It Ain't Heavy, It's My Duct Board

The product’s light weight adds to its ease of installation.
DENVER - In January 2004 at the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas, Mark and Stephanie Kohlman were searching for a solution to noisy ducts that resulted from the use of sheet metal ducts in their homes' HVAC systems. Their company, Petra Homes, is a design/custom build homebuilder in Colorado with homes typically valued in the $1 million range.

Homeowners buying a home at that price want a quiet, comfortable living environment. The metal ducts weren't necessarily constructed or installed incorrectly, but customers reported that they tended to transmit a lot of noise.

These expensive homes increasingly have theater rooms, Mark Kohlman said, so sound transmission is more of an issue.

"We saw the sound transmission demonstration at the [Johns Manville] booth. It played music through a sheet metal duct and duct board," said Mark Kohlman.

After seeing and hearing this, they decided to give duct board a try. They decided to try the manufacturer's SuperDuct® RC™ fiberglass air duct board in a model home that was going up for a home show.

The product's acoustical properties minimize noise transmission between rooms, while preserving high-quality sound in the room itself, the manufacturer said.

Duct board can help keep labor costs down for contractors, like BRS Mechanical.

Air Distribution Opportunities

According to the company, the product also can help improve indoor comfort. The flexibility of duct board compared to sheet metal offered Petra Homes an opportunity to give its homeowners "the best indoor comfort available," noted the manufacturer.

The coldest air typically is at the floor level in the basement, creating uncomfortable environments. Kohlman said he was able to overcome this by installing the duct board at the floor level, thus supplying heated air as needed more efficiently.

Custom Mechanical Systems fabricates and installs ductwork in the homes Petra builds. Craig Emmons, company president, had never worked with duct board before and was a little apprehensive about it.

"There is always a learning curve with these things," he said. "Because it was new, I thought it would take me three weeks to do it. It only took me a week and a half."

Instead of waiting for a shop to fabricate sheet metal, Emmons was able to fabricate the duct board on site. The product's light weight also allowed the contractor to hang pieces as large as 28 feet by himself. (It must be noted that Emmons encouraged other contractors not to do this procedure with sheet metal.)

In Colorado Springs, where Custom Mechanical does most of its work, Emmons now views duct board as an opportunity for his business. "Everyone here uses sheet metal. I am going to start suggesting duct board," he said. "I think it will give me a competitive advantage."

BRS Mechanical installed Johns Manville’s new duct board product in approximately 500 homes last year.

More New Construction

As sheet metal costs continue to rise, more HVAC contractors are turning to fiberglass duct board. However, BRS Mechanical in Tipton, Ind., has been using the product for some time. The company installed duct board with its HVAC systems in about 500 last year, the company said.

Customers appreciate the improved acoustics and indoor comfort, the contractor said. Installers appreciate the easy fabrication and installation. Price is just one more benefit.

"The homebuilders we work with prefer [duct board] because we can install it for less cost than sheet metal, and it performs better," said Scott Fague, vice president of BRS Mechanical.

Homebuilder Don Hamilton, general manager of TK Constructors, Inc., added, "We think we have always saved money by using fiberglass duct board instead of sheet metal. Now I think you'll find more and more homebuilders are going to be looking at duct board because they're going to have to charge more per square foot for sheet metal, which is something they don't want to do."

Material costs are not the only savings. Duct board "helps us keep costs down because we can fabricate it on site, and that saves us a lot of time," said Dean Hobbs, HVAC operations manager for BRS Mechanical.

Hamilton said it saves money for his homeowner customers, too.

"The big difference for homeowners is savings on heating bills," he said. "Duct board doesn't leak or let the air cool the way metal does, so homeowners can run their furnaces less often and keep the thermostat lower and still be comfortable."

Sidebar: Product Details

According to Johns Manville, SuperDuct RC features a Reinforced Coating (RC) system that uses the same Permacote® acrylic polymer system that has been tried and tested on the earlier SuperDuct product. A mat facing reinforces the coating, which penetrates the mat and adheres to the insulation core, the company said. "The reinforced coating provides a smoother airstream surface with greater damage resistance and durability."

The coating protects the surface against potential fungal or bacterial growth, the company continued, because the coating is formulated with an immobilized antimicrobial agent (registered with the EPA for HVAC applications).

Publication date: 06/28/2004

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