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Community and Q&A

ERV selection

Seth Holmen | Posted in Mechanicals on

I’ve been reading, reading and reading about the various ERV options. Once I think I’ve narrowed it down, I read a new article or a new model has be released. What is the latest thoughts on the ERV market ranking them from best and also value?

It seems like Zehnder and UltimateAir are the primary unites installed in a Passive House. These are the two on top of my list. However, I’m trying balance the value question and budgets always get pinched. The Broan, Venmar and RenewAir report decent specs on the HVI.org site. Is anyone able to rank or provide insights into the following units? Or add one I’m missing?

1. Zehnder ComfoAir 350
2. UltimateAir 200DX
3. Fantech
4. RenewAire EV200
5. Panasonic Intelli-Balance 100
6. Broan ERV (model?)
7. Venmar ERV

I like equipment that is stupid simple and efficient, easy to maintain / change filters / find parts. I also like the idea of a boost mode while taking showers and a night time bypass during the cooling season. The flex pipe if the Zehnder is cool but not a primary selling point for me.

Thank you!

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Replies

  1. User avatar
    Robert Opaluch | | #1

    If you have a smaller home, the Lunos e2 pair (~$1,100) or two pairs would be reasonably priced, comparatively simple (no duct work), reasonably efficient, simple to change filters, and easy to get parts. But you only get two or four fresh air supply/exhaust points, so not useful for a larger home. Gets too pricey for more than one or two pairs IMHO.

  2. Sean W | | #2

    We've had the Venmar ECM15 ERV for about a year and a half now. It runs about 95% of the time and we have it paired with the Altitude wall control that gives several options, max/min/40-30-20minutes per hour. It also has a recirc mode, "smart" mode and a programmable mode. Maintenance is simple and even with complicated duct runs, our HVAC installer was impressed at the cfm it was able to deliver. If I understood correctly, these are now branded as Broan in the US market.

  3. Anon3 | | #3

    Panasonic Intelli-Balance 100: self balancing ( this is important), highest efficiency on the martet at 50cfm, small proprietary filter, unknown price. Lower efficiency at 100cfm.
    RenewAire EV200: 200 cfm, high efficiency at 200cfm. Big filter, not self balancing.

    Fantech: cheaper and lower efficiency, not self balancing, small filters.
    Broan ERV and Venmar ERV are same, depends on model.

    UltimateAir 200DX: expensive and low efficiency, 200+ watts!!! This should be eliminated.
    Zehnder ComfoAir 350, so expensive it's like a bad joke.

  4. Seth Holmen | | #4

    Thank you for the comments. I did look a little at the Lunos e2. I don't think this is a good solution for my size of house being built (2,100sf). I agree with the comments on the UltimateAir and Zehnder. Zehnder would be a nice option, the cost is just crazy. I may be leaning towards the RenewAire. I need to learn more about the Panasonic and Broan option before I make my final decision. Any other practical advice with a Broan or RenewAire?

  5. Anon3 | | #5

    Broan's lower lines seems to be Fantech tier, their top tier one cost $2000, core performs worse than the EV200, better motors though.

    Really, RenewAire just need to put some fancy constant airflow ECM motor on the EV200 and it'd be perfect, see if you can get them to do it, ha. Oh, and 2 inch pleated common hvac air filter would be nice too. Check out their EV450IN, now that is an awesome ERV, too bad the motor still sucks.

    Panasonic got the best motor right now, too bad their core doesn't scale up to high cfm.

  6. Drew Baden | | #6

    I just picked up the Broan ERV140TE. It's not installed yet but appears to be a very well built unit. I've compared the user manual to one on Venmars site that looks identical and I have confirmed they are the same unit under different names. I called Venmar and they verbally confirmed as well. I asked many questions about the unit and the tech support personnel are very knowledgeable and helpful. The lowest cost I found was on westsidewholesale where I picked it up for a grand but I had to wait about 2.5 months for it to arrive. I was not in a hurry so that didn't bother me. The unit draws only a small bit of power. I can't recall the exact number off the top of my head but you can find it online. I posted a question about this unit on here and received positive response. This might be a good choice for you too.

  7. JAMES KREYLING | | #7

    The Venmar E15ECM is sold here as the Broan HRV160TE. Seems to me about the best balance of price and performance with the ECM motors for an HRV, though it is not an ERV. For Northern climates, a good choice for up to around 15-1800 square feet. Just got mine last week. Paid $999 with shipping and it arrived in 4 days...

  8. Kevin Camfield | | #8

    Do any of the units besides the Zehnder provide the boost and cool air bypass functions? Also has anyone looked into the noise levels of the various units?

    I am in the process of looking at units for my 2,200 sq. ft. home. I was looking at the Zehnder 160. It provides up to 94 cfm. If I understand the codes correctly, I only need 81 cfm to meet code and if you look at the ventilation rates recommended by Joseph Lstiburek - "Ventilation for New Low-­Rise Residential Buildings." I only really need about 45 cfm.

    I am waiting for the local Zehnder supplier to give me an estimate. I'm expecting it to be more than I want to spend however.

  9. User avatar
    Stephen Sheehy | | #9

    Kevin: Make sure you get Zehnder's contractor discount.

  10. Lance Peters | | #10

    Has anyone done or seen done a dual ERV installation, with two dedicated sets of ductwork? On a two story home it would allow one per floor, and the main floor unit could be turned off at night if the bedrooms were all on the second floor.

    In this scenario, two Intelli-balance units could provide an ultra efficient 100 cfm with both on low speed, and drop to just 50 cfm at night with the main floor unit off. Could also leave a buffer for when boost is needed during showers etc.

    Thoughts?

    Does the Panasonic have a bypass mode? A boost mode for that matter? It seems like a nice package, if a bit small for larger homes.

  11. Anon3 | | #11

    2 ERV means twice the maintenance, Intelli-balance intake filter is tiny, also what is it's price?

    The RenewAire filter on the other hand is humongous at 20x10.

    Also, I don't think 50cfm is enough unless it's a tiny house.

  12. User avatar GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #12

    Anon3,
    You wrote, "I don't think 50 cfm is enough unless it's a tiny house."

    The Intelli-Balance is rated at 100 cfm, not 50 cfm.

    If Lances chooses to install 2 such units, the ERVs would provide up to 200 cfm.

    If all of the fresh air is directed to two or three bedrooms at night, 50 cfm is plenty.

    -- Martin Holladay

  13. Brian Croston | | #13

    I am wondering why the Renewaire EV200 is being considered for ~2000 sq. ft. homes? It seems like overkill.
    For about the same money, I'd prefer the Renewair EV90P. Has same huge core and filter as EV200, but smaller blower motor. It's more efficient than Intelli-Balance when running at 90cfm.

    As an engineer, I also appreciate equipment with simple controls and parts that can possibly be replaced/upgraded in the future. The Panasonic seems to rely on top-of-class motor and controls technology to make up for less efficient core and filter system.

    Cores don't wear out, motors and controls usually are first, and you'll have no chance to upgrade an undersized core and filter on the Panasonic without replacing the whole unit. The Renewaire is single speed, very simple control compared to Intelli-balance. Also, as Anon3 alluded to, the Renewaire's don't use efficient ECM motors (yet), but I could see that as an upgrade path that could become available by either Renewaire or a third-party.

  14. Anon3 | | #14

    Plus, 2 ERV means 4 holes on your house. For 100 CFM you really need 6 inch duct/holes. For 200 CFM, you need 8 inch ones.

  15. Jay S | | #15

    I have a Renewaire EV-90 in my apt. that runs continuously. After living with it for 6 months, the one spec that will be high on my list when I shop for an ERV for my home will be noise. The EV-90 is way too noisy for my taste. I want my home to be as silent as possible. Big slow-turning fans trump small fast-turning fans. The less ductwork that can generate noise, the better IMO.

  16. Seth Holmen | | #16

    This has all been a great discussion. I had some initial ERV cfm sizing done by both Zehnder & UltimateAir and they both came in right around 120 cfm for my house. I just ran the numbers myself and came up with a minimum size of 100 cfm. Are my assumptions correct on the attached image?

    The main difference was that they were supplying the "Great room" and I am not. I removed this since I don't believe it's required by code since the whole house ventilation cfm number has been achieved. This also allows me to get a slightly smaller unit like the one of the following:

    Renewair EV90P
    Broan ERV 140TE

    If my numbers are correct, it looks like the Panasonic Intelli-Balance 100 Is a little too small. Any thoughts on which unit would be the better choice?

  17. Seth Holmen | | #17

    Missing attachment

  18. User avatar GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #18

    Seth,
    The ASHRAE 62.2 formula (found in this article: Designing a Good Ventilation System) is:

    7.5 cfm per occupant plus 3 cfm for every 100 square feet of occupiable floor area.

    Number of occupants is assumed to be number of bedrooms +1.

    In your case:
    (4 x 7.5) + (21 x 3) = 93 cfm

    -- Martin Holladay

  19. Lance Peters | | #19

    So one 8" duct (one 8" hole) feeds two 6" intake ducts, one for each ERV, the intermittently operated unit gets a backflow damper on its input. Same for the exhaust side with the backflow damper reversed. Not too hard. For the cost of the Panasonic, about $750 I believe, two of them could be used for the same price as (or less than) some of the pricier units while offering equivalent or better performance with potentially added flexibility, as well as the ability to move up to 200 cfm should the need arise.

    Sure it would be easier to use one, but it would seem that the market would force you into some other compromise as of right now, be it performance or noise etc. Maybe Panasonic will introduce the Intellibalance 200 by the time I'm ready to build and I won't have to worry about it!

    The EV90P does have great specs, but its simple controls are a con from my perspective. Yes there's less to go wrong with it over time, but there's less right about it to begin with. It's a simple on/off device with no smarts, and in today's world I find that much less appealing.

    I'm not saying the Panasonic is the only worthy choice, but the ability to independently control both of its fans is a huge plus, for me anyway, and would allow interior pressurization in the summer and depressurization in the winter to keep moisture out of the envelope.

    For those concerned with low relative humidity in the winter months, the Panasonic also has excellent moisture transfer, especially when run at lower speeds (80%, 0C @ 50 cfm). Given the choice of cycling a unit like the EV90P on and off to meet my ventilation requirements, or to just leave the Panasonic running constantly at low speed, my choice would be the latter.

    This is all my personal opinion, of course, and maybe if I'd been in the business for twenty years or more I'd lean more towards keeping it simple. But right now as a prospective customer, having some flexibility is appealing.

  20. Brian Croston | | #20

    Lance,
    The Panasonic looks to be an excellent unit for sure and it has some great options that others don't. I especially like that you can adjust both intake and exhaust separately. I could see that very useful for someone that wants to pressurize the house slightly in winter, to run a woodstove in a very tight house.

    I haven't written the Panasonic off for my own house project, but it's new to the market and I live in a rural area. Therefore, it's reliability is unknown and finding competent repair people will be difficult for me, therefore KISS principals apply to my situation. In a more urban setting, then embracing the technology is easier.

    There are definitely getting to be many options, and no single solution is best for all of us. Either way, it's a great time for green building enthusiasts as products are breaking barriers in performance and price.

  21. Anon3 | | #21

    Actually, more flexible duct work will absorb more noise, you also need to vibration isolate the unit. The ducts also needs to be properly sized.

    Panasonic does have a 200CFM unit for sale in China, apparently it is also loud.

    How are you going to split 8 inch duct into 2 6 inch duct? Remember you need to maintain the insulation, otherwise it'll sweat in the winter.

  22. Lance Peters | | #22

    Brian, understood completely. From what I've read, Panasonic has earned a great reputation with their exhaust fans, but a new-to-market ERV wouldn't be immune to teething problems based on reputation. KISS holds a lot of appeal.

    ANON3, an 8" T into two 8"-6" reducers would do the trick. Some detail work would be necessary to properly insulate the T.

    I'm sure some of the more experienced people here are rolling their eyes, and I can't blame them. A dual ERV system would, as has been suggested, be more work to install, require more maintenance, and depending on the available controls, perhaps more user involvement as well. Probably not for everyone, I'm just pointing out that it could be done, and using the Panasonic unit to do so could offer a very high level of flexibility; 50-200 CFM with ultra high efficiency and moisture transfer up to 100+ CFM, with still excellent efficiency up to 200 CFM if the need arose.

    Panasonic finally has their product page up with supporting documentation.

    http://business.panasonic.com/FV-10VEC1.html

    Reading through the manuals, it seems there is no ability to have a "boost" mode, and no option to bypass the ERV core for free cooling. It seems it only monitors outside air temperatures in order to control its defrost cycles, and the low voltage input simply turns the unit on or off. All of the functionality of the unit is accessible only via the panel mounted controls, not remotely.

    That's fairly disappointing given that many recovery ventilators have a bypass function, and Panasonic's own exhaust fans feature a boost function. I guess the perfect ERV doesn't yet exist.

  23. Anon3 | | #23

    Actually, Panasonic's ERV for the Chinese market does have auto bypass, it actually monitors outside vs inside temp/humidity and does the calculation in software, very cool stuff. It's got a much bigger filter but proprietary.

    See http://pro.panasonic.cn/product/detail.html?pid=2396

    Panasonic really should have just brought FY-25ZJD1C over to the US market...

  24. Lance Peters | | #24

    Wow, looks pretty much like a dual-core version of the Intellibalance. My Chinese isn't so good, but it looks like this model comes with a nice remote wall panel control as well. Nice find! If it has a bypass it would be a great option.

    Maybe it will launch here by next year when I'm looking to buy!

  25. Kevin Camfield | | #25

    Well I just got back my quote from Zehnder and I must say that I am torn. On the positive side, it is clearly a well designed system and the quote includes all of that parts and pieces needed to do the installation. From what I have seen online, including the installation videos and in these forums it looks like it would do a great job. I was also impressed with the detail put into the design of the system that Zehnder did with the information that I sent to them. The house I am building is on a salt water bay and gets a lot of wind, so the idea of having this system service all of the house ventilation needs with only two enclosure penetrations has a lot of appeal. Also the system appears as if it is something that I could install myself, saving on the installation costs.

    The obvious negative side is the cost. I was surprised by how much the ancillary parts and pieces cost. Zehnder specified a Comfort Air 350 HRV for $2,195. They specified a 100 cfm airflow for my house which is about what the code requires and is actually about twice what I believe is actually required depending on who you listen to. The Comfort Air 350 handles up to 218 cfm so arguably it is 4 times the size I need. But, it you assume some capacity for boost mode, it probably is in the ballpark. I might be able to get by with the Comfort Air 200 that handles 116 cfm. But the real cost is in the distribution system, silencers, mounting hardware, etc. which for my house will cost $3,633. Add $560 for balancing and we are up to $6,388. Just the tubing runs around $1,000 for my installation and the silencer is $600. I do need to check to see if I am getting the retail or contractor pricing, which I will do.

    So, I have more research to do. I want to go with a much simpler/cheaper system, but then I quickly get back to punching more holes in my building envelope and frankly I Iike the functionality that Zehnder provides. Hopefully there is an elegant solution out there somewhere.

  26. Anon3 | | #26

    If it's on a new construction the duct work shouldn't cost much at all, just get a regular HVAC shop to do the install. At 100CFM either get the Panasonic or the Renewaire. Shouldn't cost more than $2000 total.

  27. Lance Peters | | #27

    Kevin, I hope you were not misled by my comments above regarding a dual ERV installation. To my knowledge, any single ERV installation should only require two building envelope penetrations.

  28. Ultimate Air | | #28

    I would say you have picked out the best ERVs available in North America! Excellent research on your end. As for the previous comment on UltimateAir’s efficiency being poor….I would encourage you to consider 3 factors in a unit’s efficiency. Heat exchange, watt usage (throughout the fan curve), and filtration installed during testing. The number of watts used by an ERV will always increase based on the level of filtration. Higher filter = higher power draw. Stating that it draws 200 watts does not represent the entire story. For example at 80 cfm the 200DX uses only 64 watts with MERV12 filtration inline.

    When looking at an ERV selection; You should always start with what interior issues we are trying to alleviate. We want a healthy/comfortable home…but what exactly does that mean? Determine your criteria and then narrow your search down to units that can meet this criteria. If you want to reduce outside pollutants from entering; choose a filter that is good enough to block small enough microns. If you want to dilute interior radon; choose a flow rate which will actively change the air quicker. If you want to avoid cold drafts from ventilation supply; choose an ERV with heat exchange high enough to bring in comfortable/tempered fresh air.

    I would tell the original poster that all the products they are considering are the industries best! Just make sure your final ERV is meeting the SPECIFIC needs in your specific home. (while not sacrificing efficiency!)

    Let me know if you would like any clarification or have any questions.

    Cheers,

    The UltimateAir Team

  29. User avatar GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #29

    To the Ultimate Air Team,
    Please update your user profile so that your user name (currently "user-6829222") is properly displayed. Here is a link to an article that explains how to do that: How the GBA Site Displays Readers’ Names.

  30. Ultimate Air | | #30

    Thanks Martin I think we fixed that.

  31. User avatar GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #31

    Nolan,
    Thanks.

  32. Ben H | | #32

    Anyone ever figure out which systems besides Zehnder and UltimateAir have bypass ? I know this feature can go by different names. Assuming the cost wasn't prohibitive, it would be perfect for Eastern Oregon.

  33. User avatar
    John Semmelhack | | #33

    I'm pretty sure Zehnder and Ultimate Air are the only brands that offer bypass on residential ERV/HRVs.

  34. Ben H | | #34

    Thanks John, any idea how effective these are in a dry climate with 3 months (or so) of cooling ? (4k ft 2 story new construction). It gets pretty hot here in summer but cools off at night. I don't want to chase $50 of air conditioning savings with $3000 of gear or add mechanical headaches but I love the idea if it's cost effective. HRV/ERV systems are confounding to shop for.

  35. T. Barker | | #35

    After a very quick look at the various HRV's, first glance looks like the Zehnder ComfoAir 350 or Zehnder Novus 300 are the cadillacs.

    Are they really that much more expensive? Seth, what did you end up buying, if anything?

  36. User avatar GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #36

    T. Barker,
    The installed cost of a Zehnder HRV ranges from $7,000 to $11,000. Other brands are usually less expensive.

  37. Jaccen | | #37

    A popular DIY install model is Panasonic's Intelli-Balance 100:
    https://na.panasonic.com/us/home-and-building-solutions/ventilation-indoor-air-quality/energy-recovery-ventilators/intelli-0

    Many choose it simply due to the fact that it self-balances input/output, is readily available at a fair price, and it works in the cold (sorry, showing my Canadian bias):
    ftp://ftp.panasonic.com/ventilationfan/fv10vec1/FV-10VEC1_Sell%20Sheet.pdf
    (note the installation section).

    While just turning the knobs may not be as precise as a professional install, for many it's "good enough." Plus, the knobs allow easier homeowner tuning.

    If you have a small house with a small heatload or if you like to use the HRV/ERV dedicated duct work for heating, one can also pair it with one of these Thermolec Duct Heaters:
    https://www.eccosupply.ca/pdf/price-lists/2.%20Heating%20Equipment/Thermolec%20Electric%20Duct%20Heaters.pdf

    Not the most energy efficient addon (ie. resistive heating) but it's an easy and relatively-cheap component. One could set it so that it only comes on during the coldest parts of the night (ie. cheaper electricity rates and time of greatest need) via the thermostat and a timer.

    1. T. Barker | | #41

      Thanks Jaccen. I'll check out the Thermolec as well.

  38. Trevor Lambert | | #38

    The units themselves are not that much more expensive. They are more expensive, but where it really starts to get different is when you add on accessories; special ductwork, silencers (completely unnecessary in most cases), etc. Other brands can be expensive too, when installation is included. My vanEE quote was $4500, which did NOT include any downstream ductwork. Just plopping the ERV down, cutting two holes in the exterior and running 6-10' of 6" insulated duct to it.

    If you're going for a budget model, I would suggest there are better, cheaper options than the Panasonic, especially in the US where any place will sell you one. When you're in Canada, you have to struggle to find a place that will sell to a DIY homeowner. It can be done, but it's not a pleasant process.

    T. Barker, I think I recall you saying you're in northern Ontario. If you are considering using a Zehnder, you'd be well advised to run the proposal by your building inspector before you get too invested. I'd be happy to share my experience and advise on how to get it approved for use. A lot of the details can be found elsewhere in the Q&A section, but parsing out the facts from the misunderstandings would probably be difficult, as it was a long drawn out process with many red herrings.

    1. T. Barker | | #39

      Yes, that would be great Trevor! I'd be interesting in hearing about your experience.

      Although where I will be building next year the only thing required is a brief application/permit to make sure you have the right setbacks essentially. After that you can do what you want (literally), except electrical inspections are required and septic. The only other person who shows up 3 years later is the tax assessor.

    2. T. Barker | | #40

      My current thinking is if I build the house good enough and tight enough, then ventilation and air quality become the most important mechanical consideration. Heating and cooling become secondary to some degree.

      Therefore, I should spend the most time, energy, and money making sure the ventilation solution is the best I can find. To me that means ventilation control/monitoring and home runs for each room, and hopefully integrated CO2 control.

      Ideally heating and cooling and humidification/de-humidification would be fully integrated as well, but it appears that isn't really available yet.

      1. Trevor Lambert | | #43

        Not many ERVs will integrate CO2 monitoring. Zehnder and UltimateAir are the only two official ones I know of. Note that while you can hook up as many as four CO2 monitors to the Zehnder, and they all can demand a higher fan setting, you can't actually direct more or less air to a particular room (at least, not in real time, you can always tweak dampers).

        If money is no object, and you have no inspections to pass, I can probably connect you to someone who can sell you one of these units:
        https://www.jablotronlt.com/en/futura/
        The specs are phenomenal, and comes with CO2 control as standard. Note, it's not for approved for sale in Canada.

        I also have a 50m roll of the semi-rigid round ducting I'd be happy to sell you, if you decide to go the route of manifold and home-runs.

  39. User avatar
    Jon R | | #42

    > ventilation control/monitoring and home runs for each room

    You can count on an open door moving > 50 CFM, so maybe don't bother where you know you will keep a door open.

  40. Seth Holmen | | #44

    I thought I would check back in with this post. I ended up selecting the UltimateAir 200DX. I've been building my house slowly so I've only had it running over this summer. I have a two story - 2,100 sf house. I'm only using (2) 1-Ton mini split units for heating & AC and the ERV for fresh air / balancing & exhaust. I will say that the ERV does an amazing job exhausting smells and humidity from the bathrooms / kitchen areas. I have family members that have environmental allergies. This summer has been the healthiest for them in the past 3 years. The filtered fresh air is truly amazing. The temperature balance is actually better than I was expecting. I had low expectations that the ERV could help balance the mini split temperatures throughout the house. There is still an obvious difference in temperature in the bedrooms from the main living areas where the mini splits are located. However, we just adjust the ceiling fan speeds and how we dress to make it comfortable.

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