Ultimate Air Energy Recovery Ventilator

We just made a last minute switch from Zehnder’s Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) to Ultimate Air’s ERV for our Manhattan Passive House project.

There were two main factors in this decision: price and USA made.

Zehnder is a great unit and Barry the sales rep is a great guy. You’ve got top grade quality and service. And I almost went with them.

But Ultimate Air is almost half the price as Zehnder and is thus much more affordable to a middle class home.

For a small 1400 square foot brownstone duplex the Zehnder will run you at about $6,000 in materials, including duct work etc.

For the same space and to do the same ventilation Ultimate Air will run you about $3,000. That’s a big difference.

Installation is about the same, with Zehnder being the faster and easier by a little but not enough to offset the savings by much.

This more approachable price very important to me. It is not just about saving money. It is about making the green technology available to the largest amount of people. If Eco Brooklyn is going to make a big impact in turning New York green through ecological renovations then we have to cater to the middle class price point.

It is hard to do that with a Zehnder.

The reason Zehnder is more expensive is that it comes from Europe so you have more middle men in the pot and more transport costs. Barry would argue that it simply is a better machine and thus worth more but Ultimate Air would disagree. I know, I talked to both of them.

Zehnder compares their units to the Prius car – more expensive but great and ecological. My answer to that is that the Prius is great at changing the way people see cars and trailblazing the way to the future. But until they come out with a Prius that is a hell of a lot cheaper it won’t change the world.

Early adopters and very idealistic people will always buy the Prius of the market place, but most people in this world can’t afford to buy with their morals. Most people are simply focused on staying above water and until green building can help them do that it isn’t going to change the world.

And here at Eco Brooklyn we are interested in products that help the middle class go green because if we achieve that we get the majority of NY. And if your goal is to turn NY green then you go for the majority.

This isn’t to say we won’t buy Zehnder. There is a place for it in the NY market. We’ll use it when the budget permits and the client prefers it over the Ultimate Air. Some of our clients buy Prius and we love them for it. Ecological idealism and the ability to back it up with money is a powerful and good thing.

One of the things that Zehnder has over Ultimate Air is that it is a much quieter machine. This is a problem with Ultimate Air. But with the extra money we saved with the units we can afford to buy insulated duct work that will eat up the sound issues.

For this job, where the budget is tight, Ultimate Air was a good choice. At Ultimate Air you have Jason, who knows his stuff. He can talk tech like anybody’s business. And Ultimate Air sells a good product. AND, and this is important, it is made in the USA.

I’m not nationalist. I am an internationalist through and through. I couldn’t care less if something was made my dudes with US passports or any other passport.

BUT, I am also very local minded and it is important to me that my local geographic region becomes strong in green building technologies. If we continue to buy Passive House products from Europe, who is way ahead of the US, then we won’t grow our own Passive House technology as quickly.

So supporting our very young Passive House friendly companies in the USA is a very important thing.

For this project Ultimate Air is a great fit.

About the author: Gennaro Brooks-Church

3 comments to “Ultimate Air Energy Recovery Ventilator”

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  1. Gennaro Brooks-Church - March 27, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    My apologies for not responding sooner. It does sound like Barry is bitter, which is partly why I didn’t respond. I don’t like being accused of dishonesty. It appears Barry gets very involved in his work which I guess is a good thing.

    But now that I have worked with both Ultimate Air and Zehnder I have some comments.
    I did install the Zehnder in my house, a green show house. I got the contractor’s discount of 20%. I made no promises apart from saying I would install it and show it when I do tours of the house.

    My original observations still stand. Ultimate Air is noisy. It is more affordable. Changing out the wheel is not difficult. Zehnder is quieter but more expensive.

    I still find the sales reps at Ultimate Air to be great.

    Some changes to my original observations:
    Since Ultimate Air uses normal duct work, you can waste a lot of money on labor and materials if you don’t design the venting correctly. The unit is much cheaper but you can go over budget if the design has long runs with many corners. Zehnder’s flexible 3″ duct is a lot more forgiving. It is more expensive up front but cheaper in labor. And you can’t beat it if you are retrofitting. For new construction with smart design you can save yourself some money with Ultimate Air.
    Part of that design for both units, but especially Ultimate Air, is consideration for noise. Ultimate Air is way too noisy. Unless you account for this in the design and place it far from bedrooms and in a well soundproofed area you could get some unhappy clients. This is a challenge in small NY apartments. We placed them in closets surrounded by soundproofing walls. This removed most noise from the units but didn’t change the noise coming through the ducts. We insulated the ducts and that helped. But it was still a challenge.
    There is definitely a place for both units depending on the application. Tight spaces in a retrofit and Zehnder is a good bet due to the flexible ducts. More extensive renovations or new construction would be a case where you could consider either unit.
    A new player on the scene is the Lunos http://www.lunos.de/?page_id=170. I have heard good reviews and am eager to try it out. My friends at 475 sell it here in the US: http://www.foursevenfive.com/index.php?main_page=page&id=27&chapter=2
    It is a small unit and you would need more than one if you had anything but a small apartment. But they show a lot of potential. Again, I see it as an addition to my tool belt along with Ultimate Air and Zehnder. None of these systems work in all applications in my opinion.

  2. Jason Morosko - March 24, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    This is Jason from UltimateAir
    Sounds like Barry’s a little bitter. I’ve designed installations that have seen other units. Shouldn’t be so bitter about it.. happens all the time. Glad I was able to provide a good service.
    Unfortunate I’m reading this a few months late.
    The testing which H/ERV’s have in North America- which is CSA 439 is much more extensive than the PHI certification, and get this.. . It is suited for North American Climate (not Germany). I had PHI and our certification group look at both standard- methods of testing. The Passive House Standard will not sustain the long haul in north america by somehow dictating that we certify our products to a German standard. The market will not bear it.. nor will stuborn (proud?) US manufacturers.
    Comment on above- Barry should provide test data when making testing claims. I could make equal claims about a zehnder unit.
    One should also mention that products going into US houses/buildings need UL certification (electrical hazard safety). Last I checked (which was six months ago)- Zehnder did not have it. So make sure you building inspector doesn’t ‘look’ for that if you install a european product.

  3. Barry Stephens - September 15, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Hi Gennaro,
    I read this post with great interest. I wanted to add a couple of considerations with both this project, and with the comparisons you make.
    1) You should probably tell your readers that you have a Zehnder system in your own home in Brooklyn, and share your conversations with me regarding the deep discount you received. You might have considered your arguments BEFORE lobbying me with promises that you would not later keep.
    2) You should also let people know that you were okay with having Zehnder do the complimentary design work, and then switched products at the last minute.
    3) You may also want to share the fact that your installer crew much prefer Zehnder ducting systems. They told me that themselves when you switched.
    4) Did you explain to the homeowners that they are supposed to replace the enthalpy wheels in their UltimateAir units every 3-5 years? And did you explain to them how easy that is. NOT.
    5) Are you aware that the UltimateAir unit uses two times as much power as the equivalent Zehnder unit? I understand that electricity in NYC is pretty expensive. Per the above two points, cost of installation should not be confused with cost of ownership.
    6) When you put the numbers into the PHPP for the UltimateAir, you should have the proper numbers. Since the Recuperator is not certified by the Passive House Institute, and all of the Zehnder units are, we were not able to make a comparison for Passive House consultants. So we tested the Recouperator ourselves to the PHI standard. We know why the Recouperator is not certified. It does not come close to meeting the PHI standard.
    7) Zehnder is working with Habitat for Humanity chapters and other affordable housing initiatives across the country. This is not just middle class housing, this is affordable housing. Builders, architects and especially mechanical engineers have realized that with our extreme efficiencies they can reduce costs for the remainder of the mechanical systems, and end up with actual cost savings overall.

    I hope that you will share these observations, in order to best serve the readers of your blog.

    Thanks Gennaro.



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