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New Construction ERV Woes with Builder — How to Handle?

mrigney | Posted in General Questions on

Looking for some quick feedback on how to handle this. Currently in the middle of building. Installing a 3 ton variable speed Carrier unit (separate zones for upstairs–800 sq ft, and downstairs–1400 sq ft) in my 2200 sq ft home. HVAC guy said that they only came in whole ton increments, and wasn’t sure 2 ton would be enough. Also supposed to be installing an ERV. When they installed the HVAC ductwork (and fan) they didn’t install the ERV (or ductwork). I asked my builder about it. He said the unit was backordered. At the time, I explicitly asked “Will the ERV have separate ductwork from the HVAC?” He said, “Yes.” (which is what I wanted obviously).

Fast forward. A few weeks later, we were getting ready to do insulation. Still no ERV. Asked him about it again. He said don’t worry about it, HVAC folks said it wasn’t a problem. Fast forward another few weeks (to about a month ago/early Feb.) I was starting to worry about whether they’d forgotten about the ERV. I emailed the builder and asked “Question about the ERV. I know I’ve asked about it a few times, but wanted to ask again. The house is getting closed up (drywall, all insulation) and ductwork for the ERV still needs to be run. Just wanted to check again and make sure that was going to get in without issue.” Was again assured that we were on track.

Drywall goes up. Still no ERV. I keep asking. Finally today get the answer that “the HVAC guys don’t need to run any ductwork, they just need to get to the unit in the attic.” So basically they’re going to do an interlocked/shared ductwork system.

This is NOT what I had asked for and based on what I had asked and received answers to is not what I expected. 

How would you all handle this? How (and how much) should I push the builder on this? I know at this point that putting in a ducted system will be a HUGE undertaking (which is why I’ve been bugging him about it for the last 2+ months). My aggravation is through the roof honestly, but am trying to keep a level head on the issue.

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  1. Wiscoguy | | #1

    This is a sticky situation if you spoke about it before stick to your guns but try to be polite however usually the contract is what it goes by. Unfortunately your builder doesn’t sound like they are taking you seriously. So the way to handle it sometimes is to order a full stop on the job until your happy with the solution. Explain to them how you feel and that the work cannot continue without this being done. I also recommend contacting the heating contractor tractor directly because they do not want a bad rep either.

    If they refuse remind them that they can be let go and this can be settled through other means if they aren’t willing to work this out with you. I know it sounds jerkins but use this as absolute last resort.

    Any builder worth a crap at all will do whatever it takes to make you happy. This is coming from a builder that’s lost 20k on a job to make the customer happy it sucked but I made them happy got more work and became better at my job with details and contracts that are signed and that we go over before the project begins.

    Hope it works out and please use lawyers etc as last resort. But if you truly did let them know about this and speak about it you deserve it and should do what’s necessary

    1. mrigney | | #4

      Hey, thanks for the input. I really appreciate it. Like I told my builder when I talked to him about this earlier today (before posting here). I'm not trying to be a pain in the butt. And obviously I want resolution on the issue in a way that is satisfactory to me, but I'm also not out to make his life miserable. Builder we're using is co-owned by two guys. I think one of them takes me more seriously than the other:-) I've gotten a meeting set up w/the builders and hvac contractor to go over options.

      One of the problems I've found in building this house is that despite my best efforts, there is a lot left unspecified. I work for the Army (scientist), and do some project management type work and have been involved in writing/letting contracts. And the reality is that the relationship between me and my builder is very similar to the relationship between the Army and some of the prime contractors who build things for us. So, I tried to do things like write the contract more specifically than my builder typically does; tried to be very specific and explicit in requirements, etc.

      Sometimes, it ends up not mattering. Posted below, but our drawings have an ERV on them and a notation that "can run ERV ducts here," but that doesn't explicitly say "dedicated ERV ducting." And honestly, when we signed the contract, I was still learning about ERVs and ventilation systems. So if I did it again, I'd write it into the contract more explicitly. Live and learn.

      I'm certainly not trying to get lawyers involved or have to threaten stop work orders, etc. I'm hoping that getting everyone together in person will allow us to work to a solution. I think there are some options to do (for example), a hybrid system and possibly even some creative ways to still do a fully ducted system.

      We'll see how it plays out. I'll make sure to come back here and update.

  2. Expert Member
    AKOS TOTH | | #2

    I have a feeling this was a communications issue.

    When your contractor and HVAC guy was talking about ducts for the ERV, I'm pretty sure they were referring to the section that runs from the ERV to the air handler.

    Since fully ducted ERV is pretty much never used in residential, so when you were talking about ducting for the ERV, they were only thinking about the small runs. These can easily be installed after drywall, so technically they were right.

    Unfortunately unless your contract specifically says a independently ducted ERV (or at least the HVAC plans referred to in the contract show separate ducting), you might have issues pushing this.

    This late in the game, one option would be to look at a hybrid ducted setup which need much less ducting:

    1. mrigney | | #3

      Oh, I agree that it's totally a communication issue. In retrospect, I wonder if there was a way that I could've been more explicit than I was to try to lessen miscommunication. I thought that asking "will the ERV be ducted separately from the HVAC system?" was a pretty direct way to ask. The HVAC folks didn't provide a spec to me beyond models for the units I was getting, so as a first time homebuilder, not sure what would've been a better way to communicate. Also suppose that the questions over the following month along the lines of "Hey, don't we need to get the ERV ductwork in before drywall goes up?" would've at least triggered my builder to ask..."why are you so worried about drywall going up? No ducting has to go through the walls/ceiling/joists." So yes, totally agree. I wish I would've known that I needed to do more to communicate. Live and learn.

      The plans/contracts/drawings don't specifically call out an independently ducted ERV, there is an ERV in the plans w/a notation that says "Can run ERV ducts behind knee wall" (referring to a knee wall in the attic). Anyway, best you can do is move forward and figure it out. Since posting, have gotten a meeting set up with the builders, hvac guy, and me to talk through potential solutions. A hybrid install was going to be a suggestion of mine. I think we might be able to get creative with ductwork to and still to a dedicated install. We'll see what they say.

      Appreciate the input. When I made the original post was just coming off the news of the miscommunication and was just looking for some feedback.

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