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Elon Musk NEEDED in residential construction – HVAC/ERV

T_Barker | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

Where is Elon Musk when you need him?

I wish he would tackle the residential construction industry and manufacture a comprehensive HVAC/ERV/HUMIDIFICATION/AIR QUALITY all-in-one system. Combine heating, cooling, fresh air ventilation, and humidity/de-humidity fully integrated with a temperature/humidity/CO2-VOC control system.

We are all fumbling with these piece meal solutions, all independent of each other, when we need them all to work together for complete climate control. No reason it can’t be done today.

Just like 100 years ago when the first furnaces with thermostats replaced room-by-room wooden fireplaces, it’s high time someone kicked it up a notch and brought “climate control” into the 21st century. I know there will be a hundred excuses and reasons why we don’t think this system can be tied to that system, blah, blah, blah, … but the bottom line is all of these systems should work together and be integrated to provide total climate control.

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  1. Expert Member
    Peter Engle | | #1

    He's already dabbling in residential HVAC with Dandelion, a geothermal system that does HVAC and domestic hot water. He says he's going to do geothermal for a fraction of the price of the "standard" systems we see today. They are actually installing systems in New York. But their average price is still in the $35k range. They might make sense if you've got an energy hog of a house, where the fuel bills are high enough to see some payback.

    I'm hoping they realize there's a market for low-load houses and design something special for that market. Geothermal is inherently so much more efficient than air-air, and low-load should mean that a tiny well field might be needed. And those minisplit cassettes are just so darn ugly. So much for dreaming....

    1. Markiz_von_Schnitzel | | #7

      I thought dandelion was with google?

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    T. Barker,
    It sounds as if you are in the market for a CERV. If you don't know what a CERV is, read this article: "A Balanced Ventilation System With a Built-In Heat Pump."

  3. lance_p | | #3

    Check out Minotair, a Quebec company that makes a heat pump based ventilation system:

    It might not be the holy grail, but for smaller or highly efficient houses it could be an interesting option.

  4. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #4

    Peter Engle - Dandelion is an offshoot of Google, not Tesla. So far, it's just installing ground source heat pumps to replace oil or propane furnaces, using existing ducts. It claims the cost is only $20,000, after state of NY subsidy, but before federal tax credit. For someone with an existing house who needs to replace a furnace, it may be a decent option. Probably not for new construction.

    Dandelion claims that by standardizing equipment and installation methods, it has brought down the cost of ground source heat pump systems.

  5. T_Barker | | #5

    OK, thanks guys. I've glanced at both of those systems, but I will take a close look.

    I still say the furnace/AC/heat pump manufacturers need to up their game and produce "all-in-one" climate control systems. They aren't thinking big enough. Let's face it, furnace manufacturers are still producing the same piece of equipment they did 70 years ago. Granted, efficiencies are much higher, and controls are significantly improved, but basically they still only control the heat in your house. Cooling is reasonably integrated, but accurate control of humidification, de-humidification, and the big one - correct amount of properly conditioned fresh air ventilation and measured air quality - are still after thoughts at best.

    1. lance_p | | #9

      My theory? There's more money to be made by selling several individual systems rather than bundling it all together, and since there's really no large-scale adoption of anything resembling an advanced technology system, the big players just keep pumping out the same old gear. Sure it got more efficient, but we've hit the ceiling. Nobody's going to invest in recovering that last 3-4% remaining in 96-97% efficient furnaces, they'll just invest in ways to produce them for less cost.

      I think the traditional furnace will eventually die off looking not much different than it does today, eventually replaced by heat pumps. At least that will integrate heating and cooling into the same appliance. The final step will be integrating it with the hot water heater to allow waste heat from AC to cover some/all of a home's hot water needs.

      A big step would be to come up with some sort of standard for controlling modulating equipment. Even the smartest of "smart" thermostats cannot control anything modulating, which is pretty dumb if you think about it. The "smartest" controllers can only operate the "dumbest" equipment. They make cool toys, though.

      Ventilation and humidity control would then remain, and I can see those two being very successfully coupled together into one appliance. This is where the bulk of the low hanging fruit resides, in my opinion. This is the other half of climate control that the masses are just starting to understand; air quality. We've been doing temperature control for decades, but air quality is a relatively new thing.

  6. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    T. Barker,
    Back in the 1980s, some manufacturers offered combination entertainment consoles -- a TV with a built-in VCR, for example. Not a great idea. When the VCR went on the fritz, the whole appliance was crippled.

    The cfm requirements for ventilation are much lower than the requirements for heating and cooling, so it's hard to design a duct system to do both. Separate is better.

    1. Markiz_von_Schnitzel | | #8

      Is there any reason that heating of the future MUST be ducted?

      Air to water HP could provide DHW, heating (either floors or radiators or fancoils).
      Depending on the building system, ducting can get very expensive, probably as expensive as radiators where I live, and not much cheaper then radiant floors.

  7. Trevor_Lambert | | #10

    The more things you bundle together, the less flexibility you have with any of them. As pointed out, sometimes it just doesn't make sense to combine things.

    Case in point. You can get a refrigerator that is connected to the internet. Hey, why not ditch your laptop computer and just get a combination refrigerator/personal computer? Yes, this is an absurd example, but it just illustrates the point that just because you can combine two things it doesn't mean that you should.

    Trying to control heating, cooling, air quality and humidity from a single system is more complicated than it might seem (lots of these inputs interact, and not in a linear or even predictable way - what if the VOCs the system is measuring aren't originating inside the house?). In many cases there is no clear advantage to having them combined, so the added cost is not justified. Heating and cooling systems can operate with the use of moving air. If you have a system like that, what advantage is there to tying that into the ventilation? None that I can think of, and it has the disadvantage of if something goes wrong, multiple systems are knocked out instead of just one.

    PS I think the fact that this idea is impractical is a pretty good indication that Elon Musk will get behind it. Maybe he'll find a way to connect residential ventilation to his vacuum tube of death.

  8. Jon_R | | #11

    Eliminating duplicate ducting (eg, H/AC and ventilation) would save money and it's certainly technically possible (without downsides like excessive fan energy or unbalanced flows).

    Most homes do not have a way to efficiently dehumidify closed door rooms, which is a legitimate comfort issue.

    > A big step would be to come up with some sort of standard for controlling modulating equipment.

    I second this. And variable speed fans with a wide range (say 1:10+ CFM ratios) so that it's never moving more air than needed.

  9. T_Barker | | #12

    Jon R., thank you. One of the benefits yes.

    Trevor, you say "lots of these inputs interact, and not in a linear or even predictable way..."

    That's EXACTLY why they should be integrated and controlled together. All of the constraints and interactions among them need to be laid out, then the mechanicals and control logic can be designed appropriately. I'm not saying it's easy, but it certainly can be done. Until then, we have a mish mash of systems working poorly in many cases, sometimes fighting each other, and in most cases pure guess work aside from temperature control.

    1. jaccen | | #14

      If the concern is that the systems are a mish mash and not working together, often this can be alleviated with a central control system like an Ecobee.

      Please note: I have no personal experience with that product so I can neither recommend nor caution. I would be interested in people's personal experience with one and a minisplit, though.

  10. kjmass1 | | #13

    Hopefully Musk will include "Bioweapon Defense Mode" air filtration like his cars.

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