Heat recovery ventilation

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Heat recovery ventilation, also known as HRV, Mechanical ventilation heat recovery, or MVHR, is an energy recovery ventilation system, using equipment known as a heat recovery ventilator, Heat exchanger, air exchanger or air-to-air exchanger, that employs a counter-flow heat exchanger (countercurrent heat exchange) between the inbound and outbound air flow. HRV provides fresh air and improved climate control, while also saving energy by reducing the heating (or cooling) requirements.

Energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) are closely related, however ERVs also transfer the humidity level of the exhaust air to the intake air.


As building efficiency is improved with insulation and weatherstripping, buildings are intentionally made more air-tight, and consequently less well ventilated. Since all buildings require a source of fresh air, the need for HRVs has become obvious. While opening a window does provide ventilation, the building's heat and humidity will then be lost in the winter and gained in the summer, both of which are undesirable for the indoor climate and for energy efficiency, since the building's HVAC systems must compensate. HRV technology offers an optimal solution: fresh air, better climate control, and Energy efficiency - Sustainability.


Heat recovery ventilation-HRVs and ERVs can be stand-alone devices that operate independently, or they can be built-in, or added to existing HVAC systems. For a small building in which nearly every room has an exterior wall, then the HRV/ERV device can be small and provide ventilation for a single room. A larger building would require either many small units, or a large central unit. The only requirements for the building are an air supply, either directly from an exterior wall or ducted to one, and an energy supply for air circulation, such as wind energy or electricity for a fan. When used with 'central' HVAC systems, then the system would be of the 'forced-air' type.

Air to air heat exchangerEdit

Heat exchanger

A Heat exchanger.

See also:

There are a number of heat exchangers used in Heat recovery ventilation-HRV devices, as diagrammed to the right :

  • cross flow heat exchanger up to 60% efficient (passive)
  • countercurrent heat exchanger up to 99% efficient (passive)
  • rotary heat exchanger (requires motor to turn wheel)
  • heat pipes
  • thin multiple heat wires (Fine wire heat exchanger)

Incoming airEdit

The air coming into the heat exchanger should be at least 0°C. Otherwise humidity in the outgoing air may condense, freeze and block the heat exchanger.

A high enough incoming air temperature can also be achieved by

  • recirculating some of the exhaust air (causing loss of air quality) when required,
  • by using a very small (1 kW) heat pump to warm the inlet air above freezing before it enters the HRV. (The 'cold' side of this heatpump is situated in the warm air outlet.)
  • using a heating "battery" supplied by heat from a heat source eg hot water circuit from a wood fired boiler, etc.

Earth-to-air heat exchangerEdit

Passivhaus section en

Heat recovery ventilation, often with an earth-to-air heat exchanger, is essential to achieve German Passivhaus standards.

Main article: Ground-coupled heat exchanger

This can be done by an earth warming pipe ("ground-coupled heat exchanger"), usually about 30 m to 40 m long and 20 cm in diameter, typically buried about 1.5 m below ground level. In Germany and Austria this is a common configuration for earth to air heat exchangers.

In high humidity areas where internal condensation could lead to fungal / mould growth in the tube leading to contamination of the air, several measures exist to prevent this.

  • Ensuring the tube drains of water.
  • Regular cleaning
  • Tubes with an imbedded bactericide coating such as silver ions (non-toxic for humans)
  • Air filters F7 / EU7 (>0,4 micrometres) to traps mould (of a size between 2 & 20 micrometres).
  • UV air purification
  • Use a earth to "water" heat exchanger, see below.

The pipes may be either corrugated/slotted to enhance heat transfer and provide condensate drainage or smooth/solid to prevent gas/liquid transfer.

Air qualityEdit

This is highly site dependent.


One critical problem being located in soils with underlying rock strata which emit radon. In these situations the tube needs to be airtight from the surrounding soils, or an Air to Water heat exchanger be used.

Bacteria and fungiEdit

Formal research indicates that Earth-Air Heat Exchangers reduce building ventilation air pollution. Rabindra (2004) states, “The Earth-Air Tunnel is found not to support the growth of bacteria and fungi; rather it is found to reduce the quantity of bacteria and fungi thus making the air safer for humans to inhale. It is therefore clear that the use of EAT (Earth-Air Tunnel) not only helps save the energy but also helps reduce the air pollution by reducing bacteria and fungi.”

Likewise, Flueckiger (1999) in a study of twelve Earth-Air Heat Exchangers varying in design, pipe material, size and age, stated, “This study was performed because of concerns of potential microbial growth in the buried pipes of 'ground-coupled' air systems. The results however demonstrate, that no harmful growth occurs and that the airborne concentrations of viable spores and bacteria, with few exceptions, even decreases after passage through the pipe-system”, and further stated, “Based on these investigations the operation of ground-coupled earth-to-air heat exchangers is acceptable as long as regular controls are undertaken and if appropriate cleaning facilities are available”.

Earth-to-Water heat exchangerEdit

An alternative to the earth to air heat exchanger is the earth to "water" heat exchanger. This is typically similar to a geothermal heat pump tubing embedded horizontally in the soil (or could be a vertical pipe/sonde) to a similar depth of the EAHX. It uses approximately double the length of pipe Ø 35 mm ie around 80 metres compared to an EAHX. A heat exchanger coil is placed before the air inlet of the HRV. Typically a brine liquid (heavily salted water) is used as the heat exchange fluid which is slightly more efficient and environmentally friendly than polypropylene heat transfer liquids.

In temperate climates in an energy efficient building, such as a passivhaus, this is more than sufficient for comfort cooling during summer without resorting to an airconditioning system. In more extreme hot climates a very small air to air mico-heat pump in reverse (an air conditioner) with the evaporator (giving heat) on the air inlet after the HRV heat exchanger and the condensor (taking heat) from the air outlet after the heat exchanger will suffice.

Seasonal bypassing Edit

At certain times of the year it is more thermally efficient to bypass the Heat recovery ventilation-HRV heat exchanger or the earth to air heat exchanger (EAHX).

For example, during the winter, the earth at the depth of the earth to air heat exchanger is ordinarily much warmer than the air temperature. The air becomes warmed by the earth before reaching the air heat exchanger.

In the summer, the opposite is true. The air becomes cooled in the earth to air exchanger. But after passing through the EAHX, the air is warmed by the heat recovery ventilator using the warmth of the outgoing air. In this case, the HRV can have an internal bypass such that the inflowing air bypasses the heat exchanger maximising the cooling potential of the earth.

In autumn and spring there may be no thermal benefit from the EAHX—it may heat/cool the air too much and it will be better to use external air directly. In this case it is helpful to have a bypass such that the EAHX is disconnected and air taken directly from outside. A differential temperature sensor with a motorized valve can control the bypass function.

See alsoEdit



  • 1. Rabindra Nath B, Shailendra Kumar M, and Pawan Basnyat; Use of Earth Air Tunnel HVAC system in minimizing indoor air pollution; Air Quality Monitoring and Management, proceedings of Better Air Quality 2004.
  • 2. Flueckiger B, Monn C; Microbial investigations and allergen measurements in ground-coupled earth-to-air heat exchangers; AIVC 20th Conference and Indoor Air 99, the 8th International Conference on Indoor Air Quality and Climate, UK, Garston, BRE, 1999, proceedings, Edinburgh, Scotland, 8–13 August 1999, Volume 5.

External linksEdit

cs:Zpětné získávání tepla

de:Wärmerückgewinnung es:Ventilación con recuperación de calor eo:Reakirado de varmo fr:Récupérateur sur air vicié

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