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Businesses expend significant resources taking care of the HVAC systems in their buildings. This is certainly justifiable, as commercial HVAC equipment often represents a large financial investment. It is also important to maintain a comfortable indoor environment for your employees and customers. Along with the main HVAC equipment, you should also pay attention to the ductwork. Faulty ductwork may need to be repaired or, in some cases, replaced completely.

The Purpose of Ductwork

Ductwork is the network of large, bulky pipes that extend from your HVAC unit to vents and registers throughout your commercial building. They are often round or rectangular and are frequently mounted near the ceiling, where they are out of sight and can be concealed by structural features if desired.

These ducts serve as the distribution pipeline for the heated or cooled air produced by your furnace, heat pump, air conditioner or boiler. Without ductwork, the conditioned air produced by your HVAC system would not be able to travel to your indoor spaces.

Supply ducts bring the heated and cooled air from your HVAC system to your indoor areas. Return ducts send expended air back to the HVAC equipment to be filtered, reconditioned and redistributed.

Why Ductwork is Important

Since all of the air from your HVAC system travels through the ductwork, problems with these large pipes can result in air leaks that waste tremendous amounts of air and money. Indoor comfort can be compromised so severely that your HVAC equipment is rendered nearly useless.

Signs of Faulty Ductwork

Here are some signs of faulty ductwork that may indicate it's time to replace the ducts in your commercial building.

  • Damaged ductwork: Ductwork must be free of damage, missing sections and air leaks in order to function properly. There should be no holes, tears or openings in the ductwork sections themselves. Each section should fit together tightly with adjoining sections. Connections at supply vents and return registers should also be tight and secure. All duct connections should be sealed with mastic, a specialized rubbery sealant used on ducts, or with metal tape. Standard duct tape should not be used since the adhesive can dry out and let the tape fall away. Obvious duct damage should be repaired, or the sections should be replaced. You may need the services of an HVAC professional for harder-to-find duct leaks.
  • Ducts in uninsulated spaces: In some cases, lengths of ductwork have been installed in uninsulated sections of your building. This can include crawl spaces, basements, attics, warehouses or other areas that typically get hotter or colder than other sections of the building. Substantial amounts of energy can be lost as heated or cooled air moves through the ductwork in these areas, with heat being lost to cold spaces and hot spaces causing cool air within the ducts to warm up. The problem is multiplied if the ductwork itself is uninsulated. If the area of the building can't be insulated, it may be wisest to completely replace any ductwork in these locations and route it through conditioned, insulated spaces.
  • Ducts in building cavities: In older construction, building cavities such as spaces between joists were used as ductwork. This can be incredibly wasteful, as these cavities are not designed to carry conditioned air and can allow substantial amounts of air to leak. If your building has any spaces of this type, you should install actual ductwork as soon as possible.

In all cases, you should hire a professional HVAC service expert to inspect, service and replace your ducts. Include ductwork inspections as part of seasonal preventive maintenance on your HVAC system.

Our goal is to help educate our customers about Plumbing, HVACR, Fire Protection, and Alarm Systems in Mechanical, Commercial, and Residential settings. For more information on evaluating the ductwork in your commercial building and deciding if it needs replacement, and to view projects we've worked on, visit our website!

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