Performance Analysis of a Modular Small-Diamter Air Distribution System

Stacey Rothgeb, Andrew Poerschke, Armin Rudd, Stacey Rothgeb (NREL Technical Monitor)

Research output: NRELSubcontract Report


This report investigates the feasibility of using a home-run manifold small-diameter duct system to provide space conditioning air to individual thermal zones in a low-load home. This compact layout allows duct systems to be brought easily within conditioned space via interior partition walls. Centrally locating the air handler unit in the house significantly reduces duct lengths. The plenum box is designed so that each connected duct receives an equal amount of airflow, regardless of the duct position on the box. Furthermore, within a reasonable set of length restrictions, each duct continues to receive similar airflow. The design method uses an additive approach to reach the total needed zonal airflow. Once the cubic feet per minute needed to satisfy the thermal load of a zone has been determined, the total number of duct runs to a zone can be calculated by dividing the required airflow by the standard airflow from each duct. The additive approach greatly simplifies the design effort and reduces the potential for duct design mistakes to be made. Measured results indicate that this plenum design can satisfy the heating load. However, the total airflow falls short of satisfying the cooling load in a hypothetical building. Static pressure inside the plenum box of 51.5 Pa limited the total airflow of the attached mini-split heat pump blower, thus limiting the total thermal capacity. Fan energy consumption is kept to 0.16 to 0.22 watt/CFM by using short duct runs and smooth duct material.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages52
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Work performed by IBACOS, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and ABT Systems, Inc., Annville, Pennsylvania

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/SR-5500-64858

Other Report Number

  • DOE/GO-102016-4751


  • air distribution
  • Building America
  • ducts in conditioned space
  • high velocity
  • home-run manifold
  • HVAC
  • low-load homes
  • mini-split heat pumps (MSHP)
  • residential
  • residential buildings
  • small-diameter ducts


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