Whole-House Ventilation System Types

WholeHouseKey Points

  • Exhaust ventilation systems extract indoor air from a house.
  • Supply ventilation systems use a fan to force outside air into the building.
  • Balanced systems introduce and exhaust equal quantities of fresh outside air and polluted inside air.

The decision to use whole-house ventilation is typically motivated by concern that natural ventilation is not providing adequate air quality, even with source control by spot ventilation. Whole-house ventilation systems provide controlled, uniform ventilation throughout a house. These systems use one or more fans and duct systems to exhaust stale air and/or supply fresh air to the house. There are four types of systems.


Types of Whole-House Ventilation

Exhaust Ventilation Systems- Exhaust ventilation systems work by depressurizing the building. By reducing the inside air pressure below the outdoor air pressure, they extract indoor air from a house while make-up air infiltrates through leaks in the building shell and through intentional, passive vents. Exhaust ventilation systems are most applicable in cold climates. In climates with warm humid summers, depressurization can draw moist air into building wall cavities, where it may condense and cause moisture damage.

Supply Ventilation Systems- Supply ventilation systems work by pressurizing the building. They use a fan to force outside air into the building while air leaks out of the building through holes in the shell, bath and range fan ducts, and intentional vents (if any exist). Supply ventilation systems allow better control of the air that enters the house than do exhaust ventilation systems. By pressurizing the house, supply ventilation systems discourage the entry of pollutants from outside the living space and avoid backdrafting of combustion gases from fireplaces and appliances. Supply ventilation systems are most applicable in hot or mixed climates.

Balanced Ventilation Systems- Balanced ventilation systems neither pressurize nor depressurize a house if properly designed and installed. Rather, they introduce and exhaust approximately equal quantities of fresh outside air and polluted inside air, respectively. Balanced ventilation systems are appropriate for all climates. A balanced ventilation system usually has two fans and two duct systems and facilitates good distribution of fresh air by placing supply and exhaust vents in appropriate places. Balanced systems are usually more expensive to install and operate than supply or exhaust systems because they require two duct and fan systems.

Balanced, Heat-Recovery Ventilation SystemsA special type of balanced ventilation system adds a heat-recovery unit to the basic design. A heat-recovery unit reduces the heating and cooling costs of ventilation by transferring heat from the warm inside air being exhausted to the fresh but cold outside air in the winter, and vice-versa in the summer. Comfort is also improved because the supply air is tempered before delivery, reducing drafts. Some heat-recovery systems also transfer moisture-an advantage in warm, humid climates in the summer and cold climates in the winter. Balanced, heat-recovery units are most cost effective in climates with extreme winters or summers, and where fuel costs are high. In mild climates, the cost of the additional electricity consumed by the fans may exceed the energy savings from not having to heat and cool the air introduced by the ventilation system.