Good, Better, Best: How to Navigate Your Ventilation Decisions

Discover what options are available when selecting which mechanical ventilation system to install.

Selecting the right ventilation system for your specific application has become increasingly challenging. Historically, leaky homes had enough natural ventilation that a whole-house mechanical ventilation method was not always necessary. But as building codes shift towards airtight construction, the need for proper ventilation systems is stronger than ever. 

Pros have several options available when selecting which mechanical ventilation system to install:

Types of Ventilation Methods

Exhaust-Only Systems

An exhaust-only system is one that does just enough to comply with the building code. This “code minimum compliance” approach uses ventilation fans to exhaust indoor air at code-specified CFM, but does nothing to replenish lost air. Because of this, unfiltered outdoor makeup air is pulled into the home through cracks and leaks.

Supply-Only Systems

Opposite of exhaust-only systems, supply-only systems ventilate outdoor air into the home. The indoor air then leaves the home through exhaust fan ducts. Although this method works in tempered climates like California, it is not suitable for colder climate regions because the incoming air is not tempered. Additionally, these ventilation systems are particularly difficult to create balance within airtight homes.

Balanced Systems

Balanced ventilation systems offer a combination of exhaust and supply methods to create (as aptly named) balance in the home’s air pressurization. HRVs (heat recovery ventilators) and ERVs (energy recovery ventilators) pull outdoor air into the home at the same rate as the exhausted air is removed.  It will keep the pressure of the home balanced and also temper the outdoor air that enters the home. 

Why Installing the Right Ventilation System Matters

Many builders opt for exhaust or supply-only systems because they’re the most cost-effective options to comply with the building code. But there are some serious drawbacks with these ventilation systems, including low energy efficiency, noisy operation and poor air quality.

The trouble is, production home builders and others overlook these issues because they don’t directly experience those consequences. But in reality, opting for code-minimum compliance can actually have negative repercussions on long-term business success. 

Building a Reputation for Quality & Safety

Increasingly, homeowners seek homes that are built for safe and healthy living. In fact, researchers at Harvard University found that 69% of homeowners name indoor air quality as their top concern for house health. With 90% of our time spent indoors, this is a valid concern. 

When builders go a step further with their ventilation systems, they differentiate their homes to buyers with improved quality and health. Homeowners are willing to pay a premium for energy-efficient, healthy homes. Installing balanced ventilation systems rather than code-minimum solutions can help builders earn a strong reputation with buyers willing to pay the price.

How to Choose a Ventilation System for Your Specific Application

There are a number of important factors to consider before determining which type of ventilation system to install. Before selecting a system, consider:


What’s the average humidity in your region? The answer will help determine whether an ERV or HRV is right for your application. 

ERVs were originally designed for regions like the Deep South where the air is warm and humid. These fresh air appliances help prevent that moisture from coming into the home, using core technology to remove the moisture from the air. HRVs, on the other hand, are better suited for colder climates because use sensible recovery to heat the outdoor air for improved comfort inside of the home.


Buyers rarely want to hear that a home’s ventilation system is going to cost them a few thousand dollars extra. If cost is an area where your buyers aren’t willing to budge, exhaust or supply-only systems can help save some dollars.

While a balanced system using a fresh air appliance may cost more, it’s also the most effective method for improving indoor air quality and overall health of the home. For buyers willing to pay the cost – and builders committed to delivering the best standards – installing an HRV or ERV is the strongest solution.

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