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Multifamily Passive House Ventilation Design Part 2: HRV or ERV?

In climates with significant heating and/or cooling seasons, Passive House projects must have a balanced heat or energy recovery ventilation system. These systems use a heat exchanger to transfer heat and moisture between the outgoing return and incoming outdoor airstreams. The operation of recovery ventilators reduces the energy required to heat and cool decreasing the building’s carbon footprint. Project teams can select either:

  • Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRV) that transfer heat from the return air stream to the outside air stream; or,
  • Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV) that transfer heat and moisture from the return air stream to the outside air stream.

Deciding between an HRV and an ERV gets more complex when the Passive House concept is scaled from a single-family home to a multifamily program. What the industry has learned from the development of airtight buildings and programs such as Passive House and R2000, is that indoor relative humidity must be controlled through continuous ventilation. The extremely air tight building envelope required of a Passive House, combined with high internal moisture gains from an occupant dense multifamily program (coming from occupants, kitchens and bathrooms), forces additional moisture management considerations during mechanical ventilation design. Maintaining acceptable interior relative humidity in both the heating and cooling season is paramount for building durability and occupant comfort. It’s appropriate that Passive House professionals claim this simple motto: “Build tight, ventilate right!”

In New York City where the multifamily Passive House market is rapidly growing, there is a significant heating season and a demanding cooling season with high humidity (Climate Zone 4A). With this seasonal variation, there are four primary operating scenarios for an HRV or ERV that need to be considered during design:

Summer Condition – HRV

An HRV operating in the summer (hot-humid exterior air and cool-dry interior air) introduces additional moisture to the building through ventilation. Heat is transferred from the incoming outside airstream to the return airstream leaving the building which cools supply air, but exterior moisture is not removed from the incoming air. The building’s dehumidification load increases as a consequence of additional moisture from the outdoor air.*CON*

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Multifamily Passive House Ventilation Design Part 1: Unitized or Centralized HRV/ERV?

 

Project teams pursuing Passive House frequently ask, “Where do we locate the HRV/ERV?” The answer is complex when the Passive House concept is scaled to a multifamily program.  While there are two primary arrangements for HRV/ERV systems, the trade-off is dynamic and needs to be carefully considered as multifamily Passive House projects begin to scale. A low volume HRV/ERV unit ventilating an individual apartment is a unitized HRV/ERV. High volume HRV/ERV units ventilating multiple apartments and often servicing several floors, is referred to as centralized HRV/ERV.

As Passive House consultants we can attempt to address the system arrangement question with building science; however, in New York City rentable floor space is very valuable, so considering the floor area trade-off is of particular interest to project teams. When a unitized HRV/ERV system cannot be located in a drop-ceiling due to low floor-to-floor height, it is placed in a dedicated mechanical closet. This closet is typically no smaller than 10 ft2 and includes the necessary ductwork connections to the HRV/ERV unit. The alternative solution is to increase the floor-to-floor height to accommodate the HRV/ERV unit and horizontal duct runs in the ceiling. Centralized HRV/ERV systems, however, allow short horizontal duct runs but require floor space to accommodate vertical shafts. With supply and exhaust ducts coupled together the required floor area is about 8-12 ft2. As a result, centralized HRV/ERV systems may actually require more floor area than a unitized system.

Example: In the case of Cornell Tech, vertical supply and exhaust duct work for the centralized HRV/ERV system required 222.5 ft2 per floor, or 13 ft2 per apartment (see image 1 below). Unitized HRV/ERV mechanical closets would have required an estimated 170 ft2 per floor, or 10 ft2 per unit (image 2 on right).

Comparison images HRV/ERV

Image 1 & 2:  These images compare the amount of floor area required for centralized and unitized HRV/ERV systems. Image 1 on the left, shows the 12ft2 floor area required for vertical shafts servicing the centralized ERV at Cornell Tech. Image 2 on the right is hypothetical, showing the typical location and 10ft2 floor area required for a unitized HRV/ERV mechanical closet.

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Recovering from Heat Recovery Woes

IECC Image

The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) has a number of requirements involving energy recovery on ventilation systems. Requirements vary based on climate zone, building type and size, equipment capacity, and equipment operating hours. As a result, many new construction projects must now incorporate energy recovery considerations into their design.

An energy recovery unit (ERU) equipped with a heat wheel can be a great way to satisfy these energy recovery requirements. The ERU can be a roof-mounted air handling unit, or can be an air handling unit located inside a mechanical room with outdoor air and exhaust streams ducted in. The heat wheel is positioned so that half of the wheel sits in the exhaust air duct and the other half sits in the outdoor air intake duct. During cold weather, the wheel spins, transferring heat from the exhaust stream to the outdoor air intake stream. During hot weather, the wheel transfers heat from the outdoor air intake stream to the exhaust stream. In both cases the heat exchange enables the building to take advantage of the more comfortable conditions of the exhaust air, while still allowing fresh air to enter the building. During extreme weather conditions, heat wheels can save energy on space conditioning while still allowing for healthy indoor air quality.

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When the Rubber Meets the Road

 

As the Passive House standard continues to make waves across New York City and the U.S., an entirely new design process has evolved to respond to the challenges of higher insulation levels, balanced mechanical ventilation, and perhaps the most difficult hurdle – an air tightness level that most would think is impossible. For the recently certified Cornell Tech building on Roosevelt Island, the tallest Passive House in the world, a several year-long coordinated effort was required to achieve such a feat. So what is the requirement, how is it measured, and what are the strategies and considerations required to achieve it?

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Transformers: Problems in Disguise

Sometimes a significant source of energy inefficiency in a building can be hiding in a place difficult to detect. In some buildings, a single transformer can have a substantial impact on electrical consumption.

Image of currents flowing through a transformer

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Some Background

Transformers are responsible for stepping the incoming voltage to a building up or down depending on the design, intended use, or connected equipment.  A standard electrical socket in a US home or office will deliver 110-120 volts AC. Some appliances require 240 V instead. Large mechanical equipment, such as the air handling units, distribution pumps and chillers found in commercial or multifamily buildings may require 460 V. In buildings where the incoming voltage from the utility does not match the voltage required by connected equipment, a transformer is used to deliver the necessary voltage.  The voltage entering the transformer is called the primary voltage and the voltage delivered by the transformer to the facility’s equipment is called the secondary voltage.

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