Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering

First Advisor

Zhiqiang (John) Zhai

Second Advisor

Moncef Krarti

Third Advisor

Michael Brandemuehl


This thesis examines the effect of air-side fouling on the energy consumption of constant air volume (CAV) heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in residential and small commercial buildings. There is a particular focus on evaluating the potential energy savings that may result from the remediation of such fouling from coils, filters, and other air system components.

A computer model was constructed to simulate the behavior of a building and its duct system under various levels of fouling. The model was verified through laboratory and field testing and then used to run parametric simulations to examine the range of energy impacts for various climates and duct system characteristics. A sensitivity analysis was conducted to determine the impact of parameters like duct insulation, duct leakage, duct location, and duct design on savings potential.

Duct system pressures, temperatures, and energy consumption for two houses were monitored for one month. The houses' duct systems, which were both in conditioned space, were given a full cleaning, and were then monitored for another month. The flow rates at the houses improved by 10% and 6%. The improvements were primarily due to installing a new filter, as both houses had only light coil fouling. The results indicate that there was negligible change in heating energy efficiency due to the system cleaning.

The parametric simulation results are in agreement with the field experiment: for systems in all eight climates, with flowrates degraded by 20% or less, if ducts are located within the thermal zone, HVAC source energy savings from cleaning are negligible or even slightly negative. However, if ducts are outside the thermal zone, savings are in the 1 to 5% range. For systems with flowrates degraded by 40%, if ducts are within the thermal zone, savings from cleaning occurs only for air conditioning energy, up to 8% in climates like Miami, FL. If ducts are outside the thermal zone, savings occurs with both heating and cooling energy, and ranges from 7% in Los Angeles, CA to 13% in Fairbanks, AK. These results assume a leaky and uninsulated duct system. The potential for savings from cleaning decreases if duct insulation is in place or sealing has been performed. The potential for energy savings is directly related to the distribution system's thermal efficiency, with air conditioner performance also playing a minor role.

Results for small commercial buildings with constant air volume HVAC systems and leaky and uninsulated duct systems span a wider range: from -12% in Miami, FL to 30% in Minneapolis, MN. However, for improved ducts or ducts in the conditioned space, small commercial HVAC source energy savings is always negative (down to -17%) for flowrates degradation in the 0-40% range.

The sensitivity of these results to duct characteristics (location, leakage, and insulation) and the after- cleaning flowrate, as it varies from an ideal flowrate, was also evaluated. Energy savings can reach up to 80% for some scenarios where clean airflow is severely restricted down to 20% of ideal by poor duct layout or other obstructions not removable by cleaning.

In addition, a simplified spreadsheet tool was developed for technicians to use in the field to estimate potential savings resulting from a system cleaning. Measuring the temperature rise across the furnace was found to give less uncertainty than measuring the pressure rise and assuming a fan curve. Despite the uncertainty, the tool can give a general idea of the range of savings possible under various conditions.