Heat Recovery Ventilator Basics And Maintenance

Before we discuss heat recovery ventilator maintenance, we need to discuss air changes. Every facility has a number of air changes required for a space. Stale air needs to exhaust and fresh air needs to be brought in. This ensures good indoor air quality and safe conditions for those in the building. A heat recovery ventilator is designed to transfer heat or coolness from this exhausted air to the intake air. In other words, HRV’s work by transferring thermal energy between exhausted air and intake air.

Heat Recovery Ventilator Function During Winter VS Summer

Diagram of and Heat recovery ventilator in operation

During winter months, the goal is to save energy when keeping the building warm. Using a heat exchanger, the HRV recovers heat from the warm exhausted air to the cooler outdoor air. This action preheats the incoming air and  reduces the amount of energy needed to heat the building.  

The reverse happens in the summer. The intake air is cooled by the exhaust air as it enters the building.  

It is important to note that there is no directed interaction between the two air supplies. The thermal transfer occurs by running two air streams next two each other with a heat exchanger acting as a barrier. This ensures the indoor air quality is not compromised.  

Main Components Of A Heat Recovery Ventilator

Exhaust Duct –  This duct allows exhaust air to escape the facility.

Intake Duct This duct introduces outdoor air into the facility

Heat Exchanger- Heat Exchangers are usually made of aluminum. This is where the heat transfer occurs between the outdoor and indoor air. The heat exchanger has large channels tmaximize the surface area.  

Blower Fan- A blower fan is run by a blower motor. It is responsible for pushing air into, or out of, the facility through ducting.

Filters – These are used to ensure you are not bringing in contaminants with your outdoor air.

Pump These are found in run-around heat exchangers. They are used to pump liquid between a set of two separate heat exchangers. This allows for the transfer energy between two air streams located a fair distance apart.

The Main Benefits Of HRV

Strict building codes improving efficiency have resulted in airtight spaces that suppress fresh air flow which has increased the number of HRVs in use. That is why it is so important to understand these 3 main HRV benefits:

1. It Reduces Stress On HVAC Equipment: Because of the heat transfer that occurs, it requires much less work for HVAC systems to condition the air. This means less wear and tear on equipment.

2. Improves Indoor Air Quality: By bringing in a steady stream of fresh air your indoor air quality will improve. HRV’s also run this air through filters which will reduce the likelihood of mold, mildew, fungi, dust mites and bacteria in your building. The EPA estimates that poor indoor air quality affects 33% to 50% of commercial buildings in the United States. Over 10 million work days are also lost each year from poor indoor air quality.

3. Increase Energy Efficiency: HRVs can transfer close to 80% of the energy between air streams.

The HRV Statistics

According to a study done by the Minnesota sustainable housing initiative:

“HRVs use electricity to power ventilation fans, on average they will save 4-5 times more energy than they consume in a cold climate. Average sensible efficiencies for HRVs are in the range of 68%-70%. High performance models can achieve sensible efficiencies in the range of 83%-84%. Average efficiency units can reduce heating energy consumption by 15%. High efficiency models can reduce heating energy consumption by up to 18%.”

Heat Recovery Ventilator Maintenance Checklist

  • Rasmussen Mechanical Services Heat Recovery Ventilator ChecklistCheck blade pitch operation where applicable
  • Check rotary union where applicable
  • Inspect/lube blade links where applicable
  • Inspect/lube spherical bearing where applicable
  • Lube spider hub assembly where applicable
  • Check/clean fan assembly
  • Lube fan bearings
  • Check belts & sheaves – adjust as applicable
  • Tighten all nuts/bolts/mounting hardware
  • Check motor mounts and vibration pads
  • Check motor volts/amps
  • Inspect and tighten all electrical connections
  • Check contactors/relays, etc.
  • Lube/adjust associated dampers
  • Check fan operation
  • Change Filters
  • Lubricate pump and motor bearings per manufacturer’s recommendations
  • Visually check pump alignment and coupling
  • Check motor operating conditions
  • Inspect electrical connections and contactors
  • Inspect and clean strainers
  • Check hand valves
  • Inspect mechanical seal or packing as applicable
  • Verify gauges if present for accuracy
  • Clean external surfaces if needed

Note: Depending on the type of unit, maintenance may vary.

There are several types of Heat Recovery Ventilators including:

    • Rotary Thermal Wheel Units
    • Fixed Plate Heat Exchangers,
    • Heat Pumps
    • Heat Pipes
    • Run-Around
    • Phase Change Materials
    • Plate Heat

Why HVAC System Efficiency and Maintenance Matters

HVAC systems are one of the largest energy consumers in most commercial buildings at about 25% of total energy use. Couple that with the degradation curves below, and you begin to understand that maintenance is a must.

The graph below shows a study done by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA).

This study focuses on a 20-to reciprocating rooftop air conditioner with a 14-year expected life.

Maintenance Study HVAC Equipment

As you can see, the poorly maintained unit (Curve 1) resulted in a 9-year life with degrading efficiency (rising energy use and cost) throughout. The well-maintained unit on the other hand (Curve 2) achieved the manufacturers expected life of 14 years, while maintaining a high level of efficiency.

BOMA goes on to say that the failure of the well-maintained unit was caused by a compressor issue. The compressor was able to be replaced, which leads to an extension of the overall system by another 7 years.

Two Additional HVAC System Tips

Optimize Outside Airflow 

HVAC tune-up | RasMech

Most buildings bring in more air than needed, which creates massive utility bills when heating and cooling the outside air. Reduce outside airflow rates to the minimum allowed by ASHRAE for each space. Reducing this airflow will yield significant savings!

Installing CO2 sensors in return air ductwork and maintaining interior CO2 levels will also yield some serious savings. Talk to a Temperature Control Specialist today to see if your building is running at efficient outside air temperature

Prevent An HVAC System Breakdown By Carrying These Parts 

Below is a list of parts you can keep in stock to limit further expenses!

  • Air filters
  • Belts
  • Capacitors
  • Coil Condenser Cleaners
  • Contactors
  • Fuses

For larger facilities, it can be cost-effective to build your inventory of more expensive replacement parts. Especially if you have five or more pieces of equipment sharing parts like:

  • Motor
  • Capacitors
  • Gas Valves
  • Control Boards
  • Compressors
  • Bearings
  • Shafts
  • Impellers, etc.
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