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Managing Building
Moisture

Managing Building
Moisture
by

Dennis Stanke, staff engineer


La Crosse, Wisconsin
Bruce Bradway, senior airside applications engineer
Lexington, Kentucky

with

Art Hallstrom, airside applications engineering manager


Lexington Kentucky
Nan Bailey, information designer
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Special thanks to: J. David Odom III, vice president CH2M Hill and his staff in
Orlando, Florida, for permission to adapt text and illustrations from the
CH2M Hill manual Preventing Indoor Air Quality Problems in Hot,
Humid Climates: Design and Construction Guidelines, CH2M Hill,
1996.

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Contents
Preface ......................................................................................................... iv
Introduction ............................................................................................. 1
Good Reasons for Dry Buildings ........................................ 2
Better Indoor Air Quality/Better Health ...................................................... 2
Reduced Building System Deterioration ................................................... 3
More Comfortable Space Conditions ......................................................... 3

Moisture Sources ............................................................................... 4


Liquid-Water Sources ............................................................................. 4
Weather .................................................................................................. 5
Ground Water ......................................................................................... 5
Interior Leaks .......................................................................................... 6
Cleaning ................................................................................................. 6
Water-Vapor Sources ................................................................................... 6
Vapor-Pressure Diffusion ........................................................................ 7
People .................................................................................................. 10
Evaporation .......................................................................................... 10
Combustion .......................................................................................... 12
Infiltration .............................................................................................. 12
Ventilation ............................................................................................. 14
Condensation ............................................................................................. 15

Moisture and Building Envelope ....................................... 17


Prevent Liquid-Water Intrusion ................................................................ 17
Minimize Vapor-Pressure Diffusion ......................................................... 17
Minimize Infiltration ................................................................................... 18
Summary ..................................................................................................... 20

Moisture and Occupied Spaces ......................................... 21


Minimize Liquid-Water Sources ............................................................... 21
Prevent Unplanned Condensation ........................................................... 21
Dehumidify Spaces .................................................................................... 22
Account for All Loads ............................................................................ 23
Part-Load Control ................................................................................. 23
Unoccupied Control .............................................................................. 24
System Monitoring ................................................................................ 25
Summary ..................................................................................................... 25

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Contents
Equipment-Room Moisture .................................................... 26
Minimize Moisture Sources ...................................................................... 26
Prevent Unplanned Condensation ........................................................... 27
Raise Surface Temperature and Vapor Seal ........................................ 27
Lower Equipment-Room Dew Point ..................................................... 27
Dehumidify Ventilation Air ........................................................................ 28
Equipment-Room Design Examples ........................................................ 30
A Poor Design: Negative Pressurization .............................................. 30
A Better Design: Positive Return-Air Pressurization ............................ 32
Best Design: Positive Supply-Air Pressurization .................................. 34
Summary ..................................................................................................... 35

Moisture and Chillers ................................................................... 36


Moisture and Air-Handling Units ....................................... 37
Condensate Collection Pans .................................................................... 37
Size Coil to Limit Carryover .................................................................. 37
Slope to Prevent Standing Water ......................................................... 38
Drain to Prevent Flooding ..................................................................... 39
Drain-Line Seals ......................................................................................... 39
External Condensation .............................................................................. 41
Seal Penetrations and Joints ................................................................ 42
Improve Unit Insulation ......................................................................... 43
Internal Condensation ............................................................................... 45
Seal Unit Penetrations and Joints ........................................................ 46
Lower Equipment-Room Dew Point ..................................................... 46

In Conclusion ....................................................................................... 47
Acknowledgments ................................................................................ 47

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iii

Preface
Uncontrolled moisture within a building can contribute to structural damage,
occupant discomfort and unacceptable indoor air quality. Moisture is often
overlooked or underestimated during HVAC system design and operation, and it
can cause significant problems in the building envelope, occupied spaces and
mechanical-equipment rooms.
This manual helps HVAC system designers identify and quantify moisture
sources. It also presents moisture-management techniques related to the
building envelope, the occupied space and the mechanical-equipment room.
Moisture problems can occur in buildings in any geographic location. The
solutions identified in this manual apply to building-moisture management in any
climate; however, the concepts are especially applicable for buildings located in
humid climates.

The Trane Company, in proposing these system design and application


concepts, assumes no responsibility for the performance or desirability of any
resulting system design. System design is the prerogative and responsibility of
the system designer.

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Introduction
Uncontrolled moisture in buildings can cause serious problems for building
occupants, furnishings and structure. Microbial growth, encouraged by high
relative humidity, leads to poor indoor air quality and building deterioration.
Poor IAQ results in discomfort, health problems and could ultimately lower
productivity and spawn lawsuits. Uncontrolled moisture can also stain wall
surfaces, damage paint, corrode metal surfaces and accelerate the deterioration
of building furnishings and structural materials. Buildings located in climates with
long periods of high ambient temperature and high, absolute humidity (hot,
humid climates) are particularly prone to uncontrolled moisture. Figure 1
illustrates humid climate and fringe climate regions within the U.S.

Figure 1

Hot, Humid Climates

This manual discusses design considerations and HVAC operating techniques


that help control moisture within occupied buildings once it enters the building.

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Good Reasons for


Dry Buildings
Controlling building moisture takes time and money. How do building
occupants and building owners benefit from these expenditures?

Better Indoor Air Quality/Better Health


Building components (walls, floors and ceilings) and building furnishings (wall
coverings, carpets, furniture and stored materials) provide ideal amplification
sites for microbial growth. Microbial growthfungi, bacteria and dust mites, for
instancecan produce odors, allergens, and in some cases, toxins.
Odors cause discomfort and long-term exposure to allergens and toxins can lead
to health problems such as asthma and lung disease. Also, musty-smelling
buildings cannot command high rent or a high resale price.
For microbial growth to occur, certain conditions must be present
w A source of food
w Temperature between 40F100F
w Adequate moisture, usually 70% RH or higher
w A source of mold or mildew spores
These conditions can certainly be present in a building. Materials used in
building construction, building furnishings, stored materials (books and papers)
and accumulated dirt can all become food sources for microbial growth. Typical
indoor temperatures fall in the middle of the microbial growth temperature range.
Uncontrolled, indoor relative humidity can easily rise above the 70% RH needed
to encourage microbial growth, especially in hot, humid climates. Spores, of
course, are present everywhere in both indoor and outdoor air as well as in
building materials and furnishings.
Of the four conditions for microbial growth, relative humidity is most easily
controlled. Maintaining indoor relative humidity below 60% RH, as required by
ASHRAE 62-1989 (Figure 2), limits the potential for microbial growth in buildings.

Figure 2

ASHRAE-Recommended Humidity Levels

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Good Reasons for


Dry Buildings
Reduced Building System Deterioration
The same fungi (mold and mildew) that cause people discomfort and/or harm
can also cause building materials, furnishings and structure to prematurely
corrode and/or degenerate. Premature failure of walls, ceilings and floors and
irreversible damage to carpets, wall coverings and furnishings can result.
The same rationale holds true for the air handling equipment and duct system.
Wet insulation can lead to corrosion and/or deterioration, shortening the useful
life and effectiveness of the air-distribution system.
Deterioration in buildings increases maintenance and operation costs. Figure 3
illustrates the relationship between the effects of relative humidity and building
operation, maintenance and repair costs. Maintenance includes normal cleaning
and periodic replacement of damaged furnishings, such as moldy carpet and
wallpaper. Building operational costs include the cost of energy.

Figure 3

Humidity and Building Costs

More Comfortable Space Conditions


Controlling indoor relative humidity to an acceptable level results in consistent
thermal comfort within the occupied spaces. Thermal comfort reduces occupant
complaints and improves worker productivity, and increases both rental potential
and market value. l

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Moisture Sources
Moisture enters the building as liquid water or as water vapor. It causes trouble
in either form and changes readily from vapor to liquid through condensation. It
must be properly managed to avoid trouble. Lets look at possible moisture
sources and techniques to minimize the impact of each.

Liquid-Water Sources
Liquid water damages furnishings and building structure, supports microbial
growth and provides surface wetness for evaporation, a source of water vapor
and increased indoor moisture load. Common liquid-water sources include the
weather (rain, fog and snow), ground water, leaking pipes and equipment, and
wet cleaning processes (see Figure 4). Perhaps the most troublesome source of
liquid water, condensed water vapor, is discussed separately on the following
pages.

Figure 4

Common Liquid-Water Sources in Buildings

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Moisture Sources
Weather
During building construction, prior to completion of the roof and walls, building
materials and the partially completed building structure may become saturated
with rainwater or snow. Protect building materials from rain, snow and
condensation (which can form inside equipment wrapped with a vapor retarder
such as plastic) during construction. For best results, store materials within
covered structures. If materials become wet, dry them quickly and completely or
replace them. Mold can grow within 24 hours on wet materials. Discard visibly
moldy materials and replace with new, dry materials.
During normal operation, rain may enter the building structure through roof and
wall leaks or openings. Design windows and walls to minimize leakage and
control water with internal drainage schemes. Roof design and construction
practices must result in a leakproof membrane that drains properly. Roofs need
proper maintenance to assure long-term integrity. Repair leaky walls and roofs
quickly to prevent water damage and to avoid high latent loads indoors.
The outdoor intake airflow may entrain rain droplets or snowflakes and carry
them into the duct system. Design outdoor air intakes to limit rainwater
entrainment, using rain hoods and moisture eliminators sized to avoid high intake
velocity. If the design allows water droplets to penetrate the intake, provide for
indoor drainage (drain pans for instance); in other words, manage the water flow
once it enters the building.
Rain hoods and moisture eliminators cannot stop entrained snow. Prevent
possible filter damage or internal flooding using a heating coil to melt the snow or
a large plenum to allow the snow to settle, melt and evaporate before it reaches
the filters.
Fog also enters the building through the outdoor air intake. Fog droplets, too
small to stop at a louver or moisture eliminator, usually evaporate quickly within
the HVAC system, causing little or no surface wetting. However, the evaporated
droplets certainly add to the indoor moisture load and must be accounted for in
the design and operation of the system.

Ground Water
Ground water may seep into the building through very small cracks in basement
walls and floors. Be sure that surface water and subsurface water drains away
from the building, not toward it. Design the floor to limit water intrusion via cracks
and joints. Manage any water that penetrates the floor using proper slopes and
drains.

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Moisture Sources
Interior Leaks
Leaking appliances, valves and pipes can quickly wet large areas of interior
structure. Liquid water within walls and concealed areas, through capillary action
and surface tension, can travel long distances and result in widespread, longterm wetting.
Plan and follow maintenance procedures to assure speedy location and repair of
any water leaks within the building. Accidental spills and floods should be
cleaned up quickly. If porous materials become wet, dry them completely within
24 hours or consider replacing them.

Cleaning
Cleaning processes, such as floor mopping and carpet shampooing, result in
large wet areas. Carpet shampooing in particular increases moisture content in
carpet fibers (and in the accumulated dirt beneath the carpet).
Use wet cleaning processes cautiously (or not at all). Take steps to dry wetcleaned surfaces within 24 hours. For shampooed carpets, assure speedy
evaporation by providing adequate air motion and dehumidification during drying.
If a cooling coil controlled by a thermostat provides the necessary
dehumidification, auxiliary heat may be needed to maintain a sufficient cooling
coil load for continuous dehumidifying capacity.

Water-Vapor Sources
A high indoor water-vapor level elevates the indoor dew point and relative
humidity, and it contributes to the latent load on HVAC equipment. High dew
point increases the likelihood of unplanned condensation; high relative humidity
can result in occupant discomfort, increased dust mite population, and
accelerated microbial growth. HVAC-equipment capacity must match total (latent
plus sensible) load.
Common water-vapor sources in buildings (see Figure 5) include vapor-pressure
diffusion from outside, evaporation from people, wet surfaces and processes,
generation from combustion, infiltration from outside and introduction from
outside via ventilation airflow.

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Moisture Sources
Figure 5

Common Water-Vapor Sources

Vapor-Pressure Diffusion
Water vapor moves through solid materials in direct proportion to the difference
in vapor pressure between the opposite sides of the material and the resistance
of the material to water-vapor flow (the permeance of the material).

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Moisture Sources
The moisture load (grains of water per hour) added to a building from outside
by vapor-pressure diffusion can be found using Equation 1.

Equation 1

Wp = P A (VPo VPi)
Where
Wp
P
A
VPo
VPi

= moisture load (gr/h)


= permeance factor (gr/h ft2 in. Hg)
= surface area (ft2)
= outdoor vapor pressure (in. Hg)
= indoor vapor pressure (in. Hg)

The table below (from 1997 ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook) shows


permeance factors for some common construction materials. The permeance
factor for a composite wall (Pc) can be found as the reciprocal of the sum of
permeance reciprocals.

Common Construction Materials


hardwood siding (1/8")
air space (1.0")
polyethylene vapor retarder (0.002")

Permeance*
11.00
120.00
0.16

insulating board sheathing (1.0")

50.00

fibrous insulation (6.0")

19.00

gypsum wallboard (3/8")

50.00

paint, commercial latex

6.28

vinyl wallpaper

0.23

*Permeance factor = gr/h ft2 in. Hg

Consider a composite wall that includes wallboard (P = 50), fibrous insulation


(P= 19), exterior sheathing (P = 50), and hardboard siding (P = 11), and has a
high composite permeance [Pc = 1 (1 50 + 1 19 +1 50 + 1 11) = 5.448];
i.e. water vapor can diffuse through the wall quite readily. The same composite
wall with a polyethylene vapor retarder (P= 0.16), has a much lower its
composite permeance (Pc = 0.155); i.e. water-vapor diffusion through this wall is
much more difficult.

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Moisture Sources
Figure 6 shows the composite walls described above. On a hot, humid day in
Jacksonville, outdoor water-vapor pressure exceeds indoor water-vapor pressure
more significantly (VPoVPi=1.03-0.39=0.64in.Hg) than on a cooler day
(VPoVPi=0.60 0.39 = 0.21in.Hg).
Applying the permeable wall structure (Pc=5.435) to a small building with
4000ft2 of exterior wall surface, and solving Equation 1, we find that the moisture
load due to vapor-pressure diffusion can be quite high (Wp=5.44840000.64
=13,900gr/h) on the hot day and lower on the cooler day (Wp= 5.4484000
0.21 = 4580 gr/h).
Adding a vapor retarder results in a less permeable wall structure (Pc = 0.155)
and significantly lower moisture load on both the hot day (Wp = 0.155 4000
0.64 = 400 gr/h) and on the cooler day (Wp = 0.155 4000 0.21 = 130 gr/h).
As this example illustrates, moisture load due to vapor-pressure diffusion can be
significant through a simple wall. The addition of an exterior vapor barrier
reduces it considerably but cannot eliminate it.
Use a vapor retarder in floors, walls and ceilings to minimize moisture transfer
due to vapor-pressure diffusion. Locate the vapor retarder within walls and
ceilings, near the warm side, to avoid unplanned condensation within the
structure.

Figure 6

Vapor Diffusion Through Wall Structure

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Moisture Sources
In humid climates and other predominantly cooling climates, use lowpermeance materials near the outside surface (the warm side) to keep
summertime outdoor water vapor away from cold, interior surfaces. When the
building includes an attic, be sure to include a continuous vapor retarder on the
attic side of the insulation.
In mixed climates, for buildings with low wintertime inside relative humidity
(35% RH or less), use low-permeance materials near the outside surface, as
recommended for cooling climates.
In predominantly heating climates, use low-permeance materials near the inside
surface (the warm side) to keep wintertime indoor water vapor away from cold
exterior surfaces.

People
Building occupants produce water vapor at different rates, depending upon their
activity level, via respiration and perspiration. According to the 1997 ASHRAE
Fundamentals Handbook, an adult working at a desk introduces a latent load of
155 Btu/h, and an active athlete contributes 1000 Btu/h.
Since water vapor contains approximately 0.14 Btu/gr, an office worker
contributes 1100 gr/h (Wo = 155 / 0.14) to the indoor moisture load while a
volleyball player contributes approximately 7100 gr/h (Wo = 1000 / 0.14).
Although it can be significant, many designers erroneously consider respiration
as the sole source of moisture load in buildings. Design the HVAC system and
equipment with sufficient capacity to satisfy the total moisture load, including the
people-related moisture load as one of many sources.

Evaporation
Wet surfaces add moisture to indoor air through evaporation. Evaporation occurs
when the air vapor pressure (VPa) is less than the vapor pressure of the
saturated air at the wet surface (VPs).
Wet surfaces, found throughout the building, may be planned (pools, aquariums
and fountains) or unplanned (such as leaky pipes and unplanned condensation).
Cooking processes and live plants add water vapor via evaporation. On rainy or
snowy days, building occupants carry a significant amount of moisture into the
building on their shoes and clothing.
Equation 2 can be used to calculate the moisture load due to evaporation from
liquid-water surfaces.

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Moisture Sources
Equation 2

We = H A (VPsVPa) 7000/1060
Where
We
H
A
VPs

= moisture load from evaporation (gr/h)


= latent heat transfer rate (Btu/h ft2 in. Hg, see Figure 7)
= water surface area (ft2)
= saturated vapor pressure of air at the water surface
temperature (in. Hg)
VPa = vapor pressure of space air (in. Hg)
7000 = definition of grains (gr/lb)
1060 = latent heat of vaporization at 75F (Btu/lb)

Figure 7 shows latent heat transfer rate (H) related to air stream velocity. For
example, a large aquarium in an office with typical 50-fpm transverse airflow
(perpendicular to surface) transfers latent heat to the air at a rate of (H = 250
Btu/h ft2 in. Hg). If the space is 72F, 50% RH (VPa = 0.39), and 8 ft2 of water
surface at 78F (VPs = 0.96 in. wg) is exposed, the evaporation moisture load
can be found using Equation 2 (We = 250 8 0.57 7000 / 1060 = 7500 gr/h).
In another example, a 4-ft diameter puddle (A = 12.5 ft2) of condensate at 80F
(VPs = 1.03) on the floor of an equipment room at 85F, 50% RH (VPa = 0.60),
contributes 8900 gr/h (We = 250 12.5 0.43 7000 / 1060) to the equipment
room.

Figure 7 Latent Heat Transfer from Water Surface


(with respect to the research by W.H. Carrier in 1918)

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11

Moisture Sources
Depending on the situation, moisture load due to evaporation from water
surfaces may be significant. Design the HVAC system with sufficient capacity to
satisfy the moisture load from all sources, including evaporation from planned
water surfaces (pools and fountains) and predictable liquid-water sources
(rainwater in entryways, shampooed carpets). Minimize unplanned evaporation
sources (liquid water from leaky pipes, leaky roofs, and spills) by quickly
eliminating the source and removing the liquid water.

Combustion
Combustion liberates water vapor. Remember from high-school chemistry: the
two products of complete combustion are carbon dioxide (CO 2) and water (H2O).
Equation 3 can be used to calculate the rate of moisture generation from an
open gas flame. Open-flame heaters, boilers and appliances, as well as openflame cooking surfaces, can produce significant water vapor.
Indoor combustion processes must be considered when calculating indoor
moisture load. If an unvented gas griddle consumes natural gas at a known rate
(G = 6.7 ft3/h), the combustion moisture load can be easily found (Wc = 6.7 650
= 4400 gr/h).

Equation 3

Wc = G K
Where
Wc = moisture load from combustion (gr/h)
G = gas firing rate (ft3/h)
K = 650 gr/ft3 for natural gas
1300 gr/ft3 for propane
If possible, use vented combustion processes to eliminate combustion moisture
load and other products of combustion. Dehumidify to remove moisture from
unvented combustion processes within the building.

Infiltration
No building is airtight. Outdoor air enters (infiltration) and indoor air leaves
(exfiltration) via countless little openings in the building envelope as well as large
intentional openings such as doors and windows.
Driven by differential pressures imposed by mechanical ventilation, wind and
stack effect, the infiltration (exfiltration) air carries water vapor with it. Air passes
through any available penetration in wall, floor or ceiling.

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Moisture Sources
Elevator shafts act as chimneys, reducing pressure on lower floors. Gaps can
be found at wall-floor or wall-ceiling joints, between wallboard and electrical
fixtures on perimeter walls, at electrical wire and conduit penetrations, at pipe
and duct penetrations, and at window and door penetrations. Air also comes
and goes through open exterior doorways and windows. Whenever an exterior
door opens in Florida, cooled indoor air spills out of the building at floor level,
only to be replaced by an inflow of warm, moist air at door-top level.
How much water vapor moves with the air? Building moisture load due to
infiltration can be calculated using Equation 4.

Equation 4

Wi = A r 60 Va (HRo HRi)
Where
Wi = moisture load due to infiltration (gr/h)
A = area of opening (ft2)
r = density of outdoor air (lb/ft3)
60 = minutes per hour (m/h)
Va = air velocity through opening (fpm)
HRo = outdoor air humidity ratio (gr/lb)
HRi = indoor air humidity ratio (gr/lb)
Equation 4 includes air velocity and the total area of all openings in the envelope.
Values for these variables may be estimated, either at normal or extreme
differential (inside-to-outside) building pressure. However, it may be more
practical to estimate total envelope airflow (Qe = A Va) as follows.
Building tightness specifications often rate building leakage at a differential
pressure of 0.30 in. wc. At a positive differential pressure of 0.30, the 1997
ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook, Chapter 25, estimates typical exfiltration
airflow per square foot of exterior wall surface for tight, average and leaky walls
(Q = 0.10, 0.30 and 0.60 cfm/ft2, respectively).
If we assume an exponential relationship between differential pressure and
airflow (Q = k P0.65), established statistically by various researchers, we can find
the flow coefficient (k) for each wall construction category, as shown in Figure 8.

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13

Moisture Sources
Figure 8

Leakage Airflow

Finding Worst Case


Design Condition
Most designers use the ambient
weather data presented in the
1997 ASHRAE Fundamentals
Handbook to determine total
cooling load due to ventilation.
Traditionally, designers used peak
dry-bulb temperature and meancoincident wet-bulb temperature
as worst-case design condition.
A designer in Jacksonville, using
the 0.4% annual peak dry bulb
(96F) and mean coincident wet
bulb (76F) from 1997 ASHRAE
Fundamentals Handbook, can first
find outdoor and indoor air
enthalpy (ho = 39.2 and hi = 26.4
Btu/lb, respectively), then find the
associated air conditioning load.
For our example building,
ventilation air adds 9.6 tons
(Qt = 4.5 2000 (39.2 26.4)/
12000 = 9.6) to the building air
conditioning load at this design
condition. Is this the worst-case
ventilation air load? No!
The 1997 ASHRAE Fundamentals
Handbook also presents annual
peak dew point and mean
coincident dry-bulb temperatures.
Using the 0.4% annual-peak dew
point (76F) and mean coincident
dry-bulb (84F) temperatures,
both outdoor air enthalpy (ho =
41.6 Btu/lb) and ventilation load
(Qt = 11.4 tons) increase.
Ventilation air on a warm, rainy
day represents more total cooling
load than the same volume of
ventilation air on a hot, sunny day.

Assuming our example building in Jacksonville uses average wall construction


and operates at a slightly negative pressure (DP = 0.05 in. wc.), we can calculate
infiltration airflow (Q = 0.66 (0.05)0.65 = 0.094 cfm/ft2) per square foot of exterior
wall surface or total infiltration through the envelope (Qe = Q Ae = 0.094 4000
= 376 cfm).
In Jacksonville, Florida, when outdoor conditions are hot (96F, 80% RH, HRo =
156 gr/lb) and indoor conditions are comfortable (72F, 50% RH, HRi = 58 gr/lb),
we can use Equation 4 (with A Va = Qe) to calculate the infiltration moisture load
(Wi = 376 0.069 60 (156 58) = 153,000 gr/h).
Even very low infiltration airflow can contribute significantly to moisture load and
must be considered during design. Seal air leaks due to cracks/gaps/holes
where air and moisture can enter, paying particular attention to wall penetrations.
In hot, humid climates, design to minimize infiltration by maintaining indoor
spaces at a slightly higher static pressure than outdoor atmospheric pressure;
operate with positive building pressure.

Ventilation
HVAC equipment draws in outdoor air for ventilation and to replace indoor air
removed by exhaust fans and combustion processes. Ventilation air can contain
considerable moisture, especially in hot, humid climates. Water vapor in the
ventilation air often represents the single largest source of moisture in a building.
We can use ventilation airflow (Qv = A Va) in Equation 4 to find ventilation
moisture load Wv.
Given ventilation airflow (Qv = 2000 cfm), ventilation moisture load on a hot,
humid day in Jacksonville can be calculated (Wv = 2000 0.069 60 (156 58)
= 820,000 gr/h).

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Moisture Sources
Contrast the moisture load in Jacksonville to that in Denver. On a typical hot day
in Denver, each pound of ambient air at 93F, 10% RH contains only 24 grains
of water vapor. Again, given ventilation airflow (Qv = 2000 cfm), ventilation
moisture load can be calculated using Equation 4 (Wv = 2000 0.071 60
(24 58) = -290,000 gr/h). Note that a negative ventilation moisture load results.
In Denver, ventilation air can actually remove moisture from the building rather
than add it.
Most designers use ambient weather data (see side-bar) to estimate ventilation
air conditions and ventilation moisture load. Ambient weather data describes
historical conditions in a general geographical region. However, local ventilationair moisture content may be even higher than indicated by ambient conditions.
For instance, a roof-mounted intake in Jacksonville may introduce very warm air
(110F) with very high moisture content (170 gr/lb or more), especially when the
sun reappears after a rain shower. Since outdoor airflow cannot be lower than
the minimum required for proper ventilation, the air introduced for ventilation
must be dehumidified.
Select and operate HVAC equipment and systems to dehumidify the ventilation
air at all load conditions.

Condensation
Condensate forms whenever moist air contacts a surface at a temperature below
the dew point (Figure 9).
Figure 9

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Surface Condensation

15

Moisture Sources
Inside the exterior walls, water vapor can enter by vapor-pressure diffusion, by
exfiltration or infiltration, or by evaporation from liquid-water leaksraising
internal dew point.
In occupied spaces during the cooling season, a supply-air duct or chilled-water
pipe behind an interior wall may cool the wall surface below dew point. The
concrete beneath carpeted floors may be very cool compared with average
space temperature. During the heating season, indoor water vapor can easily
condense on cold windows, cold wall surfaces within the space, and inside the
exterior wall structure.
The mechanical equipment room offers many cold surfaces for the formation of
unplanned condensate, especially during the cooling season. The outside
surfaces of air handlers and supply-air ducts, water chillers, chilled-water and
return-water pipes, and condensate drain pipes all operate at low temperatures.
If the equipment room is not conditioned, equipment-room dew point may be
very, very high, especially in hot, humid climates.
Inside the air handler, surface temperature approaches supply air temperature. If
design philosophy results in a high equipment-room dew point, any air leaks into
the air handler downstream of the cooling coil may cause significant
condensation and flooding inside the air handler.
To avoid unplanned condensation in any location, either raise the surface
temperature or lower the air dew point or both. No other alternative exists.
In summary, many sources of moisture in buildings must be considered. Some
can be eliminated, others can be minimized, but none can be ignored during
building design and operation. l

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Moisture and
Building Envelope
Four major building elements must be designed and operated properly to
minimize the impact of moisture in the building
w Envelope
w Occupied spaces
w Equipment room
w HVAC equipment
Lets start with the building envelope.
Unwanted, unplanned condensate forms inside walls and ceilings if the dew
point of the internal air exceeds the coldest surface temperature. Since water
vapor can enter the wall cavity by evaporation, vapor-pressure diffusion or
infiltration, all three of these potential water-vapor sources must be managed to
prevent unplanned condensation.

Prevent Liquid-Water Intrusion


Water vapor inside the building envelope structure increases if evaporation from
liquid water occurs. Design and construct exterior walls to keep liquid water out.
Liquid water includes not only rainwater and melted snow, but also ground water,
water from leaky pipes and unplanned condensation. Use a water barrier near
the outside surface of exterior walls to keep the rain and snow out. Design the
roof to drain freely and to be watertight. Be sure to drain ground water away from
the building. Seal all envelope penetrations. Seal underground wall-floor systems
and wall-floor joints.

Minimize Vapor-Pressure Diffusion


Since the indoor-to-outdoor temperature difference cannot be controlled,
condensation prevention relies on low moisture content (low dew point) within the
walls. In addition to sealing against liquid water, design to limit water-vapor
diffusion into the wallcondensation occurs if moist air can penetrate to a cold
surface.
Use a vapor retarder on the warm side. Warm side (as mentioned above) in
cooling and mixed climates means the outdoor side of the ceiling or the wall
structure; in heating climates, it means the indoor side. Do not use two vapor
retardersone on the warm side and one on the cold side. Moisture trapped
between the two vapor retarders cannot escape and condenses inside the ceiling
or the wall at the cold surface. Also, include a sealed vapor retarder in the ceiling
of the top floor: in heating climates use a vapor retarder on the space-side, and
in cooling climates use one on the attic side.

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Building Envelope
Avoid low-permeance wall finishes (e.g. vinyl wall coverings and latex paint) on
perimeter walls and ceilings in cooling climates; condensation and mold growth
are commonly found behind perimeter wall coverings in Floridas buildings.

Minimize Infiltration
Since all air contains water vapor, design the wall structure to limit the movement
of moist air into interstitial wall cavities. In cooling and mixed climates, limit
infiltration of outdoor air (the predominant source of moisture) into the building
structure using an airflow or weather barrier near the exterior surface of
perimeter walls.
Figure 10 shows both a poor design and a good design for exterior walls in
cooling or mixed climates. The poor design allows water vapor to penetrate to the
interior wall. The good design limits vapor-pressure diffusion with a warm-side
vapor retarder and outdoor air infiltration with an exterior weather barrier.
Design and operate buildings to assure that indoor static pressure exceeds
outdoor static pressure. Positive building pressure minimizes outdoor infiltration
air, while maximizing exfiltration of low-dew-point indoor air into wall cavities.

Figure 10 Comparison of Humid Climate Walls

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Building Envelope
Design the building so that the air-handling system can maintain a slight
positive pressure in all portions of the building, including not only the envelope
walls but also the occupied spaces and the equipment room. Positive building
pressure prevents infiltration due to mechanical system operation (powered
exhaust) and minimizes infiltration due to wind and stack effect. Remember,
makeup airflow must always exceed the airflow needed to replace exhausted
air and combustion air (for any open combustion processes) in order to
maintain positive building pressure. Trane Application Manual AM-CON-17
provides helpful recommendations related to building pressurization control.
Lower dew point and prevent condensation within the perimeter wall structure
by maximizing vapor-pressure diffusion out of the wall while minimizing moist
air infiltration into the wall.
As Figure 11 illustrates, without a warm-side vapor retarder, outdoor water
vapor diffuses into the wall structure. And, operating the building at a negative
pressure, with no exterior air barrier, encourages moist airflow through the wall
and into the space. On the other hand, using highly permeable materials on the
cold side and low permeability materials on the warm side maximizes vaporpressure diffusion out of the wall (into the space). Operating with positive building
pressure and using an external air barrier encourages dry indoor airflow through
the wall structure to outdoors.
Figure 11 Humid Climate Wall Operation

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Building Envelope
During the winter in heating climates, indoor moisture sources predominate. It
seems logical to operate with negative building pressure to avoid forcing moist
indoor air into the walls. However, negative indoor pressure increases the
infiltration of very cold outdoor air, possibly resulting in drafts, cold spots,
temperature stratification and discomfort.
Operating with positive indoor pressure, on the other hand, results in exfiltration
of moist indoor air into the perimeter walls. Condensation within the wall structure
results. Very low outdoor-air vapor pressure eventually drives water vapor out for
the wall, but repeated freeze/thaw cycles can cause serious mechanical
damage, especially within masonry walls.
Proper air distribution plays an important role in uniform building pressurization.
Air-distribution systems must be balanced after installation and should be
balanced periodically throughout the life of the building, especially after changes
in building use or after system alterations.

Summary
Use water barriers and internal drainage to minimize liquid-water penetration and
eliminate water accumulation inside wall structures. Use a vapor retarder on the
warm side of perimeter walls to minimize vapor-pressure diffusion. Do not use a
vapor retarder (either purposely or accidentally) on the cold side of perimeter
walls. Use an air (weather) barrier on the outside to minimize infiltration due to
wind and stack effect and liquid-water penetration. Maintain positive building
pressure in cooling climates to eliminate infiltration due to mechanical system
operation.
In summary, buildings in humid and predominately cooling climates should be
designed and operated to be slightly positive. Buildings in heating climates are
comfortable if positive, but may suffer structural damage in winter. Some
designers and operators maintain slightly positive summertime pressure and
slightly negative pressure during transitional seasons and in the winter. l

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Moisture and
Occupied Spaces
Now, lets turn from the building envelope to the occupied spaces. The
occupied spaces inside the building should also be designed and operated
properly to minimize the impact of moisture.
According to ASHRAE 62-89 requirements, relative humidity in occupied spaces
should be maintained below 60% RH at all load conditions. Moisture enters the
occupied space by a number of paths, increasing space dew point, relative
humidity and moisture load. Moisture entry can be minimized, but it cannot be
stopped. Therefore, spaces must be designed to minimize moisture load and
control relative humidity to 60% RH or less at all load conditions.

Minimize Liquid-Water Sources


Unplanned liquid water within the occupied space can damage furnishings and
promote microbial growth. It also evaporates, adding unplanned moisture load to
the indoor air and raising both dew point and relative humidity.
Design and install window systems that minimize leakage. Keep the windows
closed during rain showers. As mentioned above, fix leaky pipes or appliances
and dry accidental spills within 24 hours. If possible, avoid carpet shampooing; if
unavoidable, be sure to dry shampooed carpets quickly while maintaining control
of space relative humidity. This might mean adding heat to the space to assure
adequate latent cooling capacity while drying.

Prevent Unplanned Condensation


Water vapor in the air cannot be eliminated, but keeping space dew point lower
than space surface temperature can prevent condensation within the space.
Minimize vapor-pressure diffusion using properly placed vapor retarders.
Minimize unnecessary wet surfaces (evaporation) within the space. Eliminate
unvented combustion processes. To minimize outdoor air infiltration, maintain
positive space pressure in cooling climates and design entryways (using entry
tunnels or airlock vestibules) to prevent excessive air-exchange. Do not
introduce untreated outdoor air for space ventilation.
Eliminate cold surfaces. Raise surface temperature by adding heat where
necessary, or avoid cold-surface/moist-air contact by insulating surfaces from
potential heat sinks and applying a vapor retarder on the warm side. Finally,

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Moisture and
Occupied Spaces
lower space dew point by removing water vapor. Account for all moisture
sources that cannot be eliminated and design the HVAC system with sufficient
dehumidification capacity for full-load operation and with proven control schemes
capable of maintaining relative humidity below 60% RH at all operating
conditions.

Dehumidify Spaces
Since moisture enters the space continuously, it must be removed continuously
to maintain relative humidity below 60% RH. As Figure 12 illustrates, moisture
can be removed from the occupied space in two ways: direct dehumidification
within the space, or by replacing moist return air with dry supply air.
Direct dehumidification, commonly applied in residential basements, simply uses
a local dehumidifiera fan and cold and warm coils in seriesto remove water
vapor from space air.
Large buildings more commonly use return airflow to physically carry water vapor
away from the space. Air supplied to the space must be dry enough to absorb the
water vapor entering the spacesupply air dew point must be low. As local
moisture sources add water vapor to the space, average space dew point can be
maintained by adding sufficiently dry supply air. Space air absorbs the water
vapor produced within the space (the latent load) and return air carries it away.
Supply air is commonly dehumidified in one of two ways: by passing it through a
cold coil or by passing it over a desiccant material, usually mounted on a rotating
wheel. A cold coil dehumidifies as entering-air water vapor condenses on the coil
surface and flows down a drain. A desiccant material dehumidifies as entering-air
water vapor adsorbs onto the desiccant surface and is then rejected to a
separate regeneration air stream.

Figure 12 Two Space Dehumidification Methods

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Moisture and
Occupied Spaces
Account for All Loads
High, local dew points can occur indoors. Near an exterior door in a Florida
school, for instance, water vapor enters whenever the door opens, and the door
may open quite often. Local dew point in the entryway rises considerably. This
moisture, and all locally introduced moisture, must be removed by the
dehumidification system. Account for all moisture loads, not just people loads,
when designing (sizing) the dehumidification system and the part-load control
system.
Select central dehumidification equipment with sufficient capacity to dehumidify
at worst-case conditions. For moisture load, worst-case conditions usually occur
on a cool rainy day. The 1997 ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook now includes
values for both design-dry-bulb/mean-coincident-wet-bulb and design-dew-point/
mean-coincident-dry-bulb to help designers size equipment properly.
Remember that local, ventilation-air moisture content may be even higher than
ambient conditions indicate. A sun-baked roof after a rain shower can add
significantly to moisture load.

Part-Load Control
An HVAC system sized for the sensible design load usually has sufficient
capacity to adequately remove moisture at both design and part load. However,
if not properly controlled at part load, the system may not maintain space
conditions below 60% RH.
For instance, a 15-ton packaged rooftop, modulated by a thermostat (a sensible
temperature controller), may maintain both sensible temperature and relative
humidity in a classroom very well on a summer day. On a cool, rainy day,
however, the thermostat modulates both the sensible and latent capacity of the
rooftop unit. Although it maintains sensible temperature, the thermostat allows
space relative humidity to rise unacceptably.
Some HVAC systems, VAV for instance, can provide central dehumidification and
control space relative humidity over a wide range of loads without actually
sensing it space thermostats control temperature by modulating the flow of
very dry air to the spaces. Other HVAC systems, like the constant-volume rooftop
system mentioned above, cannot assure indirect relative humidity control.
Rather, relative humidity must be sensed to allow active modulation of cooling
capacity for dehumidification as well as sensible temperature control.

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Moisture and
Occupied Spaces
Systems that deliberately separate space temperature control from space
moisture control require both a thermostat and a humidistat. A classroom unit
ventilator, for instance, can use a thermostat to modulate the cooling coil and
control sensible temperature and a humidistat to sense relative humidity. If the
space exceeds 60% RH, cooling coil capacity increases to maximum and the
thermostat modulates a tempering or reheat coil to maintain sensible
temperature.
Note that part-load humidity control with cold coils usually requires supply-air
tempering to avoid overcooling the spaces. The boiler or some other source of
heat must be available at part-load operating conditions to add heat to the cool,
dry supply air. On the other hand, when using a desiccant-based dehumidifier,
the adsorption process heats the supply air; a chiller or some other source of
cooling must be available at all load conditions to remove heat from the warm,
dry supply air.
Some central system controls actually reset supply air temperature upward at
sensible part-load conditions, often resulting in very poor control of space relative
humidity. Warm supply air contains more moisture than cold supply air. It cannot
lower average space relative humidity nearly as well as supply air at design
temperature. Especially in cooling climates, be sure that supply-air-temperaturereset schemes include high-humidity override techniques (return-air humidity
sensing, for instance) to limit the amount of reset operation.

Unoccupied Control
Design and operate to keep indoor spaces dry at all times, not just during
occupied periods. Monitor building humidity during weekend and night setback
cycles, and automatically operate the dehumidification system to maintain space
humidity below 60% RH. Unoccupied dehumidification helps limit microbial
growth and dust mite populations. (Although the people leave the building on
weekends, the microorganisms do not!) It also helps avoid long dehumidification
pull-down times after the unoccupied period. Indoor relative humidity conditions
return to normal quickly. Carpet, furniture and other porous materials do not
store moisture during unoccupied hours if low vapor pressure is maintained.
Unoccupied dehumidification is particularly important for schools in hot, humid
climates. When the children leave the building at 3:00 p.m., significant water
vapor can enter the space via door-opening infiltration. If the dehumidification
system turns off at 3:00 p.m. too, space dew point rises and unplanned
condensation can easily occur. Allow continued dehumidification system
operation after the occupants leave.

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Moisture and
Occupied Spaces
System Monitoring
Modern building control systems can monitor and log both equipment and
space conditions. Use trend-logging features to monitor changes in space
humidity, building pressure, outdoor airflow and temperatures throughout the
system. Observed changes in these variables may be useful when diagnosing
perceived or potential building problems. For instance, high relative humidity
might indicate negative building pressurization (a system malfunction),
deteriorated window or door seals, open loading-dock doors, pipe or roof
leaks, or other equipment failures.

Summary
Design and operate the HVAC system, especially during periods of partial
sensible cooling load, to maintain indoor relative humidity below 60% RH, i.e.
pressurize and dehumidify. l

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25

Equipment-Room Moisture
In addition to the building envelope and the occupied spaces, proper design
and operation of another key building element, the equipment room, must be
considered.
Many building designers place the building HVAC components together in a
mechanical equipment room. Some equipment rooms include only chillers,
others include only air handling units, while still others include chillers, air
handlers and a variety of other equipment. Regardless of equipment-room
contents, improper design related to moisture can result in many costly
problems.
Equipment rusts, wood rots, insulation deteriorates, water pools on the floor and
may invade other parts of the building. Microorganisms bloom, resulting in odors,
irritants and further deterioration of materials. To avoid or at least minimize these
problems, as with the envelope and the occupied spaces, certain basic design
principles apply.

Minimize Moisture Sources


Do not allow rain or snow to enter the equipment room. Minimize open water. Do
not allow condensate from air handlers to run freely across the floor. Fix leaky
pipes and valves. Design the equipment room to avoid unplanned condensation
on cold surfaces.
Minimize unvented combustion appliances or processes within the equipment
room; combustion generates water vapor. Also, for all combustion processes
(vented or unvented), convey makeup air directly from outside to each process
using ducts; do not use the equipment room as a makeup-air plenum for
combustion processes. A negative-pressure equipment room leads to unplanned
condensation.
Minimize vapor-pressure diffusion into the equipment room by insulating
perimeter walls and using a low-permeability vapor retarder on the warm side, as
described for the building envelope.
Minimize infiltration due to wind and stack effect. Eliminate infiltration due to
mechanical exhaust (or leaky negative return ducts) by pressurizing the
equipment room, preferably using dry supply air. Especially in hot, humid
climates, outdoor-air dew point can be extremely highdo not allow untreated
outdoor air to enter the equipment room, either accidentally or by design.

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Equipment-Room Moisture
Prevent Unplanned Condensation
Condensation occurs whenever air dew point exceeds surface temperature.
Design and operate the equipment as appropriate to raise exposed surface
temperatures and/or lower equipment-room dew point. Remember, the cold
surface location within the equipment room is irrelevantan air handler with a
warm, dry exterior, for example, may generate significant unplanned
condensation on interior airstream surfaces.

Raise Surface Temperature and Vapor Seal


Cold surfaces abound within the equipment room. Some can be heated, but
most must be insulated and vapor-sealed.
For instance, condensate drain pipes, chilled water pipes (both leaving and
return), even condenser water pipes may contain liquid at temperatures well
below room dew point. These pipes must be insulated and sealed with a vapor
retarder on the warm side. Water valves and other associated devices must also
be insulated and vapor-sealed. Insulation alone raises surface temperature, but
not interior temperaturesat some location within the insulation, a cold surface
still exists. To prevent condensation inside the insulation, vapor-pressure
diffusion into the insulation must be minimized using a vapor retarder.
Most equipment-room surfaces can be insulated and vapor-sealed adequately,
but some must be heated above dew point. The sections below discuss specific
solutions.

Lower Equipment-Room Dew Point


Process-side temperatures within the equipment room cannot be changed.
Supply-air, chilled-water and drain-line condensate temperatures all depend on
loads and design criteria, not condensation prevention. To avoid unplanned
condensation throughout the equipment room, lower the equipment-room dew
point. Insulation can then raise room-side surface temperature above the
equipment-room dew point and vapor retarders can keep most moisture away
from cold surfaces within the insulation.
Some insulation materials inherently form an effective vapor barrier without the
addition of a separate vapor-retarding material. One square foot of chiller
insulation, for instance, with a permeance factor of 0.30 gr/h ft2 in. Hg, allows
less than 0.23 gr/h to diffuse into the insulation more than adequate vapor
diffusion protection, provided the joints are well-sealed.

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Equipment-Room Moisture
Figure 13 Pressurize to Avoid Condensation

During Construction
Air handlers are often operated at
full capacity (wild coils with
very cold, chilled water) providing
cooling and dehumidification for
the construction crew. If the
equipment room is open to
outside, high-dew-point
conditions, and chilled water is
supplied at low-surface, design
temperatures; wet insulation,
internal flooding and general
water damage due to unwanted
condensation often results.
If at all possible, close the
equipment-room envelope prior to
operating the air handler
properly pressurizing the room to
lower its dew point. Reset the
chilled-water temperature as high
as possible during construction
(i.e., 55F) to raise equipmentroom surface tempertures.
Dont allow construction-phase
operation to ruin a well-designed
equipment room before the
building is even finished.

Figure 13 shows a cold condensate drain, first in an unconditioned equipment


room; then in an equipment room pressurized by a return air fan. In the first
room, open to outdoor air, a very high dew point results in unplanned condensate
formation on the uninsulated-pipe surface. Simply replacing the moisture-laden
outdoor air in the space with drier return air lowers dew point in the second room.
The dew point could have been lowered further using supply air rather than
return air to pressurize the room.
Some designers refer to this measure as conditioning the equipment room.
However, conditioning usually implies controlling one or more variables to
maintain a set point. Simply pressurizing the room slightly with either return or
supply air can lower equipment-room dew point significantly. Both sensible
temperature and dew point float as supply (or return) air conditions change and
room loads vary. No variables are directly controlled, so strictly speaking, the
room is not conditioned. Pressurized more accurately describes an equipment
room with low dew point. During construction and normal operation, equipmentroom pressurization solves most moisture problems, including internal
condensation. (See side-bar.)

Dehumidify Ventilation Air


Lets examine dehumidification of ventilation air in more detail. Only two airdehumidification methods need to be considered: desiccant dehumidification and
cold-coil dehumidification.
A desiccant dehumidification unit (Figure 14) incorporates a desiccant material
mounted on a rotating wheel. Warm, moist outdoor air enters the rotating wheel.
Some portion of the water vapor adsorbs onto the desiccant surface. As the
rotating wheel turns, the moisture-laden portion moves into the regeneration air

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Equipment-Room Moisture
stream. Hot air (either heated outdoor air or heated return air) drives the
adsorbed water vapor from the desiccant material, drying or regenerating it.
The wheel rotates the regenerated material into the outdoor air stream again and
the process repeats. Since the hot desiccant raises the temperature of the
leaving dehumidified outdoor air, it must be cooled (usually by mechanical and/or
evaporative cooling) before it can be delivered to the occupied spaces.
Figure 14 Desiccant Dehumidification

A cold coil dehumidifies simply by presenting a cold surface for controlled


condensation. As warm, moist outdoor air (or a mixture of outdoor and
recirculated return air) passes through the coil, water vapor condenses on the
cold coil surface and flows down to the drain pan. Since the cold coil removes
heat, the dry supply air may be too cold for the space sensible load; the air must
be tempered (reheated) to avoid overcooling the occupied spaces.
When using direct refrigerant expansion (DX) to cool the dehumidifying coil,
simple sensible-temperature-based cycling for capacity control may lead to
humidity control problems. Coil cycling can lead to wide variations in supply-air
dew point and loss of dehumidifying capacity during the off cycle. DX
dehumidifiers should use a thermostat to control sensible temperature (by
cycling coil capacity or by modulating reheat capacity) and a humidistat to
activate full coil capacity when required for proper dehumidification.
Some designers dehumidify the outdoor air before it mixes with recirculated
return air in the air-handler mixing section, removing only ventilation moisture.
Other designers dehumidify mixed air, removing both ventilation and internally
generated moisture. Either way, the outdoor moisture load must be removed
before delivering the ventilation air to the space.

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Equipment-Room Moisture
Equipment-Room Design Examples
Equipment-room designs vary widely. Depending on climate and operation,
design decisions may differ. The following examples illustrate poor, better, and
best design practices, especially for equipment rooms in predominantly cooling
climates.

A Poor Design: Negative Pressurization


Equipment rooms designed to operate at a negative pressure with respect to
outdoor pressure (unconditioned rooms) commonly encounter unplanned
condensation on all cold surfaces. As a result of infiltration, the dew point simply
rises too high. Avoid designing negative-pressure equipment rooms that use the
room as an intake plenum for outdoor air. Also, avoid other poor, though
common, design practices illustrated in Figure 15.

Key Elements Of Poor Design


Liquid-Water Sources
D Rain water easily penetrates the outdoor air louver.
D No trapping allows flooding inside the air handler and leakage onto the floor.
D Condensate from drain pan runs across the floor.
Water-Vapor Sources
D Exterior walls with no vapor retarder allow unimpeded flow of water vapor
from outside.
D Without an outdoor air duct, the equipment room operates at a negative
pressure to induce ventilation airflow, resulting in significant infiltration.
D By design, outdoor air for ventilation enters the equipment room through
louvers in the equipment-room wall, bringing moist outdoor air with it.
Unplanned Condensation
D Condensate forms on uninsulated pipes and puddles on the floor.
D Condensate forms on the air handler exterior.
D Condensate forms on the interior insulation of poorly-sealed supply ducts.
D Condensate forms inside the air handler.
Unplanned condensation occurs in a negatively pressurized equipment room
despite surface insulation and sealing. Any small air leak in air-handling units or
ducts, or any small break in piping insulation or vapor retarders, results in
condensate. Do not design equipment rooms that can become negatively
pressurized.

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Equipment-Room Moisture
Figure 15 Poor Equipment-Room Design

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Equipment-Room Moisture
A Better Design: Positive Return-Air Pressurization
Pressurizing the equipment room goes a long way toward reducing unplanned
condensation. One pressurization technique uses return air dumped into the
equipment room by a return fan. This, of course, can only be accomplished in
systems that use a return-air fan.
The dew point in such an equipment room roughly matches the return-air dew
point. Some designers refer to this design as a conditioned equipment room,
since air returns from conditioned spaces. This level of moisture effectively
avoids unplanned condensation on external surfaces. However, local moisture
sources may still elevate equipment-room dew point to an unacceptably high
level during many operating hours. Although the better design illustrated in
Figure 16 resolves some problems, it fails to address others.

Key Elements Of Better Design


Diminished Liquid-Water Sources
C A rain hood protects the intake from rain intrusion.
C No open water tanks in the room.
D Poor trapping allows flooding inside the air handler and leakage onto the floor.
C Condensate drain-line guides condensate to a sanitary drain.
Diminished Water-Vapor Sources
D Exterior walls with no vapor retarder allow unimpeded flow of water vapor
from outside.
C Return air fan assures positive room pressure (return-air positive), to
eliminate the infiltration moisture load, but return-air moisture content
contributes to the equipment-room dew point.
C Ventilation air, ducted directly to unit, adds no equipment-room moisture load.
Unplanned Condensation
C Well-insulated, sealed pipes prevent condensation.
C Well-insulated air handler limits surface condensation.
C Well-sealed supply ducts prevent condensation inside insulation.
D Condensate still forms inside the air handler since high-dew-point air can leak
into the unit.
When using powered exhaust or relief fans in the equipment room, duct return
air to the air handler and use the best design approach described below. Do not
use the equipment room a negative return plenum. Again, an equipment room
under negative pressure can be subject to extensive infiltration of untreated,
moist outdoor air. Using the return fan to pressurize an equipment room
eliminates outdoor-air infiltration.

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Equipment-Room Moisture
Figure 16 Better Equipment-Room Design

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Equipment-Room Moisture
Best Design: Positive Supply-Air Pressurization
How Much Air?
Based on wall construction, the
volume of dry supply air needed
to pressurize an equipment room
can be estimated using Figure 8.
Assuming that an average wall
and a positive pressure of 0.10
in. wg negates wind effects, we
can estimate leakage [Q = 0.66
(0.10)0.65 = 0.15 cfm/ft2]. If the
exterior wall area is 1800 ft2, the
leakage flow rate is only 270 cfm.
Of course, depending upon
equipment room heat sources,
high dry bulb temperatures may
result. In other words, additional
airflow may be needed to lower
equipment room dry bulb
temperatures to an acceptable
value.

An equipment room pressurized with supply air (supply-air positive) offers the
best solution. Although conditioned by cool, dry supply air, equipment-room
temperature can float. No controls (thermostats or humidistats) are needed to
modulate the pressurizing supply airflow. Dry airflow into the equipment room
(see side-bar) limits infiltration and ventilation moisture load by simply filling the
space with low-dew-point air. Therefore, this design avoids the problems of
unplanned condensate formation.

Key Elements Of Best Design


No Liquid-Water Sources
C A rain hood protects the intake from rain intrusion.
C Proper trapping prevents internal flooding.
C Condensate drain line guides condensate to a sanitary floor drain.
Minimum Water-Vapor Sources
C A vapor retarder on the warm side of exterior walls minimizes moisture load
due to vapor-pressure diffusion from outside.
C Low-volume supply airflow assures positive room pressure (supply air
positive), eliminating infiltration moisture load and decreasing equipmentroom dew point.
C Ventilation air ducted to the unit adds no moisture load to the equipment room.
No Unplanned Condensation
C Well-insulated, sealed pipes prevent condensation.
C Well-insulated air handler prevents surface condensation.
C Well-sealed supply ducts prevent condensation inside the insulation.
C A low equipment-room dew point combined with well-sealed air-handler joints
prevent condensate formation inside the air handler.
The supply airflow needed to pressurize the equipment room varies greatly. Very
low airflow may be enough to maintain sufficient static pressure (0.10 to 0.20
in. wc), especially if good, exterior wall construction limits exfiltration through
cracks and openings.
Some designers actually control temperature and/or humidity to truly condition
interior equipment rooms. However, environmentally controlled equipment rooms
must be designed carefully. Avoid sensible-temperature control schemes that
allow dew point to float. Maintaining sensible temperature cannot assure proper
dew-point control. Also, remember that a low dry-bulb temperature in the

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equipment room means lower surface temperatures. Ideally, a controlled
equipment room would sense and maintain dew point, while maintaining sensible
temperature below a high limit.

Summary
Equipment rooms need special design and operational attention to avoid
problems due to unplanned condensate. Do not use the equipment room as an
outdoor air plenum. Duct outdoor air directly to the air handler.
Consider pressurizing the equipment room with return air if the system uses a
return fan. Better yet, consider pressurizing and dehumidifying the equipment
room with a small volume of supply air. The simplest, most effective method to
resolve all equipment-room condensate problems is to pressurize the equipment
room with supply air. l

Figure 17 Best Equipment-Room Design

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Moisture and Chillers


HVAC equipment, both water chillers and air-handling units, must be selected,
applied and operated properly with regard to moisture. First, lets discuss the
water chillers. An operating water chiller develops cold surfaces. Uninsulated or
insulated-but-unsealed chiller surfaces exposed to moist air lead to unplanned
condensate. Chiller condensation problems can be attacked on three fronts:
surface heating, surface insulating and sealing, and lowering equipment-room
dew point.
The dew point in a ventilated, unconditioned mechanical room cannot be
decreased; therefore, cold surfaces must be insulated or heated. Some cold
surfaces, valve handles for instance, cannot be insulated. Increased air motion
may add sufficient heat by convection to raise the temperature of a cold chiller
surface above surrounding dew point (see Figure 18). In some cases air motion
alone is insufficient for very cold spots. A small heater can be used to raise
surface temperature above ambient dew point and prevent condensate
formation.
Cold chiller surfaces are often insulated to increase efficiency. Insulation can
adequately raise exposed surface temperatures above the dew point of the
equipment room, but merely adding insulation between warm, moist air and a
cold surface cannot prevent condensation.
If significant moisture penetrates (permeates) the insulation, it eventually
encounters a surface temperature lower than dew point. Without a vapor
retarder, moisture permeates the insulation until it encounters a cold enough
temperature, then condenses. The insulation must be sealed with a lowpermeability vapor retarder applied on the warm side. Alternatively, insulation
with low permeability (0.30 gr/h ft 2 in. Hg), if well sealed, eliminates harmful
condensation within the insulation.
Of course, lowering equipment-room dew point significantly reduces all
unplanned chiller condensation. If possible, pressurize the equipment room with
supply air. l
Figure 18 Raise Surface Temperature

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Moisture and
Air-Handling Units
Finally, lets turn to the air-handling units. Air handling units delivering cool
supply air develop cold surfaces on the cooling coil itself and downstream of
the cooling coil, both inside and outside of the unit. Exposing these cold
surfaces to moist air can result in unplanned condensation both internally and
externallysituations to be avoided. The cooling coil within the unit produces
planned condensateliquid water that must be collected and drained away
as it dehumidifies the entering air. Lets consider management of the planned
condensate first, then methods to avoid unplanned condensate.

Condensate Collection Pans


As moist air flows through the air handler, condensate forms on the cold-coil
surface and on cold-wall surfaces nearby. It drips into a condensate collection
pan (a drain pan), then drains out of the unit to a sanitary system drain. All air
handlers with dehumidifying coils must include properly designed, installed and
maintained drain pans. Drain pans, along with drain-line seals (usually traps),
manage the collected condensate within the unit to avoid unwanted surface
wetting (carryover), standing water and internal flooding.

Size Coil to Limit Carryover


Water droplet carryover from a dehumidifying coil can occur when airflow velocity
blows droplets of condensate from the coil surface into the air stream. The drain
pan must collect these droplets (Figure 19). Water droplets that fly from the coil
surface to the air handler or duct surface beyond the drain pan become
carryover. If allowed to accumulate inside the air-handling unit, water from
carryover results in microbial growth, reduced insulation effectiveness, and
internal flooding. The drain pan must be long enough to catch and collect the
condensate droplets.
Figure 19 Water Droplet Carryover

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37

Moisture and
Air-Handling Units
To prevent carryover, do not exceed the maximum allowable coil-face velocity.
Coil geometry (fin type, shape and spacing) and allowable face velocity
determine required drain pan length. Below the velocity limit, water droplets on
the coil surface flow down the coil into the drain panthe air stream can blow
droplets from the coil, but it cannot carry them beyond the drain pan. Above the
velocity limit, however, the air stream carries water droplets beyond the drain pan
and deposits it on downstream air-handler and duct surfaces.
Specify coil size to assure that air stream velocity falls below the maximum
allowable coil face velocity. Clean the coils regularly: dirty coils cause local highvelocity jets and high-velocity jets lead to carryover beyond the drain pan. Reevaluate coil performance if airflow requirements change. Increased airflow
across the coil face may increase face velocity above the carryover limit. Consult
manufacturers literature for maximum coil-face velocity limits.

Slope to Prevent Standing Water


Collected condensate must not be allowed to accumulate in the air-handler drain
pan. Standing water results in microbial growth (microbial slime). The drain pan
must be properly sloped and properly connected to a drain system to assure
speedy, complete drainage with the fan on or off.
Design or specify drain pans that slope in two planes, as shown in Figure 20. A
flat pan retains water. A single-plane sloped pan with one drain connection limits
the volume of water retained; some water hangs up in the low corners. A dualplane sloped pan assures that all water drains out. Be sure to place the drain
connection at lowest point of the pan. Even a very small slope assures complete
drainage when the pan slopes in two planes. Remember, proper drain pan slope
depends not only on design but also on installation: the unit must be level. Be
sure to install the air-handling unit according to the manufacturers
recommended instructions and within the tolerance specified for levelness.

Figure 20 Drain Pan Designs

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Moisture and
Air-Handling Units
Drain to Prevent Flooding
If collected condensate cannot drain through the drain connection, it spills over
the top of the drain pan and floods the air-handling unit and duct system.
Microbial growth as well as equipment and building damage can result from
internal flooding. Proper condensate drainage depends on drain-pan slope,
drain-connection size and maintenance, and, as explained below, drain-seal
design and maintenance.
Condensate forms at a high rate when very moist air enters the coil (as much as
5 gpm on a 100-ft2 coil). To assure speedy drainage without drain-pan overflow,
do not reduce the drain-pipe diameter to be smaller than the drain connection
provided by the manufacturer. The equipment manufacturer selects the drain
connection size to accommodate the maximum condensate flow at extreme
conditions. Reducing its diameter may result in slower drainage and drain-pan
overflow.
Wet coils help clean particles from the air stream. Condensate flow keeps the
coils relatively clean, but dirt accumulates in the drain pan. Accumulated dirt
increases the likelihood of restricted or blocked condensate flow and subsequent
flooding. Be sure to inspect drain pans on a regular basis and clean if necessary.

Drain-Line Seals
After collecting in the drain pan, condensate exits the air handler via the drain
connection, passes through a drain seal, then follows the drain line to a sanitary
floor drain. Faulty drain seals result in more moisture-related problems than any
other air handler element. Improper design, installation or maintenance of the
drain seal can cause water droplet carryover or internal flooding within the airhandling unit. Although some designers use other sealing devices, simple
P-traps seal the vast majority of air-handler drain pans.

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Moisture and
Air-Handling Units
Figure 21 Blow-Thru Trapping

Blow-thru designs positively pressurize the drain-pan surface with respect to the
equipment room (Figure 21). Supply air pushes condensate through the trap,
eliminating any concern for water droplet carryover due to trap operation, but
raising a concern for maintaining the internal-to-external air seal. Without an air
seal, supply air can flow out of the unit into the equipment room, creating a small
supply-air leak. Inadequate trap depth (D) allows casing pressure to force all
water out of the trap destroying the seal.
Specify a trap depth no less than the casing static pressure (CP) plus a safety
margin to allow for final, as-installed balancing (D = d + CP + 1 in. wg). Specify a
total trap height (T) no less than the trap depth plus an installation safety margin
(T = D + 1 in. wg).

Figure 22 Draw-Thru Trapping

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Moisture and
Air-Handling Units
Draw-thru designs negatively pressurize the drain-pan surface (Figure 22).
Equipment-room air pushes condensate through the trap toward the drain pan.
With insufficient total trap height (T), the trap contains adequate water to
maintain the air seal but not enough to allow water flow. Consequently, the drain
pan overflows and floods the inside of the air handler. With insufficient trap depth
(D), equipment-room pressure pushes trap water into the drain pan. High velocity
air flows into the drain pan throwing water droplets into the supply air stream,
causing carryover, due to trap spitting or geysering. Also, the high-velocity
airflow prevents water flow through the drain opening, causing drain-pan overflow
and internal flooding.
Each time the draw-thru fan starts, the trap must be primed (contain water).
Without a water seal, a properly designed trap operates as though it has
insufficient trap depth: it spits and causes internal flooding. Specify the trap head
(H) no less than the negative casing pressure (CP) plus a 1 in. wg safety margin
(H= 1+CP). Specify trap depth (D) no less than half the trap head (D = H + d).
Total trap height (T) is the sum of installed head and depth (T = H+D). Inspect
traps regularly and prime when necessary, especially just before the cooling
season begins.
Plan for proper trapping: the unit must be mounted high enough above the floor
to allow for the recommended total trap height (T) and trap depth (D). Countless
air-handler installations include crudely chopped holes in concrete floors; proper
trap dimensions were considered as an afterthought, after flooding or carryover
problems resulted in service expense and building damage. Follow the trap
design guidelines discussed above.
Remember, even a well-designed trap, if plugged, causes drain-pan overflow and
internal flooding. Inspect traps regularly. Clean and prime if necessary. Do not
gang drain pans at different surface pressures on the same trap. Use shutoff
values, not traps, to seal maintenance-only drains.

External Condensation
Supply air downstream of the cooling coil and in the supply ducts can be very
cold. The coil itself can be even colder; chilled-water temperature may be 45F or
lower. Therefore, external air-handler surfaces and supply-duct surface
temperatures may also be very low unless adequately insulated. If high dew
point air can contact these cold surfaces, unplanned external condensation
(sweating) occurs, leading to equipment-room flooding, unit discoloration and
damage (corrosion and deterioration), possible building damage, and increased
potential for microbial growth.

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Moisture and
Air-Handling Units
Seal Penetrations and Joints
A supply air leak from the air-handling unit or supply duct causes a very cold
local surface, a cold spot. In a high-dew-point equipment room (negative
pressure, unconditioned), water vapor from the air condenses readily at the cold
spot. Unplanned, liquid water results. Design the pressurized sections of the air
handler and the supply ducts to minimize leakage of cold supply air.
Each penetration of the air handler represents a potential supply air leak. Specify
airtight seals (Figure 23) at all air handler penetration points, including pipe
penetrations at the coils (both heating and cooling), unused maintenance-only
drain openings, and any penetrations for electrical wiring.

Figure 23 Seal Pipe Penetrations

All air-handling units include access doors and panels. Poorly sealed doors and
panels result in supply air leakage. Some units use individual sections, joined at
the factory or in the field, to form the air handler. Each joint downstream of the
fan represents a potential supply air leak.
Gasket all access panels, door openings and inspection windows in positivepressure sections. Seal all joints between sections (Figure 24). Note that drawthru air handlers usually include fewer pressurized sections than blow-thru
configurations, so fewer joints need sealing to limit supply air leakage.

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Moisture and
Air-Handling Units
Figure 24 Seal Panel Leaks

Improve Unit Insulation


Air-handling equipment typically delivers cool supply air. To prevent heat gain
and to avoid surfaces below dew point, the low-temperature air inside the
equipment and ducts must be insulated from the warmer surrounding air. All air
handler walls and supply duct walls must be insulated either internally or
externally. The required insulating value for unit and duct walls varies, depending
on equipment-room temperatures (both dry bulb and dew point) and supply-air
temperature (dry bulb).
Positive-pressure equipment rooms designed to maintain a low dew point can
tolerate quite cold surfaces without condensation. On the other hand, moisture
condenses readily from high-dew-point air in unconditioned (negative-pressure)
equipment rooms so better overall insulation must be used in air handlers and
ducts.

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Moisture and
Air-Handling Units
Figure 25 Sagging Insulation

Incidentally, insulation alone cannot prevent condensation (see Figure 25). The
design must include a vapor retarder on the warm side (the equipment-room
side) as well. Since most air handlers and supply ducts use internal insulation,
the sheet-metal casing acts as a sufficient vapor retarder. External insulation
must be covered with a well-sealed vapor retarder.
How much insulation must be used in a given equipment room? One insulation
analysis method uses a thermal-bridging factor or cold-spot thermal-resistance
ratio (TR). For any application, i.e. any combination of supply-air temperature
and equipment-room conditions, the minimum required ratio (TRmin) can be
found by solving Equation 5.

Equation 5

TRmin = (Tdpo Tdbi) (Tdbo Tdbi)


Where
TRmin = minimum cold-spot thermal-resistance ratio
Tdpo = dew point of air outside duct, F
Tdbi = dry-bulb temperature of air inside duct, F
Tdbo = dry-bulb temperature of air outside duct, F
Suppose unconditioned equipment-room air (96F DB, 60% RH, 80F DP)
surrounds the air handler and the supply duct in a system with a typical supply
air temperature (55F). To prevent condensation on the external wall surfaces,
the unit casing and supply duct walls must be insulated sufficiently to keep the
surface temperature above the dew point (80F). All insulation must be sufficient
to result in a cold-spot TRmin ratio of 0.61 [TRmin = (80 55) (96 55) = 0.61]
or greater.

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Moisture and
Air-Handling Units
Cold-spot TRmin ratios for ducts and air handlers can be determined
experimentally by measuring the coldest surface (the cold spot) on the
equipment at steady-state thermal conditions and solving Equation 6.
Equation 6

TRequip = (Tsurf Tdbi) (Tdbo Tdbi)


Where
TRequip = equipment cold-spot thermal-resistance ratio
Tsurf = cold-spot surface temperature, F
A very-well-insulated air handler with a high thermal-resistance ratio (TRequip =
0.70, for instance) could be used in the equipment room above without external
condensation. However, equipment insulation systems more commonly result in
lower thermal-resistance ratio values (TRequip = 0.50, for instance). To use this
equipment without condensate, the equipment-room dew point must be below
75F [Tdpo = (Tdbo Tdbi) TRequip + Tdbi = (96 55) 0.50 + 55 = 75] or
approximately 50% RH.
To assure adequate equipment TR, designers must either specify sufficient
insulation to raise all surfaces, including cold spots, above equipment-room dew
point, or design low-dew-point (positive-pressure) equipment rooms.

Internal Condensation
Internal air-handler surfaces downstream of the cooling coil are cold. If high-dewpoint air can contact these surfaces, unplanned condensation inside the unit
occurs. Internal unplanned condensation can result in internal flooding and
ultimately, reduced insulation effect, unit damage (corrosion and deterioration of
gaskets and adhesives), possible duct and building damage, and increased
potential for microbial growth.
Figure 26 Internal Condensation

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Moisture and
Air-Handling Units
Seal Unit Penetrations and Joints
Since equipment-room air may be moist (negative-pressure, unconditioned
rooms), infiltration of equipment-room air into the air-handling unit must be
minimized downstream of the cooling coil.
Blow-thru air handler configurations pressurize the cold sections, eliminating
infiltration of moist air. However, blow-thru configurations result in another
internal moisture problemfog formation at the coil exit. The small water
droplets that constitute fog can seriously wet downstream surfaces, especially
final filters. Also, high local velocities in a blow-thru coil increase the potential for
moisture carryover. Blow-thru units must be applied cautiously or they may cause
more moisture-related trouble than draw-thru units.
To limit infiltration into cold sections of the draw-thru units, reduce moist air
leakage through the wall. Specify sealing at all air-handler penetration points,
including pipe penetrations at the coils (both heating and cooling), unused
maintenance-only drain openings, and any penetrations for electrical wiring. Seal
or gasket all joints, panels, doors and windows in negatively pressurized cold
sections.

Lower Equipment-Room Dew Point


As mentioned in the preceding equipment room section, lowering the moisture
content in the equipment room below internal air handler surface temperatures
eliminates all internal condensation problems discussed here, regardless of airhandler skin integrity.
Leaky air-handling units in supply-air positive equipment rooms do not suffer
from internal condensate problems. On the other hand, even well-sealed drawthru units can exhibit internal flooding and cold tracking problems in highmoisture-content equipment rooms.
Three simple solutions, properly applied, resolve most air-handler condensate
problems: use dual-slope drain pans, design and maintain the drain trap
properly, and pressurize the equipment room with supply air to lower the dew
point. l

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In Conclusion
Many moisture-related problems in buildings can be avoided using one simple
design solution: pressurize with sufficiently dry air.
Properly applied, this simple solution eliminates infiltration moisture load and
accommodates all space-generated moisture loads as well as the ventilation
moisture load. It eliminates condensation within the building envelope and both
internal and external condensation on HVAC equipment. Coupled with proper
design of all partitions (i.e. insulate and vapor-seal the warm side), proper control
of space relative humidity at part load, and proper drain pan trapping,
pressurizing with dry air evaporates most moisture problems even in the
most humid of climates.

Acknowledgments
Refer to Preventing Indoor Air Quality Problems in Hot, Humid Climates: Design
and Construction Guidelines, prepared by CH2M-Hill. In cooperation with the
Disney Development Company, the practices described in this manual have
been used successfully since 1990 in construction projects valued at over $750
million with no significant moisture-related problems. l

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Worldwide Applied Systems Group


The Trane Company
North American Group
3600 Pammel Creek Road
La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601-7599
www.trane.com
An American Standard Company

Printed on recycled paper as part of


The Trane Companys recycling program.

Since The Trane Company has a policy of continuous


product improvement, it reserves the right to change
design and specification without notice.

SYS-AM-15
NEW
September 1998