ICF Structures Require Mechanical Air Exchange – ERV vs. HRV

Energy Recovery Ventilation

When building with Insulated Concrete Forms, it is extremely important to remember that you must incorporate some system for mechanical air exchange.  ICF homes are simply to tight and normal air exchange through leakage and other means, as is typical in more traditional building techniques, is not sufficient. So, for improved indoor air quality in your ICF structure make sure your HVAC contractor makes provisions for adding an ERV or HRV to your whole house system.  Here is a great article that I just finished reading that sheds some light on the two systems and makes some recommendations based on location.

Original Post Can Be Found Here: http://www.dpoint.ca/blog/item/181-erv-or-hrv-in-cold-climate-zones-time-to-end-the-debate

ERV or HRV in Cold Climate Zones-Time to End The Debate!

ERV or HRV in Cold Climate Zones-Time to End The Debate!
ERV vs HRV Zones for the USA

ERV or HRV in Cold Climate Zones-Time to End The Debate! 

There has been much discussion about whether to use an ERV or HRV in different climate zones.  Recent studies have concluded that ERVs should be used in cold dry climate zones because of improved comfort, no drain required for condensation and less energy for defrost.

In the past, some manufacturers have produced maps like the one below showing that HRVs should be used in cold dry climates.  Using energy modeling software and looking at the energy savings and comfort benefits, a new map of where ERV or HRVs should be used has been developed.

  1. Comfort- In cold climates, the outside air that is brought into the building is dry because cold air holds less water vapor than warm air.  When using an HRV, the humidity generated inside the building from plants and people showering and cooking is either exhausted or condensed out, leaving the building too dry.  When using an ERV, 40-60% of the humidity that would normally be exhausted is transferred to the fresh incoming air helping to maintain the relative humidity at a comfortable level.  An ERV can also create energy savings by removing or reducing the need to operate a humidifier in the winter.
  2. Defrost-Typically an HRV will freeze if the temperature drops below zero degrees Celsius requiring some form of defrosting to be used, such as a preheater which uses energy or recirculation and does not provide fresh air.  A European manufacturer completed cold-weather testing at a 3rd party lab and found their counter-flow ERV core started to freeze below -8C compared with the equivalent size and shape HRV at just below zero C.  The lower frost point results in the ERV requiring less defrost, and thus saving energy and money.
  3. No Drain Required-In most conditions, an ERV will not produce any condensation, therefore saving the cost of the drain pan and installing a drain.  By using an ERV and avoiding drains, European manufacturers are able to install ERV units in the walls of a home, where there is no place to put a drain.

Here are a couple of the studies supporting the use of ERVs in cold climates: The National Research Council of Canada- Residential energy-efficient moisture control through ERV http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/ci-ic/article/v17n4-13

In this article it states that NRC studies showed that ERVs may have benefits over HRVs both in cold dry winters and humid summers due to ERVs having the ability to transfer moisture through membranes.

A summer field study on HRV and ERV performance for a range of summer conditions was carried out using the twin houses at the NRC Canadian Centre for Housing Technology in Ottawa. The ERV was found to provide better humidity control (i.e., providing a lower level of indoor relative humidity), as well as lower air conditioning electricity consumption, measured as the cumulative saving of 12% over a week.

A winter field study investigating the impact of ventilation rates on indoor air quality and the respiratory health of asthmatic children in Québec City was carried out in over 100 homes with the Institut national de santé publique du Québec. In a large number of homes, the relative humidity (RH) was found to be too low in winter. Because the introduction of more cold, dry outside air further reduces RH, low-RH homes were equipped with ERVs (instead of HRVs) to increase the ventilation rate. Both HRVs and ERVs performed equally in terms of providing better indoor air quality, characterized by a significant reduction in the concentration of a number of gaseous pollutants of indoor origin. However, ERVs were additionally effective in maintaining an acceptable indoor RH.

Natural Resources Canada – ERV Cold Weather Assessment A winter study was carried out using the twin houses at the NRC Canadian Centre for Housing Technology in Ottawa to determine the effect of ERV vs HRV and there were several key conclusions.

  • The ERVs total effectiveness was 61% vs the HRV of 51%
  • The HRV core produced significant amounts of condensation under all conditions.  The ERV core never produced any condensation; this means that all of the moisture it removed from the exhaust air stream was transferred to the fresh air stream rather than condensed.
  • The ERV core recovered up to 1.8L/day more moisture than the HRV core during the 20% indoor humidity portion of the experiment, and 2.5L/day during the 30% indoor humidity portion.