code. Personally, I like timers a lot.

To be sure about your jurisdiction, call your local building department.

  • I have mine on Motion switches. They go on when you enter, then timeout 10 minutes after no motion. – scooter133 Feb 3 '15 at 19:35

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