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Question DetailsAsked on 2/25/2018

Do condo buildings built in the 80's require an air exchanger?

My husband and I are buying a condo built in 1982, and it has an old (I believe original) air exchanger that we don't know is functional or not (the outlet below it is not working). I have heard different opinions about whether an air exchanger is actually necessary. If it does work, should we keep it (or at least test it to see if it is somewhat energy efficient)? Should we take it out and figure out how to patch up the hole it will leave in the wall? Should we seek out a new one that would fit in the same hole? Or just leave the old one in even if it doesn't work? I imagine it is letting in fair amount of cold air in our frigid Minnesota winters!

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2 Answers


If factoring this repair or revision into your ownership costs, be sure you get a firm price for the repair, good for several months after planned closing date. Or just put correcting the problem (and specify HOW to be corrected) as a sale contingency item, if not past that point.

Some did, some did not - some have floor-to-floor exchangers to balance hot upper floor heat with cooler lower floors, some might have indoor-outdoor heat exchanger to cool the unit at night in the summer, and of course any forced air furnace has a heat exchanger built into it - where the passing circulating household air picks up heat from the flue gases passing through or around the exchanger. I have even seen (especially in old buildings back east with central heating for the entire building) air-to-air heat exchangers picking up the waste heat from a basement boiler and hot water heater and running it as hot air into other parts of the building in the winter - commonly into common areas. Or could be part of a whole-house air circulation system.

And of course a few have air-to-liquid-to-air exchangers systems getting heat from a solar panel or roof hot water panel or such, and rarely crawlspace or basement heat exchangers to pull some of that cold air into the warmer summer living spaces - sometimes with heat exchanger, sometimes just by a direct airflow diversion with a "Robin Hood" fan or such.

I would say you need to figure out what it is (a good Heating and A/C contractor for that, or possibly an Architect if you already have one working on your plans for a condo remodel) - then whether you want it blocked off (generally has to be done with fire-rated drywall - usually 5/8" sometimes 3/4" Type X), or made functional again. And commonly if blocked off, have to put in fireblock in the ducting at each floor interface - you don't want a solution which leaves you with a problem come resale time.

And of course, depending on what this exchanger does, might or might not be your (or Seller's) problem - might be a common areas/common system component which should be repaired/handled out of the condo association or building association funds.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD


Oh - spent so much time on the less usual things, forgot to address the primary reason for condo/spartment building air exchngers like this - could be the primary heating/cooling for your condo unit - a liquid-to-air or air-to-air exchanger which picks up heat (or absorbs it) to heat and cool your unit off a central HVAC system. Was (and still in to some extent, though individual unit systems are more common now) done to prevent connections between units for fire purposes, get the higher general efficiency of hydronic heating/cooling, and eliminates the transmittal of odors from other units whjich you get with central forced air heating, recirculating used and sometimes smelly air throughout the HVAC system.

So - if tht is the case, without it function you will have effectively no heating or cooling in your unit - unless it has been superceded by individual condo units, in which case it should probably be blocked off to prevent a breach in the fire protection system. Depends on type - some are sealed from the apartment so could just be left sitting in place if you don't want the space for other uses.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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