Field Investigation of Duct System Performance in California-Light Commercial Buildings

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Light commercial buildings, one- and two-story with package roof-top HVAC units, make up approximately 50% of the non-residential building stock in the U.S. Despite this fact little is known about the performance of these package roof-top units and their associated ductwork. These simple systems use similar duct materials and construction techniques as residential systems (which are known to be quite leaky). This paper discusses a study to characterize the buildings, quantify the duct leakage, and analyze the performance of the ductwork in these types of buildings.

The study tested fifteen systems in eight different buildings located in northern California. All of these buildings had the ducts located in the cavity between the drop ceiling and the roof deck. In 50% of these buildings, this cavity was functionally outside both the building's air and thermal barriers. The effective leakage area of the ducts in this study was approximately 2.6 times that in residential buildings. This paper looks at the thermal analysis of the ducts, from the viewpoint of efficiency and thermal comfort. This includes the length of a cycle, and whether the fan is always on or if it cycles with the cooling equipment. 66% of the systems had frequent on cycles of less than 10 minutes, resulting in non-steady-state operation.

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