Smith House gets an upgrade – first “magic box” made in the USA

The shiny new CERV from Newell Instruments, before installation.

Two weeks ago a team from Newell Instruments showed up at the Smith House—the passive house I designed and built as my residence several years ago in Urbana, Ill.– with a new appliance. A day later, Smith house had been upgraded from a European ventilator to the very first “magic box” designed and built in America.  (If all goes as planned, the new device will be marketed and distributed by a Newell division called Equinox Built Environment Engineering,

It was a big day, and the culmination of lots of hard work. Four years earlier Ty and Ben Newell (the father and son team behind Newell Instruments) presented in Duluth at the 3rd Annual North American Passive House Conference on their invention in progress: the CERV (for conditioning energy recovery ventilator) was still a cardboard and duct-tape prototype at that point. Now the unit is in its last phases of the Underwriters Laboratory approval process and is nearly market ready!

Ben Newell

During  the 7th North American Passive House Conference in Denver (September 27-30) the Newells will present the finished product to the passive house community for the first time ever. It truly is a magic box: a compact heat pump unit designed to integrate the challenges of complex climates for  heating, cooling and dehumidification and the need for ventilation.

Heating, cooling, dehumidification, ventilation, all in one.

Its capacity is roughly 1000-1200 Watts and it is designed to be modular; if one unit does not suffice for your project(very cold climate, very hot climate or larger project), simply add a second one.

Ty Newell

In the Smith House scenario, the unit is being tested in a passive house application for the first time.  In addition, it will be coupled with an earth tube and that will be monitored. Will pre-heating and/or pre-cooling and passive dehumidification add to the capacity? We’ll find out—and report on it in Denver.

In the meantime, we are all very excited and are watching and hoping for another few 90+ degree days in late August to put the CERV to the test.

A final price has not been decided yet but will certainly be very competitive with piecing individucal components together. One small unit will take care of all: heating, cooling, ventilation and dehumidification. Might we finally tunnel through the cost barrier?

Hope to see you in Denver and stay tuned here at the blog.




2 thoughts on “Smith House gets an upgrade – first “magic box” made in the USA

  1. Kat,

    Capacity seems to be the crux with this unit. I am wondering what you have learned from having it in the Smith House for the past 14 months. Any info would be appreciated.

    For most single family homes a second conditioning system is required. OK, that’s fine–maybe a point source wall mounted ductless mini split. So the CERV conditions the home maybe 1/2 or 3/4 of the time and the other heat pump backs it up. I guess that beats point source, but now I pay for 2 space conditioning systems. An ERV with a point source heat pump is about $$6,000 installed. The CERV with a separate point source heat pump is maybe $8,500?

    I am looking at this unit for a small retrofit project, heat load about 6 kbtu/hr and cooling load about the same. Super tiny loads. I am temped to just try to meet them with the Cerv and plan on adding a wall mount ductless heat pump if it doesn’t work. The heating capcity of the CERV is about 1500-2000W at 20 F–pretty close, could do it with just a little resistance back up. Cooling could be a problem but I have no latent loads, so maybe an earth tube would help for cooling. I am even thinking a little cheap window AC unit just to pick up those two weeks in the year more cooling is required.

    • Dave,

      I agree that this type of integrated system from a cost perspective makes most sense if you can meet pretty much all your loads with it. That is in a heating dominated climate with small cooling/dehumidification loads. Then it does become cost effective, as it is heating, cooling, dehumidification and ventilation system in one. I would also use it in climates where the heat load exceeds the capacity as additional electric point sources in form of radiant heat are cheap.

      What I like best about it is that space conditioning is distributed really well. If you go that route and pay a little more for the mini-split back up in cooling dominated climate, it is for the additional quality and comfort. Cooling comfort really benefits from the ducted distribution, minimized point source cooling in high cooling load climates is not satisfactory in less compact buildings. In your case: it does sound as if the cheap window air conditioner might do it.

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