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I've read that air handlers are typically rated for 0.5 iwc. Doing a simple conversion, this comes out to about 125 Pa. Is this with reference to the ambient air pressure? So, if I had an absolute pressure sensor, I guess the air handler would begin to get damaged if the pressure at the ducts was x + 125 Pa, where x is the ambient air pressure? Also, it seems strange to me that the rating is for static pressure, rather than total pressure. Does velocity pressure really not affect the air handler's health?

However, the main question I have is how is it possible that the duct static pressure can be different from the ambient air pressure? Suppose I measure the pressure in the duct, right before the register and if the register is open, then the air pressures on either side of the duct should be equal. Even if the register is closed, unless there is a perfect seal, air from one side can escape to the other, so air pressure should be equal as well. Do correct me if my common sense is completely busted. Or should the measurement be performed at the air handler?

PS: Any other HVAC resources on static pressure will be greatly appreciated

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    When the system is on, you feel air coming out of the register, right? That's the air rushing from inside the duct, in an attempt to balance the pressure. – Tester101 May 23 '15 at 12:35
  • Right, that makes sense. So, the static pressure when the system is on will be >0 iwc; what about when the system is off? 0 iwc? My first impression was that this difference in pressure was velocity pressure instead. Although I could definitely be mistaken. – rith87 May 23 '15 at 15:26
  • Air always flows from a region of higher static pressure to a region of lower static pressure. "Velocity pressure" is just a creative way of accounting for the kinetic energy of the gas when doing an energy balance (aka Bernoulli's equation). Therefore, the static pressure in the duct must be higher than the static pressure outside, or the air wouldn't flow. – Joel Keene May 25 '15 at 20:03
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The fan in an air handler is typically stated to have a flow rate at a given static pressure (e.g. page 7 of the Lennox CBX25UH air handler specifications here). In my experience, almost all pressures in HVACR are stated in terms of gauge pressure; as you suspected, 0.5 in w.c. is a gauge pressure (generally noted as in w.g.). Some fan flow rates are stated in terms of total static pressure, where the evaporator, heater core, filter, duct friction loss, diffuser pressure drop, etc. contribute and must be taken into account when sizing the blower package.

The higher the external static pressure, the lower the air flow rate--the system pressure is a measure of resistance to the flow created by the fan. For external static pressure, the major contributors are friction loss in the duct work and at the diffuser. CaptiveAire (an exhaust hood manufacturer) has a good explanation of total, static, and velocity pressure here. The ASHRAE fundamentals handbook also has an extensive section on duct work, but unfortunately is not freely available online--you may be able to find a copy at your local library or an older version at a discount book store (the duct chapter has not changed much for this purpose).

The fan creates a low pressure region on one side (return) and a high pressure region on the other (supply). If you have a very large static pressure (i.e. high friction), you will have a low resulting velocity pressure and low resulting air flow rate. To simplify design, manufacturers state the fan's capacity to overcome a given static pressure with a resultant flow rate. Unless your static pressure is so large that the fan stalls or operates outside of its stable region (see this page on fan curves), you will not damage the air handler, but you will reduce the air flow rate and waste energy.

Assuming you are using a device which can measure the static and dynamic/velocity pressure (e.g. pitot tube), you will ideally have a constant total pressure at all parts of the system (this concept is part of Bernoulli's principle, pressure drop due to friction does represent energy loss and is added to one side of the equation when comparing two states). In your scenario, the diffuser represents an obstruction to the flow, so you will have a higher static pressure and lower velocity pressure before the diffuser. The region outside of the diffuser is at a lower pressure relative to the duct, so the energy represented by the static pressure component becomes part of the velocity component, resulting in a greater fluid velocity. If you were to close all of the diffusers, you would create a very large static pressure on the supply side of the system and would lower the flow rate. You can measure pressure at any point in the system and will get the same total pressure (minus energy loss due to friction). Immediately at the supply side of the air handler, the energy (and pressure) is highest, near the diffuser, you have experienced some energy loss due to friction.

For diagnostic purposes, it can be useful to measure pressure along the supply side to determine if you have excess friction loss or, more commonly, duct leakage.

  • Thanks, the CaptiveAire link had a good introduction. So, correct me if I'm wrong but if you closed all the diffusers, the pressure measured could be the same as if all were open since the increase in static pressure is offset by the decrease in dynamic pressure (since velocity decreases). So, what is the best way to detect high static pressure in the ducts? Orient the pressure sensor tangential to the air flow? Regardless, Thanks for the answer, Ryan. – rith87 May 25 '15 at 1:31
  • @rith87 You are correct: static pressure is measured tangentially to the direction of the airflow. A standard pressure transducer mounted perpendicularly to the duct would measure the static pressure in the duct. A pitot static tube can measure both the stagnation pressure and the static pressure simultaneously and is used to derive the dynamic pressure. – Ryan Smith May 25 '15 at 2:19
  • (con't) Whether the diffusers are open or closed, the total pressure is the same at a single point (because the "energy content" of the fluid is the same), but with all of the diffusers open, the static component is lower while the dynamic is greater. – Ryan Smith May 25 '15 at 2:19
  • Thanks for the super prompt replies. A standard pressure transducer? What do you think is the accuracy that I require? 1 Pa, 10 Pa? What is the best way to calculate this value? Estimating the kinetic energy of the air in the ducts? – rith87 May 25 '15 at 3:47
  • The total pressure is the same at a single point, regardless of whether the diffusers are opened or closed? I'm not sure if I agree. For example, if all the registers are closed, then the dynamic component is 0 and the static component will vary based on how long the air handler is running. Am I making sense? – rith87 May 25 '15 at 3:51

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