There are four kinds of home ventilation:
Exhaust only Extraction fans, typically in bathrooms and kitchen, are used to expel stale, humid air. This depressurizes the building, and make-up air is drawn through the building enclosure via leaks. This approach greatly increases the risks of pollution infiltration (humidity, mold spores, dust, radon, and other contaminants that can be pulled through cracks and leaks) and backdrafting of noxious gasses from combustion appliances.
Supply only Intake fans force outdoor air into the home. A flow regulator can control the amount of air entering the building. This system will pressurize the building, and air will be forced to leave the building through leaks. This approach greatly increases the risks of moisture damage to the building enclosure, especially in cold climates.
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Balanced ventilation Heat recovery ventilation (HRV) and energy recovery ventilation (ERV) use the same system to manage exhaust and supply, increasing the comfort, efficiency, and health of the building. In an HRV system, the exhaust and intake air streams pass each other through an air-to-air heat exchanger, allowing the incoming air to be tempered by the outgoing air. In an ERV, the same heat exchange takes place, and in addition a humidity exchange also occurs, which can conserve additional energy, particularly when air conditioning is in use.
Balanced ventilation systems can be whole-house, ducted systems (with dedicated ductwork, or sharing ducts with a ducted heating/cooling system), or can be through-wall, ductless units.
Most people want to live in a home that is comfortable and healthy while being light on the planet. Surprisingly, the criteria required to meet these seemingly basic goals are not central to the home design or construction industry, and to some degree you will need to take control to make sure your home meets your own criteria. In some cases, this will mean finding the right design and construction professionals, people who will understand your goals and be able to help you meet them. Or, it may mean taking control of a lot of the decisions yourself.
As this blog has attempted to illustrate, it is vitally important to have clear goals for your project. Every choice you will face in the design and construction process becomes much easier if you have well-defined criteria to use for assessing your options.