Thermal decay in underfloor air distribution (UFAD) systems: Fundamentals and influence on system performance

Kwang Ho Lee, Stefano Schiavon, Fred Bauman, Tom Webster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Underfloor air distribution (UFAD) is a mechanical ventilation strategy in which the conditioned air is primarily delivered to the zone from a pressurized plenum through floor mounted diffusers. Compared to conventional overhead (OH) mixing systems, UFAD has several potential advantages, such as improved thermal comfort and indoor air quality (IAQ), layout flexibility, reduced life cycle costs and improved energy efficiency in suitable climates. In ducted OH systems designers have reasonably accurate control of the diffuser supply temperature, while in UFAD this temperature is difficult to predict due to the heat gain of the conditioned air in the supply plenum. The increase in temperature between the air entering the plenum and air leaving through a diffuser is known as thermal decay. In this study, the detailed whole-building energy simulation program, EnergyPlus, was used to explain the fundamentals of thermal decay, to investigate its influence on energy consumption and to study the parameters that affect thermal decay. It turns out that the temperature rise is considerable (annual median = 3.7. K, with 50% of the values between 2.4 and 4.7. K based on annual simulations). Compared to an idealized simulated UFAD case with no thermal decay, elevated diffuser air temperatures can lead to higher supply airflow rate and increased fan and chiller energy consumption. The thermal decay in summer is higher than in winter and it also depends on the climate. The ground floor with a slab on grade has less temperature rise compared to middle and top floors. An increase of the supply air temperature causes a decrease in thermal decay. The temperature rise is not significantly affected by the perimeter zone orientation, the internal heat gain and the window-to-wall ratio.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-207
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Energy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Mar
Externally publishedYes


  • Energy modeling
  • EnergyPlus
  • Sensitivity analysis
  • Thermal decay
  • Underfloor air distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Building and Construction
  • Energy(all)
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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