Improving Air Handler Efficiency in Residential HVAC Applications

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In continuing the development of energy efficiency standards, consideration has turned to air handlers used for heating and air conditioning of consumer residences. These air handlers have typical efficiencies of about 10% to 15% due to poor electric motor performance and aerodynamically poor fans and fan housings. This study was undertaken to examine some of these performance issues, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, to support potential regulatory changes. In addition, this study examined the performance of a prototype air handler fan assembly that offers the potential for substantial increases in performance. This prototype and a standard production fan were tested in a full-scale duct system and test chamber at LBNL which was specifically designed for testing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. The laboratory tests compared efficiency, total airflow, sensitivity to duct system flow resistance, and the effects of installation in a smaller cabinet. The test results showed that, averaged over a wide range of operating conditions, the prototype air handler had about twice the efficiency of the standard air handler and was less sensitive to duct system flow resistance changes. The performance of both air handlers was significantly reduced by reducing the space between the air handler and the cabinet it was installed in. Therefore any fan rating needs to be performed using the actual cabinet it will be used.

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