Improving your air quality, efficiency and comfort levels.
By Steve Panosian
IMPROVE YOUR AIR QUALITY, EFFICIENCY AND COMFORT LEVELS with an energy recovery ventilation (ERV) solution. Let’s take a deep dive and talk about the recently announced ERVs from Panasonic, which were a hit at the recent International Builders Show in Las Vegas.
The primary purpose of an ERV system is to improve indoor air quality by introducing a continuous supply of fresh air into a building. By exchanging the heat and moisture in the outgoing air with the incoming air, the ERV reduces the amount of energy required to heat or cool the incoming air to a comfortable temperature. By recovering energy in this way, an ERV system can reduce the load on the heating and cooling system, leading to lower energy bills and improved indoor air quality.
In addition to energy efficiency and indoor air quality, ERV systems can also improve the overall comfort level of a building. By continuously circulating fresh air, an ERV system helps to reduce indoor air pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and improves the overall air quality in the home or building.
Panasonic energy recovery ventilator systems
Panasonic ERV systems are particularly useful in tightly sealed buildings, where natural ventilation may be limited or non-existent. Panasonic ERV systems are designed to operate quietly and efficiently and come in a range of sizes and capacities to suit different construction types and ventilation requirements. They can also be integrated with existing HVAC systems.
The Panasonic system typically consists of a heat exchanger, a fan (or fans), and a control unit. The heat exchanger is the core component of the system, responsible for transferring heat and moisture between the incoming and outgoing air streams. The fan helps to circulate air through the system, while the control unit manages the various settings and functions of the system.
The Panasonic system is designed to recover up to 80 percent of the energy from the outgoing air, which can help to reduce energy costs associated with heating or cooling the building. It also helps to remove pollutants, allergens and other contaminants from the incoming air, improving indoor air quality and creating a healthier living or working environment.
When the system is operating, the incoming air is filtered and then drawn through the heat exchanger. At the same time, the exhaust air is also drawn through the heat exchanger in the opposite direction. As the two air streams pass each other in the heat exchanger, heat and moisture are transferred from the warmer, moister outgoing air to the cooler, drier incoming air.
This brings us to our interview with Ken Nelson, Group Sales Manager, Ventilation, at Panasonic.
STEVE: Hello Ken, please share with us your background and your role at Panasonic.
KEN: I am the group sales manager for Panasonic’s ERV products and although I wear several hats, I spend considerable time educating our internal team, our customers, architects, engineers, designers and builders on how these products work and how to integrate them into HVAC systems.
I grew up in a family that was in construction, my father was a carpenter and I learned about this trade hands-on. I moved on to a company called Ideal Industries where we sold wiring products, test and measurement products, and tools. My role was supporting engineers with products and concepts that created installation and quality efficiencies. It was these mindsets that brought me to work for Panasonic in the area of ventilation. I oversee a team that works with architects, designers and builders, a sales team of 20 people, and a national network of sales reps who call on over 1,000 distributor locations.
Designing an ERV system is especially important today as commercial and residential envelope designs move towards net zero energy-ready buildings. Net zero energy readiness requires a much tighter building envelope. Building a tighter footprint without a ventilation strategy results in moisture challenges on the inside of the house. This is the design challenge to our team and where we provide support to Panasonic’s Ventilation channel partners.
STEVE: Why is an engineered ventilation system so important? Especially in new construction.
KEN: Any new or remodeling construction that involves a tighter envelope design opens up the challenges of managing moisture in the home. A properly designed ventilation system will address the problems caused by aerosolized water vapor throughout the entire home and also optimize the loss of energy during the air refreshing process.
STEVE: Please expand on the uniqueness of Panasonic’s new ERV product line.
KEN: The new Panasonic ERVs are designed for indoor humidity and also solve for the colder climate issue of having much colder fresh outside air temperature injected into the home and the opposite, losing the home’s warmer and desired heated air to the outside.
This is accomplished in a rather uniquely designed exchange core. Although we offer several different models, the important technology used in each of our ERV core’s design is a very special type of formulated and compressed, yet microporous, paper membrane. It is within this paper core that the water vapor moves from one airstream to the other. The physics of energy recovery is achieved when the cooler airstream pulls the warmer, higher humidity vapor levels across the membrane as the two different airstreams pass through the ERV’s core. In warmer weather and the need to bring in fresh outdoor air without losing the cooler indoor air temperature, the system performs the opposite exchange.
Panasonic’s strength in its operation is its ability to move air super quietly, and super efficiently. If the system is running frequently and can be heard, the first thing that comes to mind is energy consumption cost. Our fan’s motor design makes it audibly invisible, allowing it to run continuously when required. The estimated energy used to run the fan for a year is between five and seven dollars in cost. It’s a super-efficient ECM class DC motor. AC fan motors have fixed speeds and a fixed blade pitch, therefore the only variable in performance comes from duct obstruction. And that variable will always reduce the airflow from the fan. Our DC motors can actually change their RPM speed based on the resistance of the ducting.
STEVE: What customer need is driving the interest in Panasonic’s ERV solutions?
KEN: We recently attended a builder’s show in Arizona and indoor air quality was clearly of major importance among the homebuyers that spoke to one of the local builders. Several customers wanted to build a house with the best indoor air solution possible considering air quality and addressing their concerns about asthma and allergies. It’s very apparent with the percentage of people with severe enough asthma and allergies, that home ventilation design is a crucial element. Of course, better air ventilation improves air quality and peace of mind for everyone.
STEVE: Where is the best location for installing the ERV exchange unit?
KEN: This is a really great question and sometimes one of the toughest to answer. While several locations work well, a sealed attic or basement, for example, a dedicated mechanical room is an ideal location. However, when considering filter changing, if access is limited in an attic placement, builders and architects can plan an ERV installation with a remote filter box for more convenient access.
STEVE: Do the Panasonic ERV systems support integration with devices like Smart Thermostats?
KEN: Yes, the ERV can be used with most, if not all, Smart Thermostats. But running continuous ventilation should not be necessarily dependent on your thermostat. The ERV system should respond to a VOC or environmental trigger, not just a temperature trigger. This is important to understand. Construction today is moving to a tighter envelope and when using ductless heat pump products and so forth where the heating and cooling energy is manufactured inside the home it is rather efficient, so it isn’t necessary for a lot of adjustments by a Smart Thermostat. Of course, it can be set it up to turn on, and turn off, but the reality is a ductless heat pump keeps a house at the same temperature all day, every day, all year long. The same with a phone app-controlled system, it’s better to set it and forget it.
STEVE: What can you share about the recovery ventilation builder codes?
KEN: One of the things I want to talk about is the term “HRVs” in the code system. This written identification is a problem everywhere with builders. It’s HRV plus a small “s” refers to a heat recovery ventilation system, and that’s how it’s written in the code. So a lot of builders may or may not know and will say, “Oh, that requires a heat recovery ventilator”. But the reality is you have a heat recovery ventilator and an energy recovery ventilator, and quite frankly, you can just do a balanced supply air and balance exhaust air, you don’t have to run it through any heat recovery.
Now your energy code will top that requiring you to have a heat recovery ventilation system that will contain either an ERV or an HRV. So many builders run into that misunderstanding, and this might be helpful to understand the terminologies in the code for HRVs, HRV and ERV solutions.
STEVE: Where are the market opportunities for ERV solutions, both in hot and cold climates?
KEN: It’s rather straightforward. The largest markets that we currently sell ERVs into are in the North, homes located above the 43rd parallel, because it costs more money to heat them and where our solutions make the most sense.
Among the target markets that we’re looking to grow our business is the Southern high-humidity areas of the country. This system will balance between humidity, airflow and air temperature. Considering the indoor humidity and the outdoor humidity the system is going to push a lot of that moisture back out, which will reduce the amount of energy required from the dehumidification stage. Hence, energy savings because dehumidification only has to run half the time.
Whether we talk about an ERV or Ventilation Fan, neither will have any effect on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) if they don’t get turned on. Swidget controls (a Canadian award-winning manufacturer of modular Smart Controls) are IoT triggers that respond to the environment wherever they’re placed. For example, a humidity sensor placed in the bathroom can turn the fan on when water vapor is sensed, and an IAQ sensor in the kitchen area can turn on the ventilation fans when it detects moisture or particulates in the air from cooking. An IAQ sensor in the bedroom can turn on the ERV when it detects high levels of CO2 while the kids are sleeping at night. These types of automated controls monitor, sense and activate preventive and awareness protocols that the homeowner/builder defines. Preventing building damage or health issues before they even happen.
Integrating Swidget controls with the Swidget phone app means you have the best of all worlds. Earlier I talked about the Swidget control’s monitoring, sensing and activating, but these controls have one more feature — communicating. Whether it’s Google Home, Alexa or some other IFFFTT program, Swidget can be integrated. The phone app can be used as an instant monitor for air quality (inside and out), temperature, motion, occupancy and power consumption. Home or away, the Swidget app allows for up-to-date information about your home and automated or instant control from your phone.