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MIKE HOLMES: Duct boosters won't fix home's poor airflow

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I was driving the other day when I heard an ad on the radio about duct booster fans. I couldn’t help but laugh. On a recent job we did, the homeowner was having trouble with their HVAC so they called us in. They’d had an HVAC technician look at it. What was the technician’s solution?

A duct booster fan. Did it work? No.

A duct booster fan — most people just call them booster fans — is a device you can attach to your HVAC system’s ductwork. It’s supposed to increase airflow to rooms in your home that are far away from heating and cooling systems.

That’s why most technicians or homeowners install them on long stretches of duct. If you have a room in your house that’s always cold in winter and hot in summer, the idea is a booster fan can push air to that room.

The problem is when these devices are used to solve problems that an HVAC pro should solve. For example, let’s say your home’s ductwork or furnace is undersized, your furnace needs to be replaced or maybe flex line was used instead of proper HVAC ducts.

If an HVAC technician recommends a booster fan when you have major issues such as these, it’s a cop-out. Some people try to save money this way — it’s cheaper than a new furnace. But that’s a mistake.

An HVAC pro should examine the entire system and find the deficiency. There could be a disconnection somewhere, or maybe the seams aren’t properly sealed. It might be it has nothing to do with your HVAC and instead is your insulation. The point is, a booster fan isn’t a one-cure-fits-all solution.

Duct booster fans are consumer products — at least in my experience. I don’t remember an HVAC professional using or recommending a duct booster fan on any job I’ve worked on. The only reason you would want to install a booster fan is because the furnace is not blowing air to a specified area. But if you have a new furnace, do you need to install a booster fan? No.

When is a booster fan a good solution? If you have a heating run that’s too long, or if the exhaust venting for the dryer needs to make a long stretch to the exterior. A booster fan will give you that extra push.

But if you want even airflow throughout your home, then even distribution of ductwork is what helps.

Ducts are like the arteries of your house. They feed warm and cool air to all the areas in your home. You can’t expect proper airflow if there’s no way of it getting there efficiently.

I’ve seen too many homes with 80 per cent of the ductwork on one side of the house. Then you wonder why some rooms are always cold. The problem isn’t airflow. It’s the ductwork. And if that’s the problem, not even 10 booster fans will make a difference — just a lot of noise.

Booster fans are loud. They can sound like a jet engine running in your basement. Some homeowners learn to cope with the noise. They’ll install the fan six metres from vents to minimize the distance the sound travels. Other people can’t stand it.

Some people love booster fans. Others think they’re a waste of money. I think you have to be smart.

Booster fans are inexpensive. You can buy one for something like $60 or $70. I’ve even seen some for $25. Others can cost as much as $300. But like I’ve said a million times, you get what you pay for.

I can understand why some homeowners opt for a booster fan. When you compare $10,000 to replace ductwork to $60 for a booster fan, it’s no surprise which one most homeowners choose. Not everyone has $10,000 lying around, especially not for something that’s going to be hidden in the walls. But if a booster fan can’t fix the problem, I don’t care if it cost $2. It’s a waste of money.

Bottom line: The systems in your home should do their job. No one said doing it right was easy or cheap. I’ll be the first one to tell you it’s not. That’s why there’s so much crap everywhere. But doing it right is worth it. Why live uncomfortably if you don’t have to?

Catch Mike Holmes in his new series, Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit hgtv.ca . For more information on home renovations, visit makeitright.ca .

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