HRV and MCS… an update

The HRV (heat recovery ventilator) broke down in March.

September 25th was the 1st time they came to install the new one. At that time it was discovered that neither the people ordering the HRV, the people selling HRVs, or the people installing them thought to ask if the intake and exhaust vents would be in the same location on the new machine as on the old machine.

They were not.

After a lot of humming and hawing it was decided to keep the new unit and build out more ducts to make it fit. The duct material had to be ordered in. Apparently it was special and not in stock.

They finally came back, Friday the 16th of November. Now that it is too cold out to open windows without the heating system coming on (or freezing, I still don’t have adequate safe warm clothing, but that’s another story) they came back.

And wouldn’t you know it, there is something in the new system that isn’t good for me, and, it gets sucked through the ducts whenever the heat goes on, even if the HRV is turned off.

It might be because

maybe the new unit was not run long enough at the warehouse, to burn off the oils from the motor and fan (and whatever else is in there that needs burning off). A portable space heater took a month of use elsewhere before I could have it anywhere near me. They didn’t tell me how many days this was run.

It might also be because the rags that were used to “clean” the new duct material turned out to be heavily fragranced (one was left outside here) so washing anything with those rags would have left a whole new layer of chemical contamination.

It might also be because some material that was used wasn’t pre-washed at all. I don’t know everything that was used.

I don’t think the new filters inside the unit were washed at all. Those are washable, that’s how they are maintained, but I can’t do it myself now because it’s too cold outside to use the hose, and doing it indoors would saturate my air and brain and lungs with the chemicals I’d be trying to wash off (there’s some overlap here in the why I don’t have enough safe warm clothes yet).

The problem might be a combination of all these issues.

Assumptions and attention to detail
There was gentleman overseeing and supervising (he is on the board of the housing complex, and has a wife and daughter with MCS/ES) but he must not have thought to check on all that, especially the rags.   Or maybe his wife and daughter don’t have the same level of MCS/ES, which is also possible.
Shows that we with MCS/ES (especially) can’t assume anything, sigh… and I have forgotten some of the attention to detail required myself, or what to emphasize when, mostly, because I’ve given up on traditional ways of doing things and have had to find alternatives for almost everything for so long now. I sometimes don’t know where to begin. It requires a lot of thought, going through every detail, kind of like performing life-cycle and cost-benefit analysis… It also requires that I be consulted more than I was, and it helps when people involved can think a bit for themselves and ask questions if they don’t understand.


They really should have done this a lot sooner, when I could have opened the windows without the heat running and aired out the system while sitting outside. And had I had my druthers, I wouldn’t have agreed to the installation happening on a Friday, since the weekend air is a lot worse with so many people at home doing laundry, so I often can’t open the windows all weekend.

What now?
I am not sure if there’s anything I can do about this situation now, or if I should just do nothing and hope it all burns off eventually without causing my brain and body too much pain or damage in the meantime?  Except, I really don’t think I can use it until spring, not like this.  Unless we have another abnormally hot week before then, when the winds don’t come from the western directions that bring all the laundry product fumes… But even then, there’s no guarantees on how long this will need to run/offgas before it is safe for me, and I don’t want to lose all the progress I’ve worked so hard to gain.

It’s somewhat ironic that a device that is supposed to help my air quality is now causing such a huge problem with it.

Changing the filtration?
I think I really, really, really need to get carbon filtration into the duct, where currently there is a MERV 13 pleated filter. It is 4″ x 12″ x 24″. Someone suggested putting a 2″ carbon filter between 2 1″ or before a 2″ MERV/hepa filters, since there are no standard carbon filters in this size, and I can’t afford $60 every couple of months to order custom filters like these from NEEDS.

Does anyone know about the technical details for making this work? And who sells more affordable filters that would work?
Symptoms from the exposure


Interestingly enough, I am getting headaches again from exposures, and serious sinus congestion. It has been years since I felt normal headaches (other than migraines), but now I wonder if I may have had such a big headache all the time, that my pain sensors just became numb to it somehow? Or were otherwise shut down by chemical exposures?

This summer I started feeling pain more normally, like from steam or boiling water, pain I didn’t feel for several years. That’s from being able to avoid serious exposures in my “new” home, for over a year now. Today there is definitely inflammation, and my glasses hurt, it feels like they are too small for my head now.

The chemical insomnia came back too. I was up till 6am playing computer Mahjong because I couldn’t think my way out of a paper bag (or my chair, to go bed). I used to get that kind of insomnia in Toronto when things were bad. I stayed up on the computer playing Free-cell until I just could not keep my eyes open any longer because otherwise I would toss and turn for hours (and a bad arm and shoulder doesn’t allow me that option now). I don’t think I’ll be able to do this much because the mouse arm is still not fully healed from all the damage I did to the tendons etc when I couldn’t get a new mouse and couldn’t feel pain properly…

Brain Fog

I have to find another way to zone out (I don’t have a tv and the inks from books still have an adverse effect on me).


And the fibro pain, it is flaring… Exposures cause widespread pain… Take away the exposures and that pain goes away.

Driving a car

And now… the return of my driving ability will be postponed yet again. I need to be able to figure out how to get around the block here 1st, and then a bigger block, and then even further, and then find my way back home. If I have trouble finding my way out of a paper bag, or getting to bed, driving isn’t such a great idea.

More about driving and last summer

I want to be able to drive myself to the bird and nature reserves nearby, so I can sit or walk in fresh, laundry product free air in the afternoons, but my ability to navigate was damaged and has not yet returned. I’ve been healing, and thought I’d be able to do that this summer, but then the HRV broke, they laid asphalt on many of the roads near here, and the brutal heat had VOC’s offgassing all over the place, and it was so hot I was like a melted lump much of the time (no a/c here). Pain might also have been a factor in the cognitive and physical fogs, since my shoulder froze and I had constant unremitting pain on a scale of over 8 in my shoulder and down my entire right arm for a few months, which also prevented me from getting much sleep… It was so bad that CCAC actually agreed to send a physio therapist to teach me excercises (there’s yet another potential blog post in that whole experience).
Catch 22 or Catch 99?
It’s so much fun living with this MCS/ES business. One thing leads to another… Catch 22s can easily become Catch 99s…

Instructions for detoxing and installing things
Anyway, since safe, non-toxic products and materials are so hard (or even impossible) to find, we really need instruction manuals on how to make toxic things safe for people with MCS/ES. Like the laundry detoxes I wrote about recently, we also need to know how to detox electronic equipment, computers, tv’s washers and dryers, HRVs, stoves, heating systems, etc.

Step by step, do’s and don’ts
For example:

– Don’t use fragranced rags to clean things (but that raises the question of where to find fragrance free rags or sponges if all the stores have fragrances in them and people use fragranced laundry and cleaning products everywhere)

-Get the tyvek suits for the installation people from safety supply shops that don’t use fragrances (air fresheners, scented carpet cleaners or hand soaps) and air them out first (the new batch of suits that was ordered by property management here came really fragranced so were aired out somewhere in the countryside for a month before being brought to me, and they still have some of that and another chemical odour to them too, but in the lesser of 2 evils scenario, they enclose the laundry product, dryer sheet and fabric softener chemicals which would otherwise get into the air and then absorb into everything. The suits don’t contain it all, but they do make a big difference. It’s yet another case of choosing between bad and worse)

– Don’t leave contaminated toolboxes and items on the MCS person’s floor, use an inert barrier to put them down on because many floors will absorb the chemicals from contact, and they will be difficult to clean, exposing the MCS person to more harm later.

– Don’t touch things, don’t lean on the walls… You will leave fragrance or other residues there too! (this time I covered all the door handles they’d use to get in and out with old rice cake bags, because last time I had to scrub all the handles down after they left)

If I had the energy and brain, I’d write a manual on how to approach a new piece of equipment to make it safe, but I don’t have that brain.

And all the do’s and dont’s for while in the MCS/ES person’s home…

Just maybe…
Actually, I think I know someone who might be equipped to do the decontamination part and will ask him to write a guest blog post about it … He detoxed one of the heaters I used at the cabin, and has done several pieces of equipment for others with MCS, by taking them all apart and meticulously cleaning them before putting them back together. A background in motorcycle and car mechanics really helps with that!

Maybe he will help us all with some basic instructions, that can be elaborated upon in the future?

Here’s hoping, since this is something that can help now, while we work and wait on reforming the system, so that toxic products and materials are not an everyday occurrence that requires this level of attention to detail all the time!

18 responses to “HRV and MCS… an update

  1. Linda, I feel devastated just reading this. I am so very sorry for all your trouble.

    Scrubbing (by a non-sensitive helper) metal items w/70% isopropyl alcohol, and sometimes soaking them in it has removed oil from many items for me. With metal pipes, we’ve had luck with a heat gun run along the outside of the pipe,which causes the oil to liquify and run out. After these processes, of course, items should be washed in hot soapy water.

    God bless you and help you find solutions.

    • Thank you.
      I don’t tolerate the additives in rubbing alcohol, but vodka is a great alternative!
      The duct material was cleaned to spec with TSP before installation, which is good for removing oils and greasy residues, often used on garage floors or pre-painting of surfaces… but the cleaning rags were totally contaminated, so they left other residues. I did not think to “inspect” them before installation. Now they are installed and wrapped with insulation and some kind of foil barrier (which I also didn’t inspect, but since it’s on the outside of the ducts, it shouldn’t affect the air that goes thru them – it will however have an impact on my indoor air quality if the HRV is not on, because the room won’t be under negative pressure and none of the rooms/spaces here are airtight) so there’s no way to clean the insides again unless it’s all disconnected.

  2. Hi, Linda – I really feel for you. Do you think wiping things down with distilled white vinegar might help out at all in some piece of this contamination chain? Or soaking many rags with it to absorb the scent molecules in the air? Or (which I’ve not yet tried but would like to), volcanic ash? Just some brainstorming for you. I really wish you well with all of this. If I think of anything more, I’ll come back here and jot it down.

    • Thank you,
      I can’t “cover up” the chemicals, they need to be removed somehow. Activated carbon is usually required for after the fact filtration…
      I’m trying to locate some Honeywell 38002 prefilter material from a fragrance free source (Home Depot would be ok, but they don’t seem to carry it anymore, and both Canadian Tire and Home Hardware are extremely fragranced these days) to make extra filtration to put in front of the air registers and attach to the duct filter inside the vents (if that makes sense).

  3. Would it help for someone else to buy this material and mail it to you wrapped on a particular way that could be safe? I’m willing to try that for you.

    • Thanks Denny.
      I wrote the size of the pleated filter above, but don’t know how to shop for alternatives. I’d need some combination of carbon and pleated MERV rated filters to sandwich together to make up the 4″ thickness in the duct in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on the airflow and that filters out enough of the chemicals. I don’t know how to research this and don’t know how long it will take management to do it, most things do not happen quickly around here… Do you know how to research this?

      A friend ordered some 38002 pre-filter material for me (but wasn’t able to enter specific wrapping instructions into the online order, it took some time to even find any that could be shipped here). I’ll try to make register covers out of that, I have some old worn out sheets to cover them with so the dust doesn’t come through… these will offer some minimal change… and I’ve asked the property manager to order different carbon and hepa filters for the other location in the ducts.

      When the pre-filter comes, I’ll try to tape some to the pleated filter that is there now.

      Management picked up the HRV foam and plastic filters this morning to clean with some of my dish detergent in case those too were adding to the problem.

      Times like this I really want to be somewhere away from all human activity where the air is fresh enough to breathe outside, with no laundry products, wood-smoke or other forms of human made pollution.

      Breathable air should not be such a challenge…


        This looks like the material. Since this is an allergy company I wonder if they would do a better mailing.

        • Looks like the same stuff with a new package. Thanks for the link. If what is ordered doesn’t work out, then maybe this will.
          The problem my friend had was that would not send to Canada.
          Another friend was able to find some on, and that is in the mail. We’ll see how contaminated it gets. I hope the mail carrier also brings it to my door and not to the regular depot which is in a highly fragranced drug store.

          The filters I am having trouble finding is something like this but the slot here takes a 4″ x 12″ x 24″ filter, currently a pleated MERV 13 with no carbon. This link shows some with carbon but they don’t have any in the right size or that could be doubled up, ie 2 2″ filters together:

  4. Your blogs make people think. Sometimes I get so used to compensating in my life that I forget that other people don’t have a clue as to what can cause a reaction in a chemically sensitive person.

    • Thank you.
      We often forget the journeys we have made to arrive at the process of compensating and change.

      We also have the “advantage” of being made ill or disabled when we don’t get it right, so we know when we have to keep trying, when there’s some undisclosed chemicals in what we are trying to use.

      Most people have no idea how chemically contaminated they are, and how everything around us has absorbed fragrance chemicals from retail and other environments, and these chemicals are designed to last and stick and cause myriad long term health problems, not just for those of us who detect their presence immediately. I’ve written about some of them before, I think recently in the health care posts. But it’s not just chemicals that have a detectable odour that cause harm, many have no odour, we just feel the effects when they knock us out in some way.

  5. Does anyone understand the differences in these filters?
    12x24x4″ options
    Box of 2 $50.86
    Plus Carbon Air Filters MERV 12
    Our electrostatic MERV 12 Plus Carbon air conditioning filter has a MERV 12 media plus an added layer of polyester based media impregnated with activated carbon.

    These look interesting too, and are cheaper for more but may need to be changed more often if there’s less carbon in them. I can’t tell
    12 pack $155.29
    The Merv 8 Carbon Air Filters are constructed with electrostatic charged, 100% synthetic Kimberly Clark media which provides significantly higher particulate efficiency than regular poly / cotton media pleated filters, with little change in static pressure.
    Airborne odors such as smoke, pet odors, and cooking odors are absorbed by the activated carbon pores laced into the filter media of the air filter.
    These air filters are environmentally friendly because the media is free of ink, dyes, resin, and contains no adhesives, binders, chemicals or additives.
    Use of water based adhesives containing no volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), and minimum use of ink on the perimeter of the filter, make these air filters eco-friendly.


    AIR HANDLER Carbon Pleated Filter, 12x24x4
    shipped in quantities of 6 $149.25
    They don’t mention MERV and I don’t understand their description.
    Carbon Impregnated Filter,
    CCL4 Activity 0.6, Air Flow 500, Initial Resistance 0.37, Final Resistance 1.0, Max. Air Flow 500, Prefilter Pleated, Max. Temp. 150.

  6. I am going through something very similar- I am very sick now as I have bought a new bed a month ago- I also have MCS and since I dont buy a bed very often.. I totally forgot that it would affect me. Now I have to sell it! I had to buy an organic mattress online & I really doubt this will even be comfortable, at least it wont make me sick. I get so angry at work, co-workers know about my fragrance sensitivities and still wear scents. I am off now because of that. I am very ill. The windshield fluid gives me an instant headache, try to brush your teeth in chlorinated water YUK ( I smell it anyways), sitting in traffic with the exhaust.So many things. They all add up & get me sicker.
    The very worst part of it all is 3 years ago, I switched my heating from electric to gas OMG! what a mistake! I never had gas & never thought it would affect me! I guess I was not too smart there. My poor husband wanted the heat on this morning & we got into an argument over putting it on- I get instantly sick- nausea, headache, sinus pain, very weak.
    I feel for you Linda, and I don’t know how to help you on this one, but I use a lot of fans air purifyers that help– this one here is from costco ( Heaven Fresh) they are really good units.
    Wishing you better, stronger health.

    • I’m sorry you are suffering like this Nathalie. It shouldn’t be so difficult to look after our health.
      I hope you are able to find some good solutions soon!

      I am recovering from the exposures. Whatever is in this machine, really scrambled some parts of my brain. It has taken about a week and a half for things to settle back to a more workable arrangement.

      I won’t be able to use this HRV the way it is. It will have to be removed and run elsewhere (in a fragrance free environment) for weeks, maybe even months, before I’ll be willing to try it again. It is very toxic. I’m trying to write out a new blog post about what has happened, and the lessons learned, so that hopefully others won’t be subjected to the same problems.

  7. It has been 2 1/2 days since the HRV was finally removed (to be run elsewhere in hopes of detoxing it) and my brain is starting to feel more normal for the 1st time in over 3 weeks…

    Even with the unit unplugged, and with extra pre-filter material in front of the pleated filters (and elsewhere), whatever was in that unit was still getting into the air and doing a number on my brain functioning. Thank goodness it’s clearing… (and sorry about the long garbled post above… I was obviously pretty out of it – I’m having a hard time sorting out the next update too, it also barely makes sense, so I haven’t posted it yet :-))

    It’s so disappointing when people do try to make things work as well as possible for those of us with MCS/ES (and people really did try), but the regular manufacturing processes are just too toxic, sigh…

  8. Hi Linda,
    Wrap or tape to an existing filter?
    15-3/4″ X 48″ cut to fit activated carbon sheet, $8.99 Part # 14ALL (scroll down the page)
    Product is used by someone (MCS) who uses several layers to make his own carbon mask. Also activated carbon felt sheet 12 X 97″ cut to fit. $39 (scroll down to picture of scarf for description) email contact and (US) toll free #.

    Thanks for the site and thoughtful essays!

    • Thank you Keith.
      Good to know what alternatives are out there.

      I used a similar product, what used to be called the Honeywell 38002 universal prefilter, looks like it might be called the “A” filter now… one layer of what I found I had left, and then added (taped) a 2nd layer after I received more that a friend bought and mailed for me. It has helped.

      It didn’t help when I tried to use it in front of the heat registers, because the synthetic material the carbon is in started off-gassing chemicals when heated. But it works well for me in places that don’t get hot.

      I used to put them on removable window screens, wrapped in some slightly threadbare pieces of old sheet so they also caught some diesel particulate from traffic, and they allowed me to keep some windows open and get filtered air if there was a good breeze.

      I have to measure how big these (38002) pieces are the next time I open a pack, before I cut it… the dimensions are not on the box. I suspect approximately half the size of the one you mentioned, maybe 36″ wide, but I never thought to look at them in that way (to mind measure).

      I wish I could find an organic cotton or other natural fiber felt that had embedded activated carbon. The synthetics are much less useful for me.

  9. Oh how I can appreciate you written words. The search for every product you will ever use is daunting. Few understand why I can’t find a way to cook for myself. Living with severe MCS and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome I can’t even tolerate the smell of cooking, or even the airborne presence of foods such as alliums. Without severely debilitating symptoms. Even ordering organic food and having it delivered often has its failing moments. Beginning with taking a week or more for actually place an order. I have made it a rule to never try to purchase anything when I can’t think clearly. If able to find the limited items I can even tolerate there is the issue of storage and delivery. I can’t tell you how many organic products I’ve had to throw away because they tasted of chemicals. You learn which suppliers to avoid over time. And the delivery warehouses and drivers especially all of the ones using their personal vehicles for delivery. I’m lucky enough to have a spouse that can remove the outer packaging before bringing things inside. Paper and cardboard are preferred over plastic bags that absorb every smell imaginable. With the addition of nickel sensitivity, stainless steel is a big issue. Drinking cold drinks from glass or aluminum is okay but these aren’t okay for hot drinks. I have yet to find cutlery and hot drink ware with a reliable lid. I need the lid, as I experience vision changes, altered perception and proprioception especially of left arm which sustained ligament damage and brachial plexus injury. Blood pressure instability and inability to tolerate pressure changes and heat. I could go on and on… but I just need nickel free stainless steel and glass for cooking and food storage. I do okay with my chinaware plates. I have been searching for an acceptable rice steamer/cooker as the stove top is impossible to tolerate.
    I open mail once a week because the paper and ink are irritating. Trying to find simple things like paper, clothes, something to clean and wash with. Let alone trying to make home improvements. I have been searching for the right HVR recovery unit. Ways to encapsulate foundation and crawl space and eliminate moisture and smells that arise with warm weather through the flooring. Our home has passive air rather than mechanical air exchange and the idea of altering air delivery in our home is physically and financially overwhelming, as the idea of people coming into our home triggers anxiety alone.
    When you have these struggles you either go without or find a way to do it all yourself, typically a combination of both.
    It was nice to come across this site. To know you aren’t the only one struggling with these issues, and explaining the physical and mental limitations at any given moment in impossible unless you see and experience it first hand.

    • Hi Erin,

      I don’t think it’s possible for people to understand what we are put through when thePowersThatBe don’t want us to survive, so there’s no requirements for anything anywhere to be non-toxic or safe for people with MCS/ES or MCAS and other allergies that are becoming more common.

      The HRV issue never was resolved here.

      I haven’t had the energy or cognitive capacity to chase down manufacturers the way the design and architectural team did to have safe HRVs made when this building was first put up.

      I hope you or someone else can find a solution for those of us who need this.

      I did find a design sketch of the one CMHC had for their model house, and it did include the ability to use carbon filtration for incoming air when needed (there was a switch if I recall).

      In areas with neighbours who pollute the outdoor air with smoke, laundry products and other hazardous materials, and where toxic trespass is legal (is there an area where this does not happen?), we need the air filtered much of the time.

      I wish that perhaps a multi-billionaire decides to devote their life to making safe and affordable things for human canaries, because the regular capitalist system isn’t doing anything except making it harder and harder for us to exist, and it shouldn’t be this way, because everyone’s health is harmed by most of the things that injured us and continue to harm us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.