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HVAC Air Duct Leakage

Eli P. Howard, III Executive Director, Technical Services

What is Duct Leakage

Duct leakage is the leakage of air from Duct Equipment leakage is the leakage of air from Equipment Accessory leakage is the leakage of air from Accessories

System Leakage
HVAC Air System leakage is the combination of duct, equipment and accessory leakage Duct leakage is not System leakage

Equipment Leakage Test

ASHRAE SPC 193P Method of testing for Determining the Air-Leakage Rate of HVAC Equipment The standard prescribes a method of testing to determine the air-leakage rate of forced-air heating, and cooling HVAC equipment, prior to field installation

Equipment Leakage Test

The standard applies to equipment intended for installation in ducted systems, including furnaces, heat pumps, a/c, coil boxes, filter boxes, and associated components Equipment that moves less than 3000 CFM (1400 L/S) of air It does not apply to field installed components, such as plenums or ducts.

HVAC Air Duct Leakage Test Manual

SMACNA HVAC Duct Construction Standard, 2005 3rd Edition International Energy Conservation Code (Chapter 8) ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook (Chapter 35)

Duct Construction Standards

Ductwork be Constructed for the Specific Pressure Classifications shown on the contract Drawings (1/2", 1", 2", 3", 4", 6", 10") Duct Construction per SMACNA HVAC Duct Construction Standards Ducts Sealed in accordance with Table 1-2 SMACNA HVAC Air Duct Leakage Test Manual, HVAC-DCS 2005

Table 1-2 Standard Duct Sealing Requirements

SEAL CLASS A Sealing Requirements Class A: All Transverse joints, longitudinal seams, and duct wall penetrations B Class B: All Transverse joints 3 w.g. (75-0 Pa) and longitudinal seams only C Class C: Transverse joints 2 w.g. (500 Pa) only In addition to the above, any variable air volume system duct of 1 (250 Pa) and 1/2 w.g. (125 Pa) construction class that is upstream of the VAV boxes shall meet Seal Class C. Applicable Static Pressure Construction Class 4 w.g. and up (1000 Pa)

Seam: Joining two longitudinally (in the direction of airflow) oriented edges of duct surface between two joints. Helical (spiral) lock seams are exempt from sealing requirements.

Joints: All other duct surface connections made on the perimeter are deemed to be joints including:
Girth Joints Branch & Sub-Branch Intersections Duct Collar Tap-ins Fitting Subsections

Joints: (Continued)
Louver and Air Terminal Connections to Ducts Duct, Plenum and Casing Abutments to Building Structures

Duct Wall Penetrations
Rod, wire, and tubing The following are not considered penetrations in the context of leakage testingScrews and other fasteners, and control rods for dampers.

Consistency of Heavy Syrup Can be Applied by Brush, Cartridge Gun or Powered Pump Can be water based or solvent based Typically used on slip joints Also used on coil lines

More Suitable for Application as Fillet, in Groves or Between Flanges Have Excellent Adhesion and Elasticity

Foam, or neoprene type should have adhesive backing for ease of installation Butyl gaskets typically extruded to shape remains flexible Both types typically used between flange joints

Closures are listed as components of systems complying with UL 181 No Recognized Industry Performance Standards that set forth:
Peel Adhesion, Shear Adhesion Tensile Strength Temperature Limits Accelerated Aging

Some test results are published in the product directories of the Pressure Sensitive Tape Council located in Glenview, Illinois. Shelf Life Difficult to Identify (6 mos.-1 yr.) Aging Characteristics Questionable Compatibility of the Adhesive with the Duct Material (Flexible, Non-metallic Ducts)

Shelf Life may be one year or less often only 6 months. Installer should verify that shelf life has not been exceeded. Safety Considerations
Sealants may be flammable in wet or partially cured state Use liquids & mastics in well-ventilated areas Observe printed precautions of manufacturers

LEED compliance -LEED adopted South Coast Air Quality Management Divisions (SCAQMD) Rile 1168 -Rule 1168 does nor specifically address duct sealant -Which category did duct sealant fall under Architectural or Other?

LEED _According to SCAQMD duct sealants were to be classified as an architectural sealant -Does this matter? YES -Architectural sealants have a VOC limit of 250 g/l. Other allows 420 g/l -Almost every commercially available solvent based duct sealer has a VOC content around 300 g/l

LEED -Why not use water based duct sealants all of the time -Water based duct sealants can not be properly applied when temperatures are below 40F (5C) not an issue in Southern California, but what about the rest of the world?

LEED -SMACNA & USGBC discussions occurred -A Credit Interpretation Request (CIR) was issued How does a project team classify duct sealants for application under EQc4.1 -The response: Project teams may classify duct sealants under Other, as listed in the SCAQMD VOC limits table

Leakage Tests
The need to verify leakage control by field testing is not present when adequate methods of assembly and sealing are used. Leakage tests for duct systems constructed to 3" w.g. or lower are typically not recommended. (ASHRAE 90.1) ASHRAE 189 requires seal class A for all duct, but no testing is required

Leakage Tests
For Systems of 4" w.g. Class and higher:
The designer must determine if any justification for testing exists. If so, he must clearly designate in the contract documents the portions of the system(s) to be tested and must specify the appropriate test methods.

Leakage Tests
IECC 2006 requires 25% of the system (based on surface area must be tested for systems in excess of 3" w.g. IECC 2006 requires all ducts to minimum of seal class B

Duct System Designer

Match fan to system pressure losses Account for equipment leakage (Fans, Coils, VAV, etc.) Account for accessory leakage Specify duct pressure class Specify amount & manner of leakage testing

Key Variables that Affect the Amount of Leakage

Static Pressure Amount of Duct (seams, joints) Openings in the Duct Surface
Seams, Joints, Access Doors, Rod and Fastener Penetrations, Equipment


Duct Leakage is Related to Duct Surface Area

Research in Europe and in the U.S. (SMACNA/ASHRAE/TIMA) has led to the Conclusion that a Duct Surface Leakage Factor can be Identified by the Following Relationship:


Duct Leakage is Related to Duct Surface Area

F = CLPN Where:

F is a leak rate per unit of duct surface area (typically CFM/100SF) CL is a constant P is static pressure (typically in in. W.G. ) N is an exponent (most typically 0.65)

Air Leakage Misconceptions

Just add sealant to get lower leakage rates? Striving for a tight duct system is fine, but if the designer specifies impractical leakage rates there can be a significant increase in the cost of constructing the duct

Air Leakage Misconceptions

If the leakage test shows a leakage rate of 100 cfm then the system must leak 100 CFM? Not true. Leakage tests are performed at a specific static pressure throughout the entire sections of a duct system. Under operating conditions the static pressure typically drops as you move through the system

Table 4-1 Applicable Leakage Classes

DUCT CLASS SEAL CLASS ", 1", 2' W.G. C 3" W.G. B 4", 6", 10" W.G. A







Test Procedures
1. 2.

Select a section of duct to be tested. Select a test pressure not in excess of the pressure class rating of the duct. (Usually the actual operating pressure.) Calculate the allowable leakage using leakage factors for the duct surface area.


Test Procedures

Select the blower and orifice suitable for the test airflow requirements. Connect the blower and flowmeter to the duct section. Provide temporary seals at all ends of the ductwork.



Test Procedures

Start the blower at a low airflow capacity, increasing the airflow until the test pressure is reached. Adjust blower capacity until steadystate conditions at the test pressure are achieved.


Test Procedures

Record the airflow (across the orifice) at the steady state condition. This airflow is the CFM leakage of the tested section of the duct.



Does SMACNA recognize leakage class 4? -You can assign any leakage class you want, but you must understand what you are really asking for. SMACNAs HVAC Air Duct Leakage Test Manual provides leakage rates based on testing ducts constructed to the SMACNA HVAC-DCS

Does the SMACNA test work on equipment or casings? - SMACNA has not tested those components to see if the method of the predicted leakage rates apply

Industry Standards
SMACNA HVAC Air Duct Leakage Test Manual 2nd Edition 2010 60-Day Public Review Free download at ASHRAE Standard 193 - 2010 45-day Public Review Free download at

Questions & Answers