Thermal distribution systems in commercial buildings

Publication Type

Journal Article



Previous research suggests that HVAC thermal distribution systems in commercial buildings suffer from thermal losses, such as those caused by duct air leakage and poor duct location. Due to a lack of metrics and data showing the potentially large energy savings from reducing these losses, the California building industry has mostly overlooked energy efficiency improvements in this area. The purpose of this project is to obtain the technical knowledge needed to properly measure and understand the energy efficiency of these systems. This project has three specific objectives: to develop metrics and diagnostics for determining system efficiencies, to develop design and retrofit information that the building industry can use to improve these systems, and to determine the energy impacts associated with duct leakage airflows in an existing large commercial building. The primary outcome of this project is the confirmation that duct leakage airflows can significantly impact energy use in large commercial buildings: our measurements indicate that adding 15% duct leakage at operating conditions leads to an increase in fan power of about 25 to 35%. This finding is consistent with impacts of increased duct leakage airflows on fan power that have been predicted by previous simulations. Other project outcomes include the definition of a new metric for distribution system efficiency, the demonstration of a reliable test for determining duct leakage airflows, and the development of new techniques for duct sealing. We expect that the project outcomes will lead to new requirements for commercial thermal distribution system efficiency in future revisions of California's Title 24.

Year of Publication



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