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Heat recovery ventilation (HRV), also known as mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR), is an energy recovery ventilation system using equipment known as a heat recovery ventilator, heat exchanger, air exchanger, or air-to-air heat exchanger which employs a cross flow or counter-flow heat exchanger (countercurrent heat exchange) between the inbound and outbound air flow.[1]

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 weather stripping, buildings are intentionally made more airtight, and consequently less well ventilated. HRV systems provide ventilation without the loss of heat or humidity, which could put stress on a building's heating, ventilating/ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. HRV introduces fresh air to a building and improves climate control, whilst promoting efficient energy use.

UK building regulations require one air change every two hours (0.5 ACH). With traditional extract-only ventilation that means a house boiler would need to warm up a house-full of cold air 12 times a day.[2]


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 fans and electronic control system. When used with 'central' HVAC systems, then the system would be of the 'forced-air' type.

Air-to-air heat exchangerEdit

Types of Recuperator air-to-air heat exchangers.

There are a number of types of air-to-air heat exchanger that can be used in HRV devices:

  • cross flow heat exchanger up to 60% efficient (passive)
  • Recuperator, or cross plate heat exchanger, a countercurrent heat exchanger, as diagrammed to the right
  • Thermal Wheel, or rotary heat exchanger (requires motor to turn wheel)
  • Heat pipe
  • thin multiple heat wires (Fine wire heat exchanger)
See also:

Incoming airEdit

The air coming into the heat exchanger should be above 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,[3]
  • by using a very small (1 kW) heat pump to warm the inlet air above freezing before it enters the HRV device. (The 'cold' side of this heatpump is situated in the warm air outlet.)
  • using a heating "battery" supplied by heat from a heat source e.g. hot water circuit from a wood-fired boiler, etc.

Earth-to-air heat exchangerEdit

Heat recovery ventilation, often with an earth-to-air heat exchanger, is essential to achieve German Passivhaus standards.
Ventilation unit with heat pump & ground heat exchanger
Ventilation unit with heat pump & ground heat exchanger - cooling
Plate ground heat exchanger inside the foundation walls

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 trap mould (of a size between 2 and 20 micrometres)
  • UV air purification
  • Use an 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 of using earth-to-air heat exchanger is 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 needs to be used.

Bacteria and fungiEdit

Formal research indicates that Earth-to-Air Heat Exchangers (EAHX) reduce building ventilation air pollution. Rabindra (2004)[citation needed] 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 earth-to-air heat exchangers 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-to-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 i.e. 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 micro-heat pump in reverse (an air conditioner) with the evaporator (giving heat) on the air inlet after the HRV heat exchanger and the condenser (taking heat) from the air outlet after the heat exchanger will suffice.

Seasonal bypassingEdit

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. ^ Most HRVs are balanced ventilators in which heat is transferred from one airstream to another. These balanced HRVs are often called air-to-air heat exchangers (AAHXs). Central-exhaust heat-pump water heaters are HRVs but they are not AAHXs because they transfer heat from one airstream into water, not between two airstreams. Another term often used is energy recovery ventilator (ERV). All HRVs transfer sensible heat from one airstream to another or to water. If latent heat is also transferred, then an HRV can be called an ERV. While there are specific differences between these different terms, many people use HRV, AAHX, and ERV interchangeably. The Healthy House Institute. Staff. "ERV". Understanding Ventilation: How to Design, Select, and Install Residential Ventilation Systems. June 4, 2009. December 9, 2009. <>
  2. ^ "MVHR Heat Recovery Ventilation MVHR". 
  3. ^ "Local exhaust ventilation testing". 


  • 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.

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