Building America Case Study: High-Velocity Small-Diameter Duct System, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Stacey Rothgeb, A. Poerschke

Research output: NRELFact Sheet


This study tests the performance of a variable airflow small-diameter duct heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in a new construction unoccupied low-load test house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The duct system was installed entirely in conditioned space and was operated from the winter through summer seasons. Measurements were collected on the in-room temperatures and energy consumed by the air handler and heat pump unit. Operation modes with three different volumes of airflow were compared to determine the ideal airflow scenario that maximizes room-to-room thermal uniformity while minimizing fan energy consumption. Black felt infrared imagery was used as a measure of diffuser throw and in-room air mixing. Measured results indicate the small-diameter, high velocity airflow system can provide comfort under some conditions. Solar heat gains resulted in southern rooms drifting beyond acceptable temperature limits. Insufficient airflow to some bedrooms also resulted in periods of potential discomfort. Homebuilders or HVAC contractors can use these results to assess whether this space conditioning strategy is an attractive alternative to a traditional duct system. The team performed a cost analysis of two duct system configurations: (1) a conventional diameter and velocity duct system, and (2) the small-diameter duct system. This work applies to both new and retrofit homes that have achieved a low heating and cooling density either by energy conservation or by operation in a mild climate with few heating or cooling degree days. Guidance is provided on cost trade-offs between the conventional duct system and the small-diameter duct system.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages2
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Work performed by IBACOS, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/FS-5500-64162

Other Report Number

  • DOE/GO-102017-4665


  • Building America
  • bulkhead
  • ducts in conditioned space
  • high velocity
  • HVAC
  • low load home
  • residential
  • residential buildings
  • residential HVAC systems
  • small diameter duct
  • static pressure


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