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ERV recommendations

Hi, I need to make a fairly quick decision on an ERV. The house build is many months behind schedule, and the builder has fallen off the map so it looks like this part of the project I may have to contract out to someone else. Before the builder disappeared, we were in line to get a Jablotron Futura (formerly Air Pahoda). They really pushed this brand, and I'm embarrassed to say I didn't do any research in ERVs, so I don't even know for sure it's any good (we were told by them it's the best, the reasons for which I didn't delve into, again to my discredit). So with other options available, what would be some good choices? The house is about 2400 square feet on two levels, passive house design with in floor heating. There's also passive ground loop, basically just three long coils of poly pipe buried 4 feet below the slab, which needs to be integrated into the ERV setup to pre-condition the air. I have no idea if that's standard for an ERV, or that was a particular feature for which the Futura was originally chosen. Other than that, the obvious considerations are operating cost, recovery efficiency, noise, automatic balancing, etc. Getting several options would be great, since I'm sure not all will be available in my area (Southwest Ontario).

Asked by Trevor Lambert
Posted Feb 13, 2018 9:18 AM ET

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18 Answers

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1.

Trevor,
There are only two ERV manufacturers that support the use of a buried glycol loop: Ultimate Air and Zehnder. Those are your two choices.

For more information, see Using a Glycol Ground Loop to Condition Ventilation Air.

Answered by Martin Holladay
Posted Feb 13, 2018 9:34 AM ET

2.

Thanks for the info. So you are saying that the unit my builder was going to install isn't even compatible with the ground loop that he installed?

Answered by Trevor Lambert
Posted Feb 13, 2018 9:42 AM ET

3.

Trevor,
The last time I checked, the Air Pohoda distributor in Colorado (Daryl Jacobson) had closed up shop, and the Air Pohoda was no longer available in the U.S.

I have never heard of the Jablotron Futura.

The Air Pohoda is (or was) manufactured in the Czech Republic.

Answered by Martin Holladay
Posted Feb 13, 2018 9:53 AM ET

4.

According to my builder, he is the sole supplier of Jablotron in Canada (I can't remember if he said the US as well, but I think he did). All evidence points to it being the same company as Air Pahoda. I found a test report from a third party (ETELAB), listing the customer as Air Pahoda, with the same address as what the Jablotron website lists. The model they tested was listed as Futura.
https://www.jablotronlt.com/en

Answered by Trevor Lambert
Posted Feb 13, 2018 10:08 AM ET

5.

Just some new info I discovered. The Futura does not directly support the use of a preconditioning loop. The builder was going to install a separate radiator, pump and controller. How smart that is, I don't know. I've had to fire him anyway, for unrelated reasons. I would say that for all intents and purposes, the Futura is not available anywhere in North America.

Answered by Trevor Lambert
Posted Feb 14, 2018 10:40 AM ET

6.

It would make sense to use the ground loop if it's already there. Pre-conditioning intake air would work with any ERV, but would be a custom installation.

We are building a 3000 sqft house in Ottawa, the ERV I'm looking into most is the Panasonic Intelli-Balance 100. It's reasonably affordable, very efficient, and has nice pressure balancing options. Should you decide to use it without pre-conditioning your intake air, the cold climate version works very well even at low temperatures and has a relatively unobtrusive defrost cycle.

Of course there are many many ERV options. Deciding on one shouldn't be too difficult, just make sure it meets the ASHRAE 2010 ventilation requirements (CFM = (bedrooms+1 x 7.5) + (sqft x .01)) as well as any efficiency requirements listed in your energy efficiency compliance package (part of your Ontario building permit).

Answered by Lance Peters
Posted Feb 14, 2018 11:58 AM ET

7.

We have a Zehnder HRV. It was expensive, about $6000 installed. It has operated flawlessly for almost three years. It's quiet and efficient. My hvac guy was impressed with how well it went together.

Answered by stephen sheehy
Posted Feb 14, 2018 12:03 PM ET

8.

I think I'm comfortable installing the ERV and ducts. I'm not comfortable doing the custom install of the heat exchanger, pumps and controller for the loop. I think my chances of finding someone capable of doing that are somewhere between slim and none.

Answered by Trevor Lambert
Posted Feb 14, 2018 1:56 PM ET

9.

Can anyone shed any light on comparing the "effective heat recovery rate" as reported by the Passive House Institute (nHR, eff) and any of the commonly used specs elsewhere (e.g. sensible recovery effectiveness, total recovery efficiency)? I get the impression Zehnder is the best, but also the most expensive. Very difficult to make decision on whether the extra cost is worth it without numbers.

Answered by Trevor Lambert
Posted Feb 14, 2018 4:36 PM ET

10.

"Jablotron Futura" sounds like the name of a distant planet in a Star Wars movie, that is not a great moniker.

The materials on their website are very thorough, capabilities are wonderful. Maybe some company in North America should re-badge this unit for sale here. It's pretty cool.

Answered by Andrew Bater
Posted Feb 14, 2018 7:38 PM ET

11.

I'm guessing Jablotron doesn't sound as ridiculous in Czech as it does in English. It is a nice looking unit, but I don't think you can legally re-badge something without the company's consent.

Answered by Trevor Lambert
Posted Feb 15, 2018 8:05 AM ET

12.

I wasn't articulate with my remark Trevor. Yes, what I was really suggesting is that Jablotron partner with a US company that could help them with branding and marketing.

For example, I believe that the HRV line that Honeywell offers (offered?) is actually made by another company in Canada.

I am sure if I tried to market a product in Czechoslovakia I would choose a bum name too. So many funny instances of this going wrong cross border, like the apparently apocryphal Chevy Nova / Mexico story.

Answered by Andrew Bater
Posted Feb 15, 2018 9:08 AM ET

13.

I don't think Jablotron is interested in distributing in the US. From what I hear they were fed up with problems they attributed to installers back when they were Air Pahoda and had a distributer there, so they gave the middle finger salute and closed up shop. If someone was really interested in one, I have contact info for the guy who imported 20 of them into Canada. But honestly, you'd be lucky to get him to return a phone call. I haven't been able to.

Answered by Trevor Lambert
Posted Feb 15, 2018 10:43 AM ET
Edited Feb 15, 2018 10:43 AM ET.

14.

Lance, I did some reading on the Panasonic unit. I'm not sure it can handle a 3000 square foot house. I'm not even sure it could handle my 2400 sqaure foot house. The formula you used is not quite correct. It should be number of occupants times 7.5, not bedrooms (or bedrooms+1, if occupancy is not determined). The other part of the equation, .01 is an outdated value. The most recent one is .03, which is meant to account for the better air sealing of modern high performance homes. For my house that comes out to 103.5CFM. For a 3000', even if you just had two bedrooms it comes out to 112.5. The Panasonic tops out at about 96, and from what I can tell the efficiency starts to drop off on most models as you get closer to the max throughput. It's too bad, because the price is certainly attractive and you can actually buy the thing as a man on the street. I was impressed by the vanEE G2400E, but so far two suppliers have refused to deal with me because I'm not a licensed contractor. I'd be ok with going through a licensed contractor, but so far I haven't found one capable of handling the job.

Answered by Trevor Lambert
Posted Feb 15, 2018 10:57 AM ET

15.

That is too bad re Jablotron/Air Pahoda and their experiences here. Perhaps someone, like the folks in Maine who import the Siga Tapes, will re-initiate a relationship and pick them up.

It makes me wonder what the balance of trade is like for energy efficient building products, North America versus Europe. We know some high performance windows come from Europe, do any US windows go there? Somehow I suspect the overall balance, while small, is quite lopsided. Might be a fun matrix to create.

Answered by Andrew Bater
Posted Feb 15, 2018 3:16 PM ET
Edited Feb 15, 2018 3:21 PM ET.

16.

Hi Trevor,

I double checked with the City of Ottawa officials just two weeks ago regarding ventilation requirements. They claim the 2013 standard is only a recommendation and that the 2010 standard, as I referenced, is what's being enforced by permit officials. I was also told that occupancy was determined by the number of bedrooms +1 (assumes two in the master) since city officials cannot verify who will occupy the home at build completion or in the future.

Per the 2010 ASHRAE requirement:

Four bedroom 3000 sqft build (7.5 x 5) + (3000 x .01) = 67.5 CFM
Four bedroom 2400 sqft build (7.5 x 5) + (2400 x .01) = 61.5 CFM

You may want to ask your city officials to be sure of which ventilation requirement you need to meet. Also, after doing tons of reading on the subject, it would seem that many building science types disagree with the higher 2013 ventilation requirements.

Regarding Zehnder ventilators. I have absolutely no doubt that they are a top-notch product. Many people report excellent performance and results using them, and according to those who've installed them the hardware and plumbing is robust and well thought out.

Having said that, my personal opinions follow.

1. I am skeptical of ANY company that refuses to report performance data in a comparable format to competing products. They only provide their PHI certificates which provide little if any data that can be used to objectively compare the performance of their equipment.

The certificate states "Further information can be found in the appendix of this certificate", but the appendix is not published. Using their Comfoair200 as an example, it's rated at 92% efficiency. Great, but at what airflow rate? Surely it's at the unit's minimum airflow, so how does it perform where people will actually use it? Who knows. It seems to me they rely on that exclusive certification and lots of marketing to sell their product.

2. After researching the performance specifications (flow vs. efficiency) of cross-flow and counter-flow exchanger cores, as well as published papers from Zehnder, I have a hard time believing their exchangers perform significantly better than other high performing options. Given their premium price point, I'm not sure they could ever be justified financially.

3. Their unique duct system offers some advantages like fitting in thin wall sections, and is built well and installs nicely. However, their ducts are not insulated which may or may not be a concern for some installations, and since their system uses multiple small diameter ducts instead of fewer large diameter ducts, fan energy use could be higher for a given amount of airflow (higher surface area to cross section ratio). This is likely not a big deal as they use very efficient fans, but it's something to note all the same. Reports indicate their ductwork is also responsible for a large portion of the installed cost.

4. They do not just sell you a unit; there is no retail pricing available. To get a quote requires sending in a copy of your house plans and then they get in touch with you and set you up with a local installer. This all smells like a "boutique" sales model to me, adding layers to the marketing of their product. With other systems you can order off the internet and it shows up at your door. Do with it what you will, no need to over-complicate a relatively simple household appliance.

As I said, these are just my thoughts, nothing more, after doing some rather extensive research into home ventilation. I'm sure Zehnder makes a top-shelf product, and it seems they charge top-shelf pricing as well. Personally, I don't imagine it's worth it unless you absolutely have to have a PHI certified ventilation system.

The Panasonic IB-100 is very attractive to me as it offers top-shelf performance, nice operating features, as well as reasonable pricing and availability. They are also a well established brand who are highly regarded for their line of ventilation fans.

Another ERV I considred is the Renewaire EV90P which is essentially a small ERV with the core of a much larger unit, bringing efficiency up to 80%. It is also reasonably priced, but does not offer the pressure balancing and variable flow controls of the Panasonic.

Food for thought.

Answered by Lance Peters
Posted Feb 16, 2018 10:00 AM ET

17.

I'd read a few things like below and consider if you want a ERV(s) that can optionally ventilate at better than code levels. Operation doesn't cost much, especially in milder weather. Also consider high ventilation rates in the master bedroom (almost certainly has high occupancy hours per cubic foot and therefor a good health/cost ratio).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3279453/

Answered by Jon R
Posted Feb 16, 2018 10:50 AM ET

18.

Zehnder has their ERVs listed on the HVI product directory, so they do have comparable stats available. They told me not only will they sell to me directly, they couldn't even offer installation. Perhaps this is only because I'm in Canada. In contrast, I can't get vanEE to sell me an ERV, they insist I go through a distributor. The distributors won't sell to me because I'm not a licensed contractor. So it seems like vanEE's business model is to let potential customers hire contractors and just sit there and hope that the contractor chooses to push their product. Doesn't make much sense to me.

Answered by Trevor Lambert
Posted Feb 16, 2018 12:13 PM ET

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