Formaldehyde Transfer in Residential Energy Recovery Ventilators

Publication Type

Journal Article



The rotary enthalpy wheel design used in many energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) is designed to transfer heat and moisture between supply and exhaust air streams. The wheel, however, can also transfer formaldehyde and other indoor contaminants from the exhaust stream to the supply stream through air leakage, entrainment in the porous wheel, and adsorption/desorption to the filter medium. This contaminant transfer reduces the benefit of the mechanical ventilation provided by the device. Field and chamber experiments were used to quantify the formaldehyde transfer efficacy (the fraction of formaldehyde transferred from the exhaust stream to the supply stream) in a common ERV model under varied conditions. In field experiments, the transfer efficacy was approximately 29%. Chamber tests showed formaldehyde transfer efficacy between 10 and 29%. The bulk of the transfer was due to air leakage and entrainment within the wheel, with up to 30% of the transfer attributed adsorption/desorption from the filter medium. The transfer efficacy decreased with increasing air exchange rate and supply air temperature. The transfer efficacy increased as the supply and exhaust streams were unbalanced in flow rate. Overall, the air leakage through the device substantially exceeded the product rating of 10%, with 27-28% air leakage measured in field experiments and 12-19% air leakage in chamber experiments.


Building and Environment

Year of Publication



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