Building Codes, Weatherization Tighten the Ductwork Market
New products help reduce duct leakage, improve comfort
ORLANDO, Fla. — In the new home construction and retrofit markets, tighter building codes and the desire to become more energy efficient is driving innovation in the HVAC ductwork and sheet metal market. Many products exhibited at the AHR Expo in Orlando were designed with these factors in mind.
INCREASING R VALUES
Per the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), ducts typically located in unconditioned spaces lose 10-30 percent of the energy used to heat and cool the air in extreme temperatures. HVAC equipment, in turn, works harder to make up for the losses. As an attempt to become more energy efficient, many states are adopting tighter building codes with higher R values, according to Matthew Meyer, product manager for Hart & Cooley Inc.
“In the upper Midwest, you’ll see products used in basements and attics, and, in the southern regions, they’re mostly used in the attics,” he said. “Fabric duct has been gaining in popularity. Many states and municipalities are moving to higher R ratings, which means better efficiency through essentially thicker insulation. There are some areas still lagging behind, but, in California, it’s all R8. High-performance homes are all R8. That trend is not going to stop.”
John Starr, vice president and partner for Covertech Fabricating Inc., agrees: “Over the last five years, R values have been increasing,” he said. “To give you an idea, most states started off with an R4.2, now, years later, most states are going to an R8. And, so, we have to develop new products that allow us to get those added R values. We compete against fiberglass wrap, and one of the reasons we’re having success is a lot of people want to get away from the itch factor with fibers in the air. Fiberglass gives you an R value, but it’s hard to work with. If you rip it, you get moisture in the duct and condensation problems can lead to mildew and mold. Fiberglass companies have an easier time getting R values because they just add volume to their fiberglass. We can’t do that as we use air space to get our R values.”
An additional driver in the market is the ease of installation, Starr noted. “Labor is a big factor, so having a product that is less labor intensive is important. Ease of application and ease of use are also important to contractors.”
ADDRESSING LEAKY DUCTS
Code enforcement is also increasing in the industry, noted Glenn Walter, product manager of building and construction tapes at Shurtape Technologies LLC.
“As code enforcement continues to grow, the demand for and awareness of UL-listed and code-compliant tapes increases,” he said. “A contractor used to be able to use a standard foil or duct tape to seal an HVAC system, though these tapes have proven to be inferior and may result in system failures and inefficiencies, due to air leakage. Code enforcement now requires contractors to use the proper tape. As a manufacturer, it’s more crucial than ever to make sure the end user is educated about choosing the correct tape.
“Additionally, there is a constant effort to get a job completed quicker while still maintaining the quality required,” he continued. “In this business, time is money, and company owners are trying to maximize efficiencies on each and every job.”
Shurtape featured its new AF 100 with EasyPEEL™ split liner technology at the AHR Expo. The UL-listed tape features an easy-to-start crack-and-peel liner. The liner is split down the middle, ensuring a quick and easy start, even while wearing work gloves to protect hands from cuts and frigid weather conditions. The split liner also provides additional stability to the tape, which helps to prevent it from rolling onto itself and reduces the amount of tape wasted on the job.
“The AF 100 with EasyPEEL offers ease of use to the installer by making each and every job more efficient,” Walter said. “The new split liner also reduces waste on a job due to the reduction of tape ‘curling,’ as is often the case when the entire liner is removed in one piece. The ability to get the liner started each and every time due to the crack-and-peel nature of the new liner also saves time and frustration for the installer.”
Increasing energy efficiency is also driving the move to fabric duct systems, said John Lipscomb, international sales manager for Ductsox Corp.
“We’re seeing a lot more attention being paid to airflow measurement inside the ductwork, clean air quality, that sort of thing,” he said. “A piece of metal duct is really just a highway for the air to move. There’s not a lot you can do with it to make it innovative other than to find other ways to distribute air. And, a fabric duct system is not really ductwork, but more of a long diffuser that distributes air.
“People are becoming much more sensitive to how air is distributed in the space, especially in specific applications, such as greenhouses and laboratories. For example, two industries growing rapidly for us are the medical marijuana and pharmaceutical businesses. But, these are not your grandfathers’ greenhouses. These are very sophisticated facilities. One company we worked with wanted the leaves to quiver in order to prevent mold growth. So, there’s a lot of attention being paid to airflow, velocity, and the direction of air. Air distribution is becoming very scientific.”
Ductsox introduced its dBSilencer and SkeleCore™ FTS Jumbo Series. The dBSilencer is a fabric sound attenuator for fabric ductwork systems. It quiets air-handling unit (AHU) and variable air volume (VAV) box operational and airflow noise in the 500- to 2,000-Hz octave bands by 28-35 dB in offices, libraries, museums, classrooms, and other sound-sensitive areas. The dBSilencer also offers an optional center bullet version for nearly double the attenuation that’s ideal for larger mechanical equipment, whereas the without-bullet version is designed for quieter equipment and VAV systems.
The SkeleCore FTS Jumbo Series is offered in 50- to 84-inch diameters and is among the industry’s largest interior tensioning system sizes for textile ductwork, according to Lipscomb. The Jumbo Series is applicable in large airflow distribution requirements in high-ceiling or high-bay spaces, such as athletic stadiums, convention halls, aircraft hangers, industrial buildings, and other applications.
“The advantage to this is it overcomes the disadvantage of fabric duct, which collapses when the air is turned off,” Lipscomb said. “Having an internal structure, even when there’s no air in it, the fabric duct still looks like it’s inflated. This is very lightweight, can be installed by two people on a lift, and is extremely energy efficient.”
SHEET METAL FABRICATION
Advance Cutting Systems showcased its Autofold Fabri-Flange TDF/C System. The system takes the place and space of a full coil line and condenses into the best of both worlds. The free-standing Autofold Fabri-flange roll forms dual TDF/C flanges on duct and brake duct automatically without programming individual sizes or types. It features outboard TDF/C Rolls for fittings and small duct and opposite outboard clip rolls. The system takes a seamed, flat L, U, or full wrap and rollforms the TDF/C flange onto both sides of the duct and brake duct to size into the desired configuration. In addition, it can also be used to rollform TDF/C fittings and make a clip for all duct and fittings.
“We are seeing a big jump in coil line sales in the smaller HVAC and sheet metal shops,” said Clinton Ray, national sales manager for Advance Cutting Systems. “It’s for those customers who don’t have the floor space or the budget for a $200,000 coil line, but need the automation to be competitive. Advance Cutting Systems offers coil lines starting at $79,900 for the I-FOLD Coil Line with two coil cradles that only requires a 7-by-14-foot footprint [about the same size as a plasma] with a single power drop and no pneumatics.”
A GROWING AWARENESS
People are showing more interest in ventilation and IAQ concerns, said Neal Walsh, senior vice president of Aeroseal LLC. There’s also a growing interest of these problems in the commercial retrofit market, he noted.
Aeroseal shared findings of a new study regarding commercial ductwork at the AHR Expo.
“Most people don’t even think about the role ductwork plays in commercial building performance, but, the fact is, duct leakage is one of the most significant contributors to energy waste in U.S. buildings today,” Walsh said.
The “Hole Truth About U.S. Buildings” survey was conducted by the Building Commissioning Association and found 72.46 percent of respondents found significant duct leakage most prevalent in existing buildings, 54.66 percent found leakage rates of 15 percent or more somewhat common in U.S. buildings today, and 13.14 percent found leakage rates of 15 percent or more to be highly likely in U.S. buildings.
The survey also noted that, in the U.S., $25 billion is lost each year in energy loss due to leaky ducts.
“Over the next few years, there will be a dramatic increase in retrofit projects for commercial buildings,” Walsh said. “We will also see tighter duct-leakage standards. Aerosol-based duct sealing will become a very popular option for contractors as they aim to meet these tighter new construction standards.”
Publication date: 2/22/2016