Performance of thermal distribution systems in large commercial buildings

Publication Type

Journal Article



This paper presents major findings of a field study on the performance of five thermal distribution systems in four large commercial buildings. The five systems studied are typical single-duct or dual-duct constant air volume (CAV) systems and variable air volume (VAV) systems, each of which serves an office building or a retail building with floor area over 2,000 m2. The air leakage from ducts are reported in terms of effective leakage area (ELA) at 25 Pa reference pressure, the ASHRAE-defined duct leakage class, and air leakage ratios. The specific ELAs ranged from 0.7 to 12.9 cm2 per m2 of duct surface area, and from 0.1 to 7.7 cm2 per square meter of floor area served. The leakage classes ranged from 34 to 757 for the five systems and systems sections tested. The air leakage ratios are estimated to be up to one-third of the fan- supplied airflow in the constant-air-volume systems. The specific ELAs and leakage classes indicate that air leakage in large commercial duct systems varies significantly from system to system, and from system section to system section even within the same thermal distribution system. The duct systems measured are much leakier than the ductwork specified as "unsealed ducts" by ASHRAE. Energy losses from supply ducts by conduction (including convection and radiation) are found to be significant, on the scale similar to the losses induced by air leakage in the duct systems. The energy losses induced by leakage and conduction suggest that there are significant energy-savings potentials from duct-sealing and insulation practice in large commercial buildings.


Energy and Buildings



Year of Publication



Research Areas