IVT Elektro Standard 490 Review

Note This post is a review, but only partially. I mean, it is a review, but it is also mixed with my personal experience, and as such is sometimes emotional. But it states truth… At least how I see it. Also, this is a “living” post – I will update it when the situation changes; normally I would rather do separate posts instead, but product reviews are not my main topic, so I will do it as a single post. And last – I might have some little mistakes with dates (day here-there), but generally it is correct.

Intro

There is not that much information about the IVT Elektro Standard 490 exhaust air heat pump on the net, so in this little post I will try to somehow fill up this information void, and to tell about my experience with the product and the humble company behind it, so that you, dear reader, can perhaps avoid the problems I had/have to deal with. Also, I think, the heat pump is such a product that it cannot be reviewed on its own, but rather it should be reviewed as a complex system comprised of the device, its purchasing and installation, surrounding infrastructure, after-sales issues, etc.

What is an exhaust air heat pump? In a few words, it is a device that extracts heat from the air that would otherwise escape during ventilation, and then efficiently re-uses it to heat the house and to produce hot water for a household. Much longer technical explanation is available at Wikipedia.

When I was building my house back in 2004, I decided to use an exhaust air heat pump for heating. A ground heat pump was another option, but after calculating TCO or Total Cost of Ownership (includes costs of equipment, installation, maintenance, possible problems, etc.) for both pumps and comparing it with possible electricity savings, I could not consider the ground heat pump anymore – I do not remember all the details, but it would take something like 15 to 20 years for that pump to pay back for itself, assuming nothing serious would break during this time. So, the exhaust air heat pump came the clear winner here.

And what about brand? At that time there was not as much choice as there is now, and IVT together with Carrier were pretty much rounding it off – Nilan and others just started to appear in the Finnish market. Carrier pumps were made by IVT, so I’ve chosen IVT.

History

TS-Tekniikka was the official IVT seller in the Turku area, so I turned to them and got an offer that included plans and calculations for the floor heating and ventilation system, all needed hardware like Nereus floor heating, IVT Elektro Standard 490 exhaust air heat pump, and wall air-intake valves, as well as installation and adjustment works.

The pump itself was about 6,000 EUR with 5 years warranty, and the installation and adjustment work was another 750 EUR (plus other hardware, but it is not relevant for this story). Things went pretty much downhill after money has been paid – everything that could be delayed was delayed (delivery, installation, etc.), so I had a few extremely heated discussions with Tero Suutari, the certified asshole managing director of that circus, and his “lovely” wife Krista Suutari, the certified cunt financing manager. In the end the pump has arrived and was installed in place, but, as it turned out, not properly adjusted. (Note TS-Tekniikka is not selling IVT pumps anymore, and IVT admitted to me that they had a lot of problems with that company; so yes, I have the right to call things and people by their real names and earned titles.)

One year later I got my first year-closing electricity bill, and found out that I consumed 10,000+ kWh more during that year than anticipated and explained/promised to me by the IVT sales-guy (close to 1,000 EUR value). Shocked, I have called TS-Tekniikka about this problem, and was told that their pump is perfect and my house must be total crap (well, that was the meaning anyway). After much shouting we came to the conclusion that TS-Tekniikka will do the house checking with heat camera to see if the house is leaking heat. They did it, and guess what – the house was fine. They had to call an engineer from IVT’s Finnish head office, and the guy (he was very knowledgeable, I must admit!) immediately realized that the whole thing was not adjusted at all, but was simply connected to power and water and switched on. The floor heating was not adjusted either. He did all the adjustments, and after that I started to get normal electricity bills: today my annual electricity consumption is about 12,000-14,000 kWh per year, depending on winter and my laziness; 8,500-10,000 kWh is coming from the heat pump itself, and the rest from my own household consumption.

Of course I wanted some compensation – all in all TS-Tekniikka did not deliver according to the contract, it produced rather large extra costs for me, and it was not really pleasant to live in my house during the first year (well, no surprise here). But, in the end, I got nothing. Not even a penny. Talking (shouting and swearing too) to TS-Tekniikka, to IVT in Finland, and to IVT in Sweden proved to be pointless and irritating exercise; people there did not want to neither understand nor resolve the issue – IVT was pointing at TS-Tekniikka (all this while openly admitting that TS-Tekniikka sucks and many people complain about it), and TS-Tekniikka was simply not willing to do anything about it. Suing them for 1,000 EUR did not sound like a very good idea, so I had to “swallow”. As a consequence, my opinion about the IVT, and I mean its Swedish HQ, is: a rather ugly company that is not valuing its customers at all. This ugliness, unfortunately, is putting its mark all over the IVT’s business. Well, the fish rots from the head, they say…

That was five years ago…

Today

Fast forward till today. My heat pump broke on Wednesday, November 3 – three weeks ago. It flashes the red led, and the display says “LARM Moottorisuoja käynn.” which translates roughly to “ALARM Motor protection start-up“. In practice it means that the compressor is not starting for some reason (e.g. it broke, some kind of sensor broke, etc.), and the pump is using electricity only to heat the house and water.

Next day, Thursday, I found the official IVT reseller/repair center in the area (I do not want to say their name yet, despite I am not really happy about their performance), called it, talked with its boss, I will call him Mr. N for now, explained the situation, and he promised to send a repair guy ASAP – on Friday, or latest on Monday. The guy did not come as promised, so on Tuesday, November 9, I called Mr. N to check what is up. He answered that his repair guy thinks that some specific pipe is broken in my pump, so he has ordered it; it might arrive on Friday, and there is no point to come before that. I asked in turn, how is it possible to know that certain pipe is broken without actually seeing the pump first? Mr. N agreed with me, and promised that the repair guy will come ASAP to check it; that promise was kept – the repair guy came the same day, checked everything, did not find any faults, but managed to switch the pump on.

The pump worked well till Thursday evening, and then broke again. I called Mr. N on Friday morning, and the repair guy came on Monday, November 15. He checked everything again, but again could not figure out anything. He promised to check it up with IVT people, and then to call me back.

In the meantime, I have called IVT office in Helsinki, and talked with Mr. L, who is responsible for this part of Finland. He promised to help me to get things done ASAP, as IVT “has strict rules regarding fixing times” – but somehow, that help failed to materialize yet (will have to call him).

After the repair guy has left, the pump started well, worked for about 10 hours, and then broke once more. Not hearing anything back from the repair company, I have called Mr. N two days later, on Wednesday, November 17, to check whether my case is moving ahead; he told me that they decided to replace the compressor relay to see if it helps. They promised to get it by the next Monday, and to call me back then.

Today, Tuesday, November 23, I had to call Mr. N again, and then the repair guy came and changed the compressor relay. It did not help though, and now his (and IVT’s) best guess is that the compressor is broken. He could not say when they can replace it, nor how much will it cost, and promised that Mr. N will call me back (did not happen yet).

The net result – my pump is just 6 years old, out of warranty, and the compressor, one of the most expensive parts, is already broken. The compressor was supposed to last at least 10 years according to IVT sales speeches (but one anonymous service guy told me that it is “balooney”, as the compressor is small, and it is almost constantly on, so six years sounds like rather a realistic life-span). Additionally, I have no idea how much it will cost (numbers in 1,000 EUR to 2,000 EUR range were mentioned by some people). Thanks God my house insurance seems to cover it, so my part will be 150 EUR only. What is not covered though, is extra electricity which is burned now – it is rather cold outside, about -2C..-10C, so about 50 to 100 kWh is used daily by the pump for the last three weeks (more than 100 EUR extra already).

I will keep this post updated as the situation evolves, but so far I am rather thoroughly dissatisfied.

UPDATE 2010-11-25 (1) Called Mr. L in the morning. He promised to check why it takes so long. According to him some other mega-cool repair guy was supposed to visit me already long time ago, but… Let’s see, but so far I have not heard anything yet.

UPDATE 2010-11-25 (2) Mr. N called me! Yippy! They will replace the compressor, and the cost will be somewhere around 700 EUR plus work (guess that 1,000 EUR mentioned earlier is close enough). But, there is a catch – it will happen earliest Wednesday-Thursday next week. And we have -15C, while up to -20C is promised for the week-end.

UPDATE 2010-12-02 FINALLY!!! Today, after exactly a months of pain, repair guys came in the morning, and after about 3-4 hours of work, they declared the pump fixed! That poor machine was cut into pieces (at least some parts of it were), and then welded back together (I have been at work, so I’m writing it from my wife’s words). Gosh, I hope that it will work from now on well (although, to be honest, have very little hope and trust in it).

UPDATE 2010-12-03 First day… The pump became much louder – it makes “pumping-whistling” noise when the compressor is on. It is not very loud, but still much-much louder that before… Also, it sometimes gets slight vibration, but so far I managed to stop it by pushing the front panel a bit side-wise. Both problems were not present before the repair. I guess complaining to Mr. N will not help much, as he will probably just start laughing at me – in Finland nobody seems to bother about such “non-issues”, unfortunately. To me it seems more and more, that these pumps are kind of “single use” devices – once something breaks in it, you will have to change the whole crap very soon, as repairs will just make it behave worse and worse. Also, I have no idea if it performs well after the repair, and there is no way to check/verify it, as there were no measurements made nor any certificate was issued.

UPDATE 2010-12-19 Today came the invoice (the deadline for payment was on 9th of December – no idea where it was till now), and it is for 1,809 EUR!!! Outrageous! For example, they charge 92.25 EUR/hour for work! OMFG, they are just Incompetent Repair Guys (yes, I can repeat it in court, if needed), and not lawyers! There are totally 7 hours of work (1+1+1+4, despite first visits were half an hour long mostly), totaling 646 EUR. Then, they charge 1.78 EUR/km of driving – more than one would have to pay for TAXI! They counted each trip at 30km back and forth, so 4 trips are totaling 214 EUR (by the way, Google Maps says that there is only 26.5 km). The compressor itself is 886 EUR, which is more or less in line with what I was told by Mr. N earlier. So, quick recap before going further:

  • Driving, 120km – 214 EUR
  • Work, 7 hours – 646 EUR
  • Compressor – 886 EUR
  • “Small items” – 64 EUR

Well, I think they are simply <CENSORED> me – incompetent repair guy has to come here 4 times instead of 1 or 2, wastes 7 hours to repair the pump, and the whole process takes ONE MONTH. Additionally, I wasted about 1,000 kWh of extra electricity for heating during this time, totaling about 100 EUR or so. The issue is, that other NORMAL repair companies do not charge you for something that they cannot fix. For example, VEHO in Raisio (yes-yes, the expensive VEHO!) did not charge me a penny when they spent two hours unsuccessfully trying to figure out what is wrong with my car!

I think there is an urgent need to uncover the “cast”, for their “minute of Internet fame”:

  • The repair company – IVT Center Turku (APPLAUSE)
  • Mr. N, managing director – Veli-Matti Forbes
  • Incompetent Repair Guy – Jussi? <somebody> (never heard his surname, unfortunately)
  • Mr. L from IVT – Teemu Lehtinen

Tomorrow I will have to pay a visit to IVT Center Turku, to talk about this case. Of course, if Mr. N will be at the office. Also I will try to call IVT. Let’s see what will be the end result. END OF UPDATE 2010-12-19

UPDATE 2010-12-20 I called Teemu Lehtinen, and he promised to check what can be done in this situation (I have really no hope that he will help). Also I called Veli-Matti Forbes, and proposed him that I will pay reasonable amount for fixing. I was ready to pay for the compressor, for 3 hours of work, and for two trips totaling 53 km. Everything else is not supposed to be my issue, and he should rather account it to his own team’s incompetence. He answered that there is no way we can discuss the price. No amount of reasoning from my side helped. He said that I did not have to use his company to do the work. When I replied that there is really no choice here, as IVT Center Turku is the only company in Turku fixing IVT pumps, his answer was that that is the reason he can charge what he charges, and I should simply shut up and pay. To which I promised to not let it be and make a war out of it, and he personally can go and fuck himself. That was end of the discussion.

UPDATE 2011-January The pump stopped working with same symptoms. Now I was not wasting any time and directly called Teemu Lehtinen. He was quite helpful this time, and we agreed to skip IVT Center Turku this time. Pretty soon another person (from Rauma!!!) was sent to me, and discovered that all coolant from the compressor is gone – previous repair guy did crappy (paska) job and left holes in pipes. These were promptly fixed, and the pump is working since (now it is August). Thanks to Mr. Lehtinen, it did not cost me a penny this time, and that was nice from him.

Conclusion

First, general pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The pump is definitely neater than an oil-based heater/boiler, takes much less space, is safer, and is cleaner, also environmentally. But this is true for all heat pumps, not just for IVT.
  • The pump is definitely more efficient than direct electrical heating – annually I am (or should I say was?) using about 5,000-7,000 kWh less than my friend with a similar house but with direct electrical heating.

Cons:

  • The whole menu system and the controlling user interface of IVT 490 is a piece of C R A P too complicated – you have to be a thermal engineer to understand what you can adjust, and what consequences it will have. Effectively it means that you are left to the mercy (knowledge) of the installation engineer, and will have really little control over things if something goes wrong.
  • User Guide – very, very, very bad piece of technical writing. Or, perhaps, the problem is that it is too technical. Way too technical indeed. There are a lot of graphs that do not say anything to normal people (heck, they do not say much to me either, and I have mathematical-physical background myself). But then things interesting to normal people are not explained at all. For example, what is the difference between Normal and Saving modes? What else… Yeah – English version of the User Guide is nowhere to be found. I was not even able to get it directly from IVT.
  • The pump is missing some functionality that I would consider absolutely basic. For example, the floor heating has delayed reaction to heating changes, i.e. it takes something like 4 to 6 hours for the indoor temperature to change once you change the heating water temperature. The problem is, that the pump has no way to account for this “slowness” – it is trying to do its best, but sometimes, especially in changing weather conditions, you can get not very comfortable indoor climate. Another example could be the missing possibility to set different target temperatures for different parts of the day. And so on… (is IVT interested in buying these ideas from me? :)
  • I have a fireplace, and it is really a tough job to start the fire without getting tons of smoke into the room (took me a year to master!) – the pump is creating lower pressure in the house because it actively pushes used air out, so the fireplace tends to have back-draft in the beginning. In practice it means that I have to open the terrace door before starting the fire up, and keep it open for a few minutes at least, while the fire is not burning well. This is becoming an issue once you get into low temperatures, as the whole room cools down badly rather quickly (Fuck! Low temperature was the reason why I wanted to start the fire in the first place, wasn’t it?!)
  • Sometimes there is not enough hot water in the evening, especially if you have visitors that use shower.
  • Not directly IVT’s problem, but remember, that TS-Tekniikka was IVT’s official seller… The fresh air intake system designed by TS-Tekniikka and approved by IVT is fine during summer, but it is definitely not the best during winter: cold air sucked in through the wall vents is really not the most enjoyable thing.

The conclusion? I am not that sure anymore that exhaust air heat pumps are the best choice nowadays, but they probably are. Sales people will tell you that ground heat pumps are much better, but do your math before buying them – they might prove to be much better for seller’s profits only, and much worse for your own pocket. If you decide to go with an exhaust air heat pump, I would strongly recommend to stay away from the IVT 490 pump – IVT simply cannot handle its business well, and the product is rather average, if not inferior. Of course, there is no guarantee that you will fare better with other companies, but at least it is worth trying.

Finnish Keywords lämpöpumppu, arvostelu, ongelma, kompressori, rele.

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Managed/Native Debugging in C#/C++

I had a problem debugging my solution consisting of C#, C++/CLI, and native C++ projects. I was not able to get breakpoints working in the native C++ parts – after running the solution with breakpoints set, they were turning gray with warning sign, and their tooltip stated that “The breakpoint will not currently be hit. No symbols have been loaded for this document.” despite all debug properties were set right on those projects and all debugging symbols existed. After fighting it for a few hours and almost giving up, I started to think that the problem might not be with the native C++ projects, but rather somewhere else, e.g. in the StartUp project, which is C#. Checked that project’s properties, and guess what! Debug > Enable unmanged code debugging option was off!!! Switched it on, and voila – breakpoints work fine in native C++ DLL now!!! :)