Improving Home Ventilation

A whole-house ventilation system can bring fresh air indoors and reduce excess moisture.
Ventilation panel in residence


Ventilation panel in residence

Photo by: Jupiterimages


By: Dan McLeister

The push for energy conservation over the last few decades has resulted in houses being built "tighter" — more resistant to infiltration by outside air. However, the solution to one problem has created another: the need to get fresh air into homes that are sealed against the elements. In fact, most homes built since the energy crisis of the 1970s do not get adequate fresh air, says Mark LaLiberte, president of Building Knowledge in Minneapolis.

A whole-house ventilation system, as opposed to a whole-home air cleaning system, is bringing outside air into the conditioned space through intentional and controllable means, rather than through leaks and open windows. Ventilation of the conditioned space is controlled by fans or by dampers, which prevent air infiltration while the system is not in use. The devices also remove excess moisture that can be contained in a tight house and cause mold and other indoor air quality problems.

LaLiberte predicts that as many as 30 percent of the houses built in the United States in the next five years could have whole-house ventilation systems, compared with 10 percent or less today.

Relatively Inexpensive

A basic house ventilation system can be relatively inexpensive. If the house has a forced-air furnace, installing a whole-house ventilation system can be very simple: Adding a duct to the furnace system and a damper to control the intake of outside air and removal of stale air and to maintain the proper pressure. Such an addition could cost as little as $300, LaLiberte says.

For a more effective whole-house ventilation system, check out an energy-recovery system: A heat exchanger extracts heat from the air before it leaves a house and uses it heat to help warm incoming air. In the summer, it works in reverse, helping to keep the home cool. The cost of such a system, LaLiberte says, would be about a couple thousand dollars. documents low-cost and effective ventilation strategies for residential ventilation. Created by the Building Science Corp., the website also contains information about two other methods. Fan cycling assures that the central air-handler fan will run enough to distribute and mix ventilation air even when there is no demand for heating or cooling. A motorized air-damper cycling control prevents over-ventilation during long heating and cooling cycles and saves the cost of unnecessarily conditioning the "extra" outside air.

These controls will work with just about any heating and air-conditioning system, according to BSC President Betsy Petit. The exceptions are baseboard and radiant-floor systems.

While whole-house ventilation may not be as glamorous as selling stylish kitchen and bath upgrades, it can go a lot further in ensuring their long-term comfort.

Sources for additional information about whole house ventilation:

Next Up

Air Duct Cleaning 101

Is cleaning your HVAC air ducts really that important? Get to know your home’s system, learn how you can improve its function yourself and know when it’s time to consult a professional for cleaning.

Is Ductless Heating and Cooling Right for You?

Considering going duct-free to heat or cool your space? Get the lowdown on when these systems are the right choice and what to expect when you install.

Easy Steps to Keep Your Air-Conditioning Unit Running Smoothly

Regular cleaning and maintenance will save you money and extend the life of your heat pump or HVAC unit.

The Best Window Air Conditioning Units for Every Budget

As temperatures rise, beat the heat with a window AC unit. Check out these top-rated models with features like quiet operation for bedrooms and stylish clear panels so the whole window isn't blocked.

Should I Cover My A/C Unit in the Winter?

Learn the right and wrong way to protect your A/C unit during the off-season.

How to Clean an AC Filter

A clean or new filter in your air conditioner will help it run more efficiently, thus saving money on your utility bills. Plus, it improves the air quality in your home and keeps allergens away.

Choosing the Right Heating System: Heat Pump vs. Furnace?

Compare systems to understand the benefits for your home based on your geography and household needs. The right system will help improve your home's energy efficiency and reduce utility costs.

The Best Portable Air Conditioners Under $600 in 2024

As temperatures rise, beat the heat with a portable AC unit. Check out these top-rated models with features like quiet operation for bedrooms and dehumidifiers for hot, humid spaces.

How to Recharge Your Car's A/C in 15 Minutes

Get your car's air conditioning in shape for summer and beat the heat with these easy steps.

How to Improve Yard Drainage

Poor yard drainage is more than just a nuisance. Standing water can destroy your lawn, invite pests and even jeopardize your home. Here are some things you can do to improve the drainage in your yard and around your house.

Go Shopping

Get product recommendations from HGTV editors, plus can’t-miss sales and deals.


Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.