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How To: Keep your home’s HRV in Working Order

How long has it been since you last opened your window or screen door to let in fresh air? We’ll bet not since the first snowfall of the season. Not allowing fresh air to circulate forces you to breath in the same stale air 24/7. Most homes are now equipped a heating and air device called an HRV that improves the quality of air, but often goes unnoticed when it could make your living space a healthier one.

Here’s what we’ve learned about HRVs, why they’re important to have, and how to maintain them to ensure you’re breathing in quality air on a regular basis.hrv

What is it and why do I need it?

Air leaks are a common occurrence in many homes. Windows begin to break down, the seals around the front door loosen up. But no matter how hard you work to prevent air leaks from happening, the act of preventing them can lead to poor air quality because there is a lack of fresh air being exchanged within the house.

A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) works to clean the air in your home so your family isn’t consistently breathing in the same stale air. HRVs expel stale humid air and bring in fresh outdoor air, and while doing so, they also transfer heat from the outgoing air to the incoming outdoor air. This makes the incoming air more comfortable and reduces related space heating and air-conditioning costs.

Not sure if you already have one? Take a look at this video. It’ll give you an example of what the device looks like and how it works.

I have one. How do I keep it in working order?

Like most appliances, systems and equipment in your home, your HRV requires regular maintenance to work properly and remain efficient. While some tasks should be done by a trained contractor, there are others that are relatively simple to do. Make sure you check the maintenance instructions and disconnect the HRV from its power source before you start. The following is a list of general maintenance tips that may apply to many HRVs: 

  • In the summer, turn the HRV’s dehumidistat (the adjustable control that activates the ventilator according to relative humidity) to the “high” or “off” setting when it’s warm enough to do so.
  • In the autumn, turn it back on (or reset it to its original set point). This is a good time to ensure that your HRV is working properly, as it will be much more difficult when it’s cold outside.
  • Check the outside vents of your HRV regularly and remove obstructions – such as leaves or snow – that can accumulate on the screens inside the hoods and reduce the airflow.
  • Clean the grilles located in the rooms of your house by vacuuming any dust or other buildup that could slow airflow.
  • Check any visible ductwork every year for disconnections or leaks.
  • If your HRV has a condensate drain (a pipe or plastic tube coming out of the bottom to let moisture out), slowly pour two litres of warm, clean water in each drain pan inside the ventilator. If it doesn’t flow through freely, you can remove and clean the drain.
  • Every two months, clean or replace the air filters, which can become dirty or clogged, reducing efficiency. Most HRV filters can either be removed easily or cleaned with a vacuum cleaner and washed with mild soap.
  • Vacuum or wash the heat-exchange core, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Gently brush away any dirt that has built up on the fan blades. If you have an older model, it might require a few drops of motor-lubricating oil as well.

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Air-flow balance

One other maintenance procedure – air-flow balancing – is necessary to ensure that the flow of fresh air into the unit matches the flow of exhaust air out. This is a good procedure for when you are buying a home that has a HRV, or if you have made any changes to the air ducts during maintenance. Air flow measurements and HRV balancing should be done by a qualified contractor as a part of an annual service call. An unbalanced HRV can cause many problems including the backdrafting of fuel-fired furnaces, hot water heaters and fireplaces – a potentially very dangerous situation.

If repairs are needed, or you are not comfortable doing this maintenance, technicians are available. Consult our database of heating and air conditioning specialists who can get your device in tiptop shape.

About the Author: Christina Haddad is the vice president of Ontario’s Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation division.

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