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

Passive Ventilation

Use passive ventilation in conjunction with mechanical ventilation for the best indoor air quality.

How to Protect Wood From Humidity

Fans, proper venting can lower humidity levels and not affect natural materials.

Installing a Bathroom Exhaust Fan

Ventilate space properly with a quiet and efficient fan.

Installing an Energy Recovery Ventilator

An ERV allows the home to maintain air circulation while minimizing energy loss.

Roof Ventilation Fundamentals

Keep your home healthy by protecting against heat and moisture problems.

Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality

Consider these options for replacing polluted air with fresh air.

Ventilating Your Basement

Without proper air flow, your basement's heating and cooling systems might as well be non-existent. Here's how to keep your basement ventilation in check.

Attic Ventilation

Proper ventilation helps water vapor to exit the attic, helping to dry out existing moisture.

In-Line Kitchen Exhaust Fans

Install the best ventilation option with these pointers.

Alternative HVAC Systems

Pellet stoves and furnaces are hot, but there are other keen ideas for getting the most out of your heating and cooling systems.

Go Shopping

Refresh your home with stylish products handpicked by HGTV editors.

Follow Us Everywhere

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