Types of Mechanical Ventilation

mechanical ventilationWhether you are fixing up an old house or building a new one, proper ventilation is of the utmost importance.  Whole-house mechanical ventilation is the automatic controlled rate exchange of indoor air for fresh outdoor air via the use of fans. The main purpose of ventilation is to improve indoor air quality (IAQ). When mechanical ventilation was initially introduced, it was limited to controlling moisture an odor in specific areas like kitchens and bathrooms through exhaust fans. At the time homes had enough natural ventilation due to leaks in the building enclosures and additional ventilation was not necessary. Fast forward to present day and the standards have changed. Over the past 10-15 years, regulations have become stricter regarding ventilation, codes have been updated, energy efficient programs are in place and there is an overall desire to reduce energy consumption.

Whole-house Mechanical Ventilation Benefits:

  1. Improved indoor air quality and comfort due to a steady supply of fresh outdoor air
  2. Regulated amount and source control of outdoor air
  3. Reduction of indoor air contaminants like allergens and odors
  4. Decreased moisture accumulation and control of relative humidity during the cold months

Types of Mechanical Ventilation

Energy.gov lists 4 types of whole-house ventilation systems: exhaust-only, supply-only, balanced and energy recovery. Each system uses a combination of fans, ducting, dampers, and controls, and they each have different pros, cons, and costs accompanying them.

Exhaust-Only Ventilation

Exhaust-only ventilation typically consists of a fan that exhausts indoor air. They work by depressurizing your home, exhausting indoor air, and drawing outdoor into the house through leaks in the building’s enclosure and intentional passive vents.

The pro of an exhaust-only ventilation system is that they are relatively inexpensive and simple to install; however, the con list is quite long. They only work well in cold climates with low humidity and can also draw contaminants into the house via the attic, crawl space, garage, etc. Exhaust-only systems can also pull humid outdoor air in which could condense, making them unsuitable for warm, humid climates. Lastly, they can increase your heating and cooling expenses.

Supply-Only Ventilation

Supply-only ventilation systems pressurize your home using a fan that forces outside air inside. The indoor air then leaks out of the building through exhaust ducts and any other intentional vents if they exist in the structure.

Like exhaust systems, supply ventilation is also low in cost to install; however, they are better at reducing outdoor contaminants from entering the home and allow for dehumidification of the air. This means they can be used in warm or hot/mixed climates. Outdoor air that is drawn in is from a single location, controlling the air quality coming into the building. However, they can cause moisture problems in cooler climates and are not very energy efficient, increasing your heating and cooling bills.

Balanced Ventilation

Balanced ventilation systems do not pressurize or depressurize your home. If properly installed, they bring in and exhaust almost equal amounts of fresh outside air and polluted inside air.

The good news is, balanced systems are good for all climates; however, they are typically more expensive to install as they require 2 duct and fan systems. This also means they use more energy than a supply or exhaust system. Like the other two systems, they do not temper or remove moisture from the air before it comes into your house.  As with supply ventilation, to avoid cold drafts in the winter, outdoor air may need to be mixed with indoor air before delivery into your home.

Energy Recovery & Heat Recovery Ventilators

Energy recovery ventilation systems control the ventilation of the home, reducing energy loss. In the winter, they are more efficient at heating the air by transferring heat from the warm air inside the outgoing air to the incoming cold air. During the summer months, the air inside cools the incoming warm air supply. Due to this, heating and cooling costs are reduced.

The only downfall is that energy recover systems that are installed in cold climates must have additional Also, energy recovery ventilation systems operated in cold climates must have tools installed to prevent freezing and frost accumulation. Frost buildup on the heat exchanger can cause equipment damage and reduce the effectiveness of the ventilation.  This type of system also requires more maintenance than the aforementioned systems. It is important to have them cleaned regularly to prevent deterioration and mold/bacteria growth on the heat exchanger surfaces.

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