- Does it have a filter e.g. for pollen or wildfire smoke?
There is a True HEPA filter option that can be purchased separately. Hepa filters are the best for removing pollen and wildfire smoke during summer, equivalent to approximately a MERV-13 filter. You must choose between the Automatic Storm Valve add-on and a filter, at any given time. You can switch from one to the other at the right time of the season. The filter is usually used only in warmer weather, outdoor air in winter does not generally need to be filtered.
The filters are standard, widely available filters. You do not need to buy new filters from us at a high markup, and you do not even need exactly the right size of filter. You will always be able to get the filters you need for optimal functionality.
Any filter reduces the air flow rate. In Summer Mode with the heat exchanger removed, maximum net provided fresh air flow rate with the HEPA filter is 50 CFM per module.
- How much energy, carbon, or money does it save?
See the spreadsheet on the Learn More page for exact figures. In Ottawa, the calculations show a single pair of modules (one ERV unit) saves about 166 cubic meters of natural gas per year. That's about 150 kilograms of fuel! The monetary savings are shown in the spreadsheet.
You can save a copy of the spreadsheet, and then edit it, to enter the figures for your region for electricity and fossil fuel prices, etc. and see for yourself that the rate of return on a given quantity of capital/the rate of return on investment is more than twice as high as a photovoltaic panel installation in many areas.
Heating fresh air that is brought into buildings is responsible for about 20 percent of all global carbon emissions. The OpenERV captures about 91% of that energy.
- What Warranty do you provide?
There is a 5 year Warranty against defects in material or workmanship on all our products. Unlike with conventionally manufactured products, this is not an indication of design life.
In reality, all conventionally made products include what's called planned obsolescence - they are deliberately made to break soon after the warranty expires, and we have all come to expect this. When they do break, they cannot be fixed. The TW4 is not like that. There is no planned obsolescence.
This is one of the reasons it has to be open source, and use only commodity or additively manufactured components.
Doing things in this way allows the customer to see the incentive and ability to employ planned obsolescence is gone, because it is not possible to demand high prices for replacement parts and labor when they can both be obtained from a large variety of sources, aside from the original manufacturer. First of all, there is no incentive to make things break as soon as possible after the warranty expires, and secondly even if they do you know you can get a fair price on replacement parts, and even into the distant future.
It is made to last as long as the fundamentals of technology allow. This improves the investment properties greatly. We believe doing things right is better than any warranty. We believe good engineering is better than a paper promise, especially for very long time periods, and a building element should last for 25, 50 or even 100 years.
Extremely long warranties don't really help very much in practice as companies go out of business or don't honour their promises, proof of purchase gets lost etc.
Home improvement product type companies on average go out of business within only 3 years. 70% are gone within 10 years.
- What happens during a storm?
If you live in an area where storms occur with enough severity to force air or water through the unit, and the unit is not installed in a sufficiently sheltered area, you should use the Automatic Storm Valve add-on module. This will close the intake when the system detects extreme wind, and prevent the intrusion of air during a storm. The unit is installed at a very slight angle so that in the unlikely event any water gets in, it runs back outdoors again. This is one reason the use of a contiguous, high quality pipe is a better idea than those telescoping tube designs. The telescoping tubes can leak water into your wall where the two telescoping sections meet.
- Can I hack/modify the unit?
Yes, but we can't/it is not economical to try to honour the warranty on units that have been modified, it's just too complicated and labor intensive, unfortunately.
- Why should I care that it's Open Source, and made with widely available components?
Open source has major implications for the long term return on investment, and real-world reliability of the system. You also know what your are getting before you buy a lot better.
Any of this nature appliance must have some custom parts, but my making them 3d-printable and making the source code available, you can know that you will always be able to obtain replacement parts.
When a system is made from common, widely available parts, and you have the blueprints, you will never be at the mercy of any one company, which will keep you waiting for long periods or charge too much for replacement parts or service. All conventional companies engage in what's called Planned Obsolescence. They design things to break and in such a way that you have to come back to them for parts and service - and then they eventually stop supporting a product or go out of business, leaving the product an expensive piece of trash. Which is built into your wall.
If you want to amortize the cost of a product over a long time period, it has to last a long time. 25 or even 50 years is sensible for a building element.
Open source also provides a certain inertia and staying power, and is more respectful of the user in many ways.
The design can be seen and criticized by anyone, helping prevent the existence of problems at an early stage.
For a rare few of us, the ability to modify, reprogram and enhance the unit, or shimmy it into a different role, is valuable.
Environmental friendliness also shakes out of this designed-to-last approach. It's way less stuff in the trash, and less stuff produced means less pollution.
We support the Right To Repair movement. This is especially important for farm equipment and other basic infrastructure, such as housing and building technology, which we all depend on and form a major part of the cost of living.
Consider: fans never last more than a few years of continuous operation. If you purchase a conventionally made unit, will you be able to find a replacement fan when the time comes, several years from now? Will the company even sell you one at all? Better ask them before buying. What if the company is out of business? What is the plan? Exactly?
What happens if something gets damaged, due to a lighting strike/power surge, fire, severe storm, or just careless mechanical trauma? Kids or pets? How much will it cost to rectify? These are part of life for a building element. With the OpenERV, these things can all be solved relatively quickly and cheaply.
- What is the wind compensation, efficiency optimization stuff about?
All the other ductless ERV and HRV units on the market are prone to getting an excess of air blowing through them, which greatly reduces real world efficiency. This is partly due to the limitations on fan technology. The efficiency they advertise is merely under laboratory conditions with no wind, and is not realistic. The OpenERV automatically monitors the wind speed and compensates.
This improves comfort by helping prevent drafts, and improves the return on financial investment. It also allows the fan to reduce it's speed during calm conditions, reducing noise levels.
- What is Summer Mode? Can it be used as a supply/exhaust fan?
Summer mode just allows you to command the quite powerful yet very quiet fan to blow in only one direction, whichever you prefer, rather than reversing direction periodically. You would usually remove the heat exchanger, once per season, which only takes a couple minutes, and can be done from the indoor side. It still closes the valve if high winds are detected.
The flow rate at maximal power is 120 CFM. The stall pressure is 6.5 mm H2O (that's a lot for a quiet, reversible fan).
The HEPA filter is expected to be used in Summer mode with positive pressure i.e. air going into the house. The flow rate at maximal power is 50 CFM with the True HEPA filter in place and the regenerator removed.
It's not warrantied for use as a bathroom fan, which has unique requirements.
- What maintenance does it require?
We should ask this question of any appliance. The TW4 requires almost no maintenance. Dust can be blown out with compressed air, if desired. If the unit gets dirty due to unusual conditions, you can remove the components from the tube and clean them, but that should not normally be needed or useful. The HEPA filter may need to be cleaned or replaced, it should be good for at least one season, depending on pollution levels.
After several years, the motor bearings will need to be replaced. This process of wear has some randomness to it and depends on usage levels.
When this happens, you can dismantle the unit according to the instructions and replace the bearings. You need some <1.2 mm circlip pliers or two small screwdrivers of the right size. See the manual for details. This only has to be done once in a very, very long time, and it sure beats trying to find a replacement fan with all the right characteristics and interface, which for any such appliance is generally impossible, unfortunately. If we could have used a commodity fan, we would, but they don't exist, with these specs.
If it is damaged due to extreme weather, mechanical trauma, or a power surge or lighting, the relevant parts can always be sourced and replaced, either with identical 3d printed parts, or commodity, standard parts. Even the electronics can be replaced with standard modules. All screws are stainless steel, so they will never rust.
- It has WiFi connectivity. Does it have Internet of Things functionality, a remote control?
Yes, it is directly compatible with AdafruitIO, and is a generic MQTT device. This means with some configuration, it can be controlled using Google Assistant, HomeKit, Alexa and other major home automation systems. You can also configure it to be controlled through these platforms by smart switches and knobs.
We plan to make it Matter compatible when suitable software modules are released for that system. The configuration is not completely trivial, but we will release a guide on how to do it.
The electronics actually have a Bluetooth module in there, but it's not being used and there are no plans to use it.
- Is the OpenERV compatible with X standard?
Ductless ERV manufacturer's frequently indicate a laundry list of supposed standards the units are compatible with. Some even claim inapplicable standards, such as those made for fans or ducted ERV or HRV units. They claim the units are suitable for X many square feet of floor area, which is not how ventilation actually works.
Fundamentally, the efficiency, flow rate and electrical efficiency of the fan in terms of watts per CFM is what determines compatibility with these standards.
The OpenERV unit is RoHS and WEEE compliant, meaning it does not contain any of a list of toxic substances, such a lead.
By most standards, the OpenERV is suitable for about 700 square feet of interior space. 35 CFM gives an ACH of 0.35 for 700 square feet of floor area with 9 foot high ceilings, which is "good" ventilation. If you just need some supplemental ventilation, you can get away with a larger floor area.
Some manufacturer's claim compliance with DIN 1946-6. This is merely a standard for the amount of ventilation air for a building. A ventilator unit cannot itself be compliant, only a building with adequate ventilation can be compliant. The OpenERV can be used to make a compliant building, certainly.
DIN 308 is a legitimate standard for measuring the efficiency of Energy Recovery ventilators and Heat Recovery Ventilators. But it does not apply to ductless units, only conventional ducted units. The testing protocol is specific to ducted units. It also does not factor in the impact of wind pressure on efficiency. With ducted systems, this is reasonable as the fans are powerful and high pressure. In ductless units, this does not make sense as wind has a very large impact on units that do not have compensation systems.
The TW4 does have a compensation system, but it is the only unit on the market that does. See FAQ #7, on the subject of the built in efficiency optimization system the TW4 features.
Basically, the standardization and regulatory framework is lagging technology, as usual.
Also, make sure you google a standard and know what it means before taking anything a manufacturer says seriously. There is no one going around making sure that manufacturer's tell the truth or avoid being misleading, at least not in such detail. If the standard is not explained in detail somewhere, it means nothing.
- What does it sound like/how much noise does it make?
At very low settings, it is truly inaudible in a normal environment. At higher setting, it is not perfectly inaudible if you are in the same room and there is zero other background noise, and neither is any other fan in the world. It will be drowned out by a typical computer fan, refrigerator, an open window with the typical background roar of the city, a forced air furnace or central ventilation fan of any kind, and many other normal noise sources. It is extremely quiet.
Talking about and conveying an accurate idea of what exactly something sounds like is prone to error because individual perception, the type of noise, background noise, the acoustic environment (including the tendency to reflect echos, etc.) and other factors all play a role. But we can do some quantitative measurement, which all else being equal gives you a reasonable idea.
The standard quantitative measure for fan noise is the Sone. For an explanation regarding how Sones work, I can recommend this page. For now, suffice it to say that a measure in Sones is meant to correlate with perceived sound level, so 0.6 Sones sounds approximately, to a typical person, twice as loud as 0.3 Sones. 0.3 Sones is extremely quiet as fans go, but humans can hear much fainter sounds.
We have leveraged additive manufacturing to produce the quietest fan blades that are physically possible, and use the best quality motors and electronics, as well as many features to passively absorb sound. This includes custom viscoelastic rubber isolators, and fiberglass. We pull the bearings out of the motors and carefully replace them with top quality ABEC-5 Z4 bearings. The fan is also located on the outside side, which helps reduce the radiation of sound energy into the home, compared to putting it on the indoor side, or fully inside the room. However it increases cost because now the fan has to be rain-proof. This provides a profoundly quiet unit, at higher flow rates and efficiency levels than other units on the market.
We have chosen to include the acoustic cover by default, because although most people will consider it overkill, we take pride in doing really good work. It makes no sense to cut corners when you are going to be using something for 25-50 years.
Quantitatively, see the specs on the main product page.
It is important to realize that fan noise increases rapidly with higher flow rates. The OpenERV is capable of higher flow rates than other ductless ERV units, however you don't have to turn it up. You just have choices. At the same flow rate, it makes less noise by far than any other ductless ERV or HRV.
Important note: placing the fan on the outdoor side reduces the noise, but it could lead to frost accumulation under extreme conditions. If this happens, you just have to put the fan on the inside. It's possible to run the fan in such a way as to prevent frost from accumulating by using heat from indoors to periodically defrost the fan. However this feature is not implemented yet. A firmware upgrade will enable it in the future.
- Does it stop working when it gets too cold out?
No, it is designed and tested to work all year round, including during Canadian weather at -30 degrees C.
Frost up and condensation issues don't generally occur with these regenerator type ERV units, because the water that gets deposited by air on the way out evaporates again into air on the way in.
- Can it work as a bathroom exhaust fan?
It is not warrantied for use in a bathroom, because although the fan is waterproof, the indoor electronics are not sealed against water droplets produced during a shower, and there is a remote chance they could cause problems.
- How can I trust this unconventional approach?
Small scale manufacturing is not common, but it is seen reasonably often in the HVAC and building industry. Additive manufacturing is coming into it's own now, but it's true it is not conventional. However, it has been proven to be capable of producing quality, reliable components.
All units are extensively tested before being released from Quality Control. The sub-modules we use are standard, and used in many other quality products. The power supplies, for instance, are made by a reputable manufacturer and are CE marked and UL listed. We don't make the motors or the electronic modules, we just get quality components from respectable manufacturers, assemble them with custom mechanical and acoustic components, then test and quality assure the result. The system runs on low voltage DC and is low power and inherently safe. There is a main fuse and 4 redundant over heating protection systems for the motor.
We believe that quality engineering and manufacturing is essential, open source or not.
The warranty helps.
We present a part of a new paradigm for getting good things done, in the near and long term, locally and globally, and invite you to be a part of it.
- What's the difference between an HRV and an ERV?
The OpenERV is an Energy Recovery Ventilator, which means it recovers at least some of the water vapor. Under testing for Toronto weather, it recovered an average of 45% of water vapor from the air over the season. This is better than an HRV, which does not recover water vapor, but is otherwise the same. This occurs because when the outgoing air gets below the dew point, water vapor condenses onto the regenerator media. When flow is reversed, it evaporates back into the airstream. The efficiency of latent heat recovery changes when the temperature differential and humidity changes, while sensible efficiency stays about the same, even when it is extremely cold out.
This recovery of water vapor is valuable because when water evaporates, it absorbs heat energy. If you bring low-humidity air into a home, it causes accelerated evaporation of water, which cools the house down. Then that heat energy has to be provided, to maintain the temperature of the dwelling, by burning fuel.
- Is there a bug screen? A super fine one?
There is a bug mesh that clamps on under the storm valve add on module. You can clamp any sheet of bug mesh under the clamp. However you can filter out no-see-ums, blackflies, or whatever you wish. Mosquitos generally can't get past the fan and regenerator anyway, especially when it's on. Most people won't need the bug mesh, but it's an option if you do. The HEPA filter of course also prevents bugs from getting in.
- Can I use it in an extremely hot area like the desert to get fresh air when the AC is on?
The unit is not warrantied for use in areas that may get above 40 degrees C right now, because combined with direct sunlight this could lead to damage to some of the components. For now, it's primarily to save on heating energy. In the future we may employ a different polymer that allows use in hot climates.
- What's the total net cost of ownership/operation per year looking like?
The maintenance cost per year plus the yearly payments on the capital cost amortized over the life of the unit is far superior to a conventionally produced unit. See spreadsheet for details.
The unit is designed to last much longer than any other on the market. A conventionally made unit can't reasonably be expected to last much longer than it's warranty period. If it does, it's a fluke and, arguably a mistake of the producing company, because they forfeit that ability to charge for labor, parts, or a new unit after the warranty expires. Reputation doesn't change that much, in reality.
When the fan will wear out is an important question, and how to get another one. No axial fan lasts longer than a couple years in constant operation, that is beyond current cost-effective technology for this application. Many of us think of the fans in our forced air heating systems or similar, which do last for a very long time before the bearings wear out. Such fans rotate at relatively low speed. The type of fan used in a ductless energy recovery ventilator is fundamentally different, they don't last as long.
Mean Time Before Failure ratings for fans are statistical measures that do not represent average usable life span, for several reasons such as the exclusion of some causes of failure, and unrealistic criteria for failure. Normal wear is actually excluded as a "valid" cause by most companies. Secondly, the test is only done for a limited time period. Analogously, if the same is applied to a human, the MTBF of a 25 year old human comes out as about 800 years. Clearly, this does not mean what we thought it meant.
Secondly, failure is usually considered as only when the fan actually stops blowing air. In the context of a ductless ERV, it's when it starts making too much noise that it becomes useless, which happens far sooner.
With the TW4, you can just open the unit and replace the bearings. We even include a free set of replacement bearings. They cost about 25 cents each from the right source, about 2 dollars each at a typical hobby supply store. The lifespan limitations of the electronics is almost negligible, but not quite. They can get fried by power surges and so forth. Therefore we have made them standard, and replaceable.
With an open source unit made from standard parts, the incentives are inherently aligned differently. Because you don't depend on us for parts or labor, there is no incentive to try to rig the design of the unit to drive you back to us, before or after the warranty period expires.
Taken together, the incentives are better aligned this way, and that paves the way for a more promising financial proposition - when the cost of a unit can be amortized over 40 years instead of 5, that's a factor of 8 more service life - for the same capital cost, and for lower running costs, because maintenance is less costly.
Open source is no mere philosophical proposition, it has very tangible benefits.
- How do I fit it to a wall thinner than 230 millimeters thick?
The unit is actually designed so the pipe can just stick out the exterior wall. This is a unique design feature among ductless ERV units. The seal around the wall and pipe is accomplished with caulk and foam. If you wish, for cosmetic reasons to add some kind of box to enclose the small segment of visible pipe, that is something the installer can do for you, in the same way as for other ductless ERV units. In the case of the TW4, the box does not have to have significant strength, because the pipe itself is actually quite strong. The exterior components actually clamp to the pipe with a radial clamp, tightened by a screw. This also makes (rarely required) types of maintenance and repair much more practical. Making the pipe and seal against the wall independent is generally advisable.
- How much outdoor noise does it block (the "sound pressure difference" or "sound level difference")?
Ventilator units of any type, whether they have heat recovery or not, can be tested to ascertain the amount of outdoor sound that they allow through/block. This matters in a city because there are traffic noises and things that can be annoying.
Clearly, most units do not provide the same level of sound attenuation as a solid wall. But they do provide more than an open window.
It is measured in Decibels, A-weighted, usually (dBA). The test is that they install the unit in a wall in a laboratory, and then produce sound on one side of the wall, then measure the reduction in sound volume that arises after the sound waves pass through the unit. So there is one microphone on the outside, one on the inside, and you measure the difference between the sound levels that they detect. This process is repeated at a range of frequencies, and then an algorithm is used to summarize the data points into a single number. The higher the number, the better.
It's helpful to think in terms of earplugs. Those yellow or orange foam earplugs give a sound reduction of about 30 decibels, if you use them right. The so called NRR, the Noise Reduction Rating, is included with the earplugs and should be stated on the package. So 30 decibels is a pretty large reduction in sound level.
A typical ventilator of this type gives about 30 decibels of sound reduction. They come with various accessories sometimes to improve this figure. Usually the accessories are in the form of indoor or outdoor hoods with a small amount of sound absorbing foam or fiberglass.
The TW4 already includes a fiberglass panel build into the interior cover, by default, no extra charge. This reduces the sound from the fan a lot, and also helps significantly with traffic noise. It 's possible you could put some sound absorbing felt, foam or fiberglass (felt is the best for sound, but it could get wet) under the outer hood, but there isn't really space if you also use the storm valve.
The storm valve blocks a lot of noise when it is closed, too. The storm valve closes automatically when the unit is turned off.
Low frequency noises are particularly hard to block. The reality is that any ventilator will allow a small amount of noise in. However it is far less than a window that is open a small crack. That allows you to see some idea of what it will be like. Very few people will even notice the difference.
It helps a lot to install it in a wall that does not face the street.
It's actually possible to further increase sound attenuation by replacing the fiberglass with felt. Felt works better but it's much too expensive to include by default. You can do this yourself easily, you just undo some screws, cut the felt with scissors, put it in place and screw everything shut.
The TW4 has not been tested in a laboratory yet, so we cannot give exact figures. However, given the physics and the geometries and materials used etc. it is expected to be better than other units which do not include any fiberglass.