A Pump Is Used To Maintain Rate Of Flow Decoding the Ductwork Design Process, Methods and Standards

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Decoding the Ductwork Design Process, Methods and Standards

Today, one of the important goals in MEP engineering design for HVAC design engineers is to improve energy efficiency, maintain air quality and thermal comfort. Energy efficiency, air quality and building comfort depend on how heating, cooling and air distribution systems are designed, and this is where careful ductwork design plays an important role. Ductwork and HVAC system design is important because it ensures indoor air quality, thermal comfort and ventilation. If the HVAC system and ductwork are not designed correctly, it can lead to poor air quality, heat loss, and uncomfortably conditioned spaces in the building.

The primary function of a ductwork design system is to ensure that a minimally obstructed channel is provided through which cool and warm air can travel. When properly designed, an HVAC air distribution system will play an important role in preventing heat energy loss, maintaining indoor air quality (IAQ), and providing thermal comfort.

To understand how ductwork can be designed in a cost-effective and efficient manner, this article decodes ductwork design and provides a brief outline of design processes, methods and standards.

What is ductwork?

The basic principle of ductwork design is to heat, cool or ventilate a building in the most efficient and cost-effective way. The primary function of ductwork is to design ducts or passages that allow the flow of air to provide heating, cooling, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC).

In the duct design process, the fundamentals of airflow must be understood. The return air goes into the air handler unit (AHU), through the filter and into the blower, and under pressure it passes through the A coil or heat exchanger and then into the supply air system. If the ductwork is properly designed it enables the AHU to produce the right amount of air through the heat exchanger. In a typical air distribution system, ducts accommodate supply, return, and exhaust air flows. Supply ducts provide air required for air conditioning and ventilation, return ducts provide controlled air for IAQ and temperature maintenance, and exhaust air flow systems provide ventilation.

For ductwork design to be efficient, MEP engineering design teams must have designers with mechanical and engineering backgrounds. Ductwork design specialists or building services engineers must have a deep understanding of other disciplines such as architectural, civil and structural concepts to ensure that the HVAC system is clash free.

Ductwork Design Process

The ducting system design process is simple, if the specifications are clearly stated and inputs are provided regarding the application, activity, building orientation and construction materials. Based on the information provided, calculations can be completed to create an energy-efficient and conflict-free design. Generally, air conditioning and distribution systems are designed to meet three main requirements such as:

• It should deliver air flow at a specified rate and speed to a specified location.

• It should be energy efficient and cost effective.

• It should provide comfort and not create disturbance or objectionable noise.

The ductwork design process begins when the architectural layout and interior design plans are provided by the client or MEP consultants. Building service engineers then need specific requirements such as application, number of people, building orientation and architectural features to calculate heat loads and airflow. Before any calculations are made, single line drawings are made to show the flow of ductwork in the building. Once it is approved, the heat load and air flow are calculated. Once the heat load calculations are completed, the required air flow rates are identified and air outlets are determined. Along with calculations, specifications and layout, the ducting system design layout is then designed taking into account the architectural and structural details of the conditioned space and conflicts with other building services such as electrical, plumbing (hydraulic) and mechanical services.

Initiating the ductwork design process requires inputs including details regarding application type, specification requirements, building orientation, architectural features and materials.

• Type of Application – Ductwork design can vary based on the type of application used for manufacturing, data centers, medical applications, scientific research and facilities such as restaurants, offices, residences, institutional buildings such as schools and universities.

• Requirement of specification – To create an efficient duct design, designers need to know what type of activities will be conducted and the average number of people who will use the conditioned space. This will help calculate the airflow, velocity and heat load required to maintain temperature and IAQ. In comfort applications, for example, an office or restaurant will require a different duct design and air velocity than a residence.

• Building Orientation and Materials – The orientation of the building and materials used play an important role in measuring heat absorption which will help determine cooling and ventilation requirements. Heat absorption can be calculated based on whether the building faces north, south, east or west and where it is geographically located. The type of materials used for construction also affects the amount of heat gain and loss of a building.

An upcoming article on Ductwork Design Challenges and Recommendations discusses the challenges of incomplete inputs or unavailability of required inputs.

Ductwork Design Methods

Ductwork design methods are usually determined based on cost, requirements, specifications and energy efficiency standards. Based on the duct load from air pressure, duct systems can generally be classified into high velocity, medium velocity and low velocity systems. There are three commonly used methods for duct design:

1. Constant velocity method – This method, designed to maintain a minimum velocity, is the simplest way to design a duct system for supply and return air ducts. However, experience is required in using this method as wrong choice of speed, duct size and fixture selection can increase the cost. Furthermore, to maintain the same rate of pressure drop across the duct run, this method requires partial closure of the dampers in the duct run (except the index run) which may affect performance.

2. Uniform Friction Method – This conventional method used for supply and return ducts maintains the same frictional pressure in the main and branch ducts. This method ensures the dissipation of pressure drops as friction drives the duct instead of balancing the dampers. However, as with the velocity method, the dampers must be partially closed and this can cause noise.

3. Fixed recovery method – This method is a high velocity system commonly used for large supply systems with long pipes that maintain a constant constant pressure in front of each branch or terminal. Although it is a balanced system because it does not involve damping, long ducts can affect the distribution of air in the conditioned space.

The different duct design methods used vary from application to application, duct system performance and system balancing and optimization must be considered. After installing an Air Handling Unit (AHU), the system needs to be balanced and optimized to enhance performance. In system balancing and optimization, the air flow rates of the supply air outlet and return air inlet are measured and dampers and fan speeds are adjusted. Balancing an air conditioning system can be expensive and time-consuming, especially in large buildings, but it is necessary because it provides benefits that far outweigh the costs of installing the system. To reduce total and operating costs, several optimization methods are used, such as the T-method optimization described in the DA3 application manual of AIRAH (Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning).

To design an energy efficient and cost-effective air distribution system, HVAC system design must incorporate basic engineering guidelines and adhere to specific design standards. Let us consider some of the guidelines and standards used in the industry in different countries.

Ductwork Design Standards

While designing an air conditioning system, HVAC design engineers must be aware of basic methods, guidelines and applicable standards, type of units used, required calculations, construction methods, type of materials, duct system layouts, pressure loss, duct leakage, etc. Sound considerations for optimization using test, adjust and balance (TAB). Listed below are some of the standards bodies and associations in the US, UK, Australia and India, which provide regulations, codes and standards for the HVAC industry.


• SMACNA (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association) – Provides a manual on HVAC system duct design that includes basic but fundamental methods and procedures important to energy efficiency and conservation. Although the manual does not include load calculations and air ventilation quantities, it is commonly used in conjunction with the ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook.

• ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) – This is an organization that emphasizes the sustainability of building systems with a focus on energy efficiency and indoor air quality. The ASHRAE Handbook is a four-volume guide that provides the basics of refrigeration, applications, systems, and equipment. Updated every four years, the handbook covers international units of measurement such as SI (Systems International) and IP (inch-pound).


• CIBSE (The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers) – is the authority in the UK that sets standards for building services engineering systems. The codes and guidelines published by CIBSE are internationally recognized and considered as benchmarks for best practices in the fields of sustainability, construction and engineering.

• BSRIA (Building Services Research and Information Association) – This is an association that helps companies improve their designs to increase energy efficiency by complying with building regulations, mock-up testing of systems and BIM support.


• AIRAH (Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning) – Provides technical manuals for HVAC industry professionals and information on air conditioning load estimation, ductwork for air conditioning, pipe sizing, centrifugal pumps, noise control, fans, air filters, cooling towers. , water treatment, maintenance, indoor air quality and building commissions.


• BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) – is a national authority that provides standards and guidelines as per International Organization for Standardization (ISO). BIS’s handbooks provide codes of practice applicable to the HVAC industry such as safety codes for air conditioning, specifications for air ducts, thermostats for use in air conditioners, metal duct work, air-cooled heat exchangers, and data for outdoor design conditions. Air conditioning for Indian cities

• ISHRAE (The Indian Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers) – provides indoor environmental quality standards and common IEQ parameters standards and criteria-based testing and rating guidelines for classification of buildings based on energy efficiency.

While HVAC design engineers must keep relevant standards in mind and ensure local codes are implemented in the design, energy efficiency is also a primary goal. Ductwork design plays an important role in controlling indoor air quality, thermal comfort and ventilation. The main function of ductwork design is to provide the least obstructed channel through which cold and warm air can travel in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

Improper duct designs can lead to poor indoor air quality, heat loss, and uncomfortable building conditions. A well-designed air conditioning HVAC system will ultimately optimize costs. By regulating pressure drop, choosing the right duct size, balancing air pressure and controlling acoustics, ductwork designers can optimize manufacturing, operational, environmental and commissioning costs.

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