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A Review of Equal Friction Solution for Duct Sizing

By Patrick Brooks, P.E., Member ASHRAE


I have looked at Mr. Peppers review and there is not much I can disagree with. Most of the sentiments
were born out by me as I read Mr. Doughertys article. I also read Mr. Londons review. Before I
comment on the rest of the article, I feel the need to comment on fan pressures.
Fan Pressure
Because total pressure represents the real energy and energy loss in a system, TC 5.2 only recommends
analyzing duct design systems using total pressure. The author states in his response to Mr. London for
external static pressure as It is the sum of the friction and dynamic losses from the fan outlet to the fan
inlet as defined by the manufacturer. But friction and dynamic losses are the components of total
pressure requirements. The rise across the fan of total pressure is the Fan Total Pressure. The Fan Static
Pressure is defined as the Fan Total Pressure minus the fan outlet velocity pressure. The rise in static
pressure across the fan does not give a true indication of the energy used. The inlet total pressure is the
negative value of the total pressure losses leading up to the inlet of the fan (for example if the total inlet
ductwork has a 1.0 in w.g. pressure drop, the inlet of the fan must be producing 1.0 in. w.g. total
pressure.) The inlet static pressure can be calculated by subtracting the inlet velocity pressure. So if the
inlet velocity pressure was 0.25 in. w.g., the fan inlet static pressure would be 1.25 in. w.g. Likewise, if
the total pressure loss of the outlet ductwork were 3.0 in. w.g. with an outlet velocity pressure of 0.30 in.
w.g., the fan outlet static pressure would be 2.7 in. w.g. Using these numbers the Fan Total Pressure is
4.00 in. w.g. [3.0 (1.0)] and the fan static pressure is 3.7 in. w.g. [4.00 0.30], while the rise in static
pressure across the fan (external static pressure) is 3.95 in. w.g. [2.7 (1.25)].

Review of the Article


1. Mr. Dougherty points out that typical values of friction loss per 100 ft are around 0.1 in. w.g. I
have seen that low of a value used in residential design but in the ASHRAE Chapter on Duct
Design, the friction chart shows a recommended shaded area from about 0.08 in. w.g./100 ft to
0.60 in. w.g./100 ft. The Duct Design Guide draft discusses these values, the lower end being
used for high energy cost areas while the higher end is for low energy cost areas while reducing
final cost. Mr. Doughertys values are too limiting. If he is worried about noise control, this same
chapter has recommended upper velocities for different types of space conditions. This table is
also in the Sound and Vibration Control chapter (Chapter 47, Table 3) of the 2009 HVAC System
and Equipment Handbook.
2. Single-flow Dynamic Losses are a function of size. See the elbow charts in the ASHRAE Duct
Fitting Database. Our own studies (United McGills) show that loss coefficients in branch fittings
are more a function of velocity pressure than size, but sizes still have to be known to properly
determine the dynamic loss coefficient from the ASHRAE Duct Fitting Database, so a one size
fits all loss coefficient does not work. Therefore, selecting a single loss coefficient without
regards to the size will give inaccurate results. Determining loss coefficients is also an iterative
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process based on the size of the main and branch for diverging or converging systems and of the
section being designed for single-flow coefficients.
3. The 15,000 cfm limit is a very arbitrary number. At 20,000 cfm with the 0.1 in. w.g./100 ft
friction rate the duct diameter would be about 42 to 44 inches, based on the friction chart. Also
estimating velocity from the friction chart, the velocity would be about 2,000 fpm, well below
problem areas for duct in shafts or above drywall ceilings. It could also be used for rectangular
duct in occupied spaces at RC 45 or even round duct in occupied spaces for an RC 35 level. He
should not limit the volume flow rate to 15,000 cfm or 20,000 cfm, just stay within the ASHRAE
shaded areas on the friction chart and below the velocities recommended in the ASHRAE Chapter
on Sound and Vibration Control.
4. The velocity that the author calculates in the table is based on the equivalent diameter. The actual
velocity needs to be used in the Darcy equation and for dynamic loss calculations. The column
needs corrected.
5. Although it probably has its uses, the TC 5.2 (Duct Design) committee would not recommend
round snap-lock because it is difficult or costly to seal. All longitudinal seams would need to be
sealed and there could be many more transverse joints to seal as it generally is available in much
shorter lengths than spiral duct. There is a proliferation of spiral machines in the sheet metal
industry now as evidenced by the trade organization SPIDA. Also, if what the author says about
the size limitations is true, that is another reason to not size systems based on snap-lock. Spiral
duct forming heads are generally available from 3-inch to 16-inch in -inch increments, and full
integer sizes through 38 inches diameter, then even sizes above that through about 90 inches
diameter. Its length is essentially unlimited and 20 ft lengths are not uncommon. The spiral seam
does not need sealed and because of the increased lengths and prevalent use of manifolding taps,
there are much fewer joints. TC 5.2 would recommend spiral ductwork be used (I know that I
work for a spiral duct manufacturerjust relaying what TC 5.2 thoughts would be though).
6. A major flaw in the spreadsheet is that only the (assumed?) critical path is designed. Each path
from the fan outlet to a terminal outlet; or return inlet to the fan inlet, must be individually
evaluated, unless this is a single-path system. I dont have a layout but since the fixture library
references a tee fitting, I assume there are multiple return inlets and terminal outlets. After each
path is evaluated, the fan has to be selected to handle the total pressure of the path with highest
summation of total pressure drops. These are called the critical paths and there would be at least
one for each of the supply duct paths and one for each of the return duct paths. Those set the total
pressure required at the inlet and outlet of the fan. The rest of the paths (unless they happen to
have exactly the same total pressure loss) would have excess pressure which either has to be
dampered to balance the system or, what we recommend in ASHRAE, a higher friction rate
would be used in the non-critical paths until they balance with the pressure in the critical paths.
This is what Mr. Peppers was talking about in his comment about balancing the duct system and
why computer programs should be used for duct design. Although I have designed small systems
with spreadsheets similar to what the author uses, and often use that technique to manually check
computer programs.

7. The authors selection of branch coefficients is suspect. First, he uses the same coefficients for
duct legs 3 and 4 as he does for 5 and 6 on the supply side. Duct leg 6 is a round tap off a
rectangular main duct leg 5; and duct leg 4 is rectangular tee off a rectangular main. More so the
same coefficients are used for the converging fittings. Duct leg 9 is a tee branch converging into
duct leg 10 and converging coefficients are very different than diverging fittings.
8. It is not obvious if the pressure drops for the diffuser and grille are total pressure or static
pressure. If total pressure, the loss of the velocity pressure at the diffuser/grille is accounted for. If
not, the velocity pressure loss as a total pressure loss needs accounted for when summing total
pressure losses.
9. Under A Simple Spreadsheet Solution, the I-P values for the Friction Chart (Figure 9 in our
Chapter) is correct, but not correct for the SI Figure 9 because the ordinate is Pa/m (not Pa/30 m).
10. Roughness coefficient (should be absolute roughness) has units. Density () should be listed.

Summary
The main concept of duct design is to minimize owner cost while producing balanced systems. Owner
cost is a function of operating cost and first cost which both vary significantly regionally so the limits
suggested by the author are too restrictive. They are not restrictions in his spreadsheet though, just his
suggestion.
Being concerned with noise levels is certainly important as the author points out. But the sample design
shows velocities of only 1,000 fpm or less. Noise levels in round duct are generally not a problem in the
2,0003,000 fpm range or rectangular duct in the 1,500 fpm to 2,500 fpm range, depending on the
location of the duct building.
As the author says, each paths pressure drop needs to be summed to determine the critical path, both on
the supply and return sides, to determine the fans total pressure requirements. The non-critical paths
should be resized to use the same pressure as the critical paths to balance the system. If not, dampers will
need to be used to balance the system. If nothing is done, air will go to the path of least resistance, selfbalancing the system, but not distributing the air to where it needs to go.
The authors method is more suitable for residential and smaller systems, which do not have many paths
and the blower is rated in terms of external static pressure. The one in the example may be suitable for
this. Small commercial systems and larger systems should be properly sized and balanced in the design.