Experimental Evaluation of Gas Filled Plenum Duct Insulation

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Forced-air heating and cooling system ducts are often located outside conditioned space in US houses. For these systems to perform efficiently it is important that these ducts be well insulated. Common practice is to use a glass fiber wrap around the ducts — either field applied or more commonly, integrated into a flexible duct. Most duct insulation has an R-value of 4.2, with R6 and R8 ducts also occasionally used. With glass fiber insulation being about R4 per inch (RSI 0.28/cm), this adds 2 to 4 inches (50 to 100 mm) to the duct diameter. Some building codes are now requiring these higher insulation levels, for example, the EPA requires the use of R6 ducts (for Energy Star ducts), and International Energy Conservation Code (BOCA 2003) requires R8 ducts. The difficulty with adding insulation to ducts is the increase in diameter of the ducts that makes them expensive to transport because they take up a large volume and are difficult to install in the confined spaces available for ducts in houses. The objective of this study was to evaluate Gas Filled Plenum (GFP) technology as an alternative duct insulation. GFP ducts have the potential to provide greater insulation levels than existing ducts (for a given thickness of insulation or size of duct) and provide cost savings in transportation. These transportation cost savings are based on the idea of shipping the GFP ducts empty and inflating them on-site. To evaluate this technology for ducts we constructed a prototype duct and determined both its flow and heat transfer resistance in LBNL's duct testing laboratories. The GFP technology works by encapsulating a gas (usually air — but other noble gases such as Argon or Krypton can provide significant increases in thermal resistance with increased cost) in a metalized film jacket. A honeycomb structure is used to keep individual gas pockets small to minimize convection heat transfer. A metallic finish (usually aluminum) minimizes radiation heat transfer between the surfaces.

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