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Functional Testing Guidance Underfloor Air Distribution Plenum

This functional testing guidance is designed to aid in developing test procedures for a specific project by describing the steps involved
in testing. The guidance should be adapted as necessary to address the control sequences, configuration, and performance
requirements of the particular system being tested. Additionally, codes may require specific testing procedures that may not be
addressed in this document. All tests based on this guidance should be reviewed carefully to ensure that they are complete and
appropriate.
Test Procedure: Underfloor Air Distribution Plenum Pressure Test
Overview
The primary objective of testing both the underfloor and return air plenums is to quantify the air leakage
rate from each plenum, identify the leak source, and repair as necessary. aving a relatively leak!free
plenum "ill reduce central #A$ supply fan energy usage, prevent system operational problems, and
minimi%e comfort problems.
The follo"ing procedures "ill assist "ith&
'nsuring all system prefunctional checklists are complete prior to e(ecuting system tests
)uantifying the air leakage rate from both the underfloor plenum and occupied
space*return plenum
+dentifying the source of air leaks and repairing them as best possible
System Description
An underfloor air distribution plenum provides conditioned air to the %ones served by the #A$ unit,s-
from belo" the floor rather than from the ceiling. The primary objective of testing an underfloor air
distribution system is to quantify the air leakage flo" rate from the underfloor plenum. .eakage from the
underfloor plenum can lead to the follo"ing problems&
Air by-passing the occupied zone. Air leaking from the plenum into a "all cavity "ill allo"
conditioned air to by!pass the occupied space and move directly into the return plenum. This "ould
cause the supply fan to operate at a higher speed than necessary to satisfy occupied space conditions,
"hich is an energy "aste.
Incorrect zone temperature measurements. Air leaking into a "all cavity can also influence
%one temperature sensors, especially if the sensor is recessed "ithin the "all. The cold air from the
plenum "ill surround the temperature sensor and cause the control system think the %one is belo"
setpoint "hen it really is not. The control system "ill adjust system operation as necessary to try and
satisfy setpoint ,"hich most likely "ill never be achieved-, resulting in comfort complaints as "ell as
energy "aste. The same control problem may occur to a lesser e(tent "ith surface!mount sensors.
ncontro!!ed air "!ow into the occupied zone. /ftentimes air may leak past floor tiles or other
penetrations line po"er*data junction bo(es directly into the occupied space. 0ome may argue that
since the air is reaching the occupied space it should be considered a leak. o"ever, any
uncontrolled air stream ,refer to the right!hand photo in 1igure 2- can be perceived by occupants as a
problem, resulting in comfort complaints.
/ften the space above the ceiling is used as the return air plenum, hence the integrity of this plenum is
also critical to overall system performance. +n addition, this test procedure "ill include guidance on ho"
to evaluate air leakage from the occupied space and return plenum.
A key factor in achieving success "ith an underfloor plenum system is to make sure that the plenum is as
leak!free as possible, "hich can be difficult. 1or e(ample, the 3 inch gap bet"een the dry"all and the
floor that is usually required to prevent moisture migration into the dry"all amounts to a potential
unsealed opening of over 4 square feet if it occurs around the base of a 255 foot by 255 foot plenum in an
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Functional Testing Guidance Underfloor Air Distribution Plenum
office building. +f left unsealed, that "ould constitute a major leak that could prevent the system from
functioning as intended. 'ven "ith due diligence during construction, it is not unusual to test the plenum
for leakage and discover that 657 to 857 of the system capacity has been lost. +n these situations, the
construction team may be confronted "ith 455 leaks of 9 $1: rather than t"o leaks of 6,555 $1:. This
situation can be challenging and some ingenuity is required to identify problems. 1igure 2 illustrates
some techniques to find leaks that have been used "ith success.
An underfloor air distribution system may include a "ide array of individual components, subsystems, or
related systems, including& raised floor; active and*or passive diffusers; fan!po"ered terminal units;
duct"ork, dampers, and*or partition "alls; as "ell as various temperature and pressure sensors. <ote that
any air handling unit serving the underfloor air plenum is not included in this document. Air handlers
should be addressed as an individual system and verified as being ready for normal operation prior to
performing each plenum pressure test.
#igure $: #ie!d Observations to #ind Sma!! %ea&s
+n the picture on the left of 1igure 2, a ventilation damper associated "ith a natural ventilation cycle "as
covered "ith plastic and a tube led from the plastic to the atmosphere. This concentrated the relatively
lo" leakage rate from the pressuri%ed plenum across the entire damper area into the tube so the velocity is
high enough to measure. The test sho"ed that the leakage rate for the dampers "as an order of
magnitude greater than their specifications. The culprit "as an inadequate damper actuator torque for
preloading the seals. +n the center picture, a similar arrangement is being used to concentrate the leakage
from a floor communications and po"er outlet bo( for measurement. +n the picture to the right, a tissue
paper strip quickly detects significant leakage around a receptacle.
Test 'onditions
This test is best conducted early or late in the day in order to minimi%e the impact on the occupants and
the testing problems associated "ith occupancy, like the opening and closing of doors "hile readings are
being taken. +t may be desirable to station people by the doors to control traffic through them during
these times.
+f the plenum really is leak!free, this test should not take long if all parties involved kno" their duties
ahead of time. Thus it is possible to do the test "hile the building is occupied "ithout it being too
disruptive. +f the plenum leaks, then the system may be placed back in the test configuration to find the
leaks.
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Functional Testing Guidance Underfloor Air Distribution Plenum
()amp!e Test
The follo"ing test form "as created using this guidance document. +t is available at
""".ftguide.org*ftct*testdir.htm.
Plenum .eakage Test. +D=& 2558
Test (*uipment
The follo"ing equipment may be necessary to properly e(ecute these test procedures&
Digital pressure gauge "ith thin pitot tube for slipping under doors and through cracks in envelope
to take differential pressure measurements "ith respect to outdoors. The device should have the
capability of measuring do"n to 2555th of an inch "ater column.
+ncline manometer or magnehelic for measuring pressure. The device should have the capability of
measuring do"n to at least 255th of an inch "ater column.
Air flo" multi!meter for verification of air flo" station calibration or use during test to measure air
flo" if air flo" stations are not installed. Also doubles as the digital pressure gauge.
>oro%in gun, smoke sticks, or other smoke generator device for observing air flo" direction and
leakage at cracks and other openings ,tissue paper can also be effective-.
Data logger,s- "ith a bi!directional very lo" pressure input may be used instead of the hand!held
digital pressure gauge. ?ange of @*! 5.8 inch ".c.
Out!ine o" Test Procedure
$. Preparation
2.2 $reate a test form
2.6 Determine acceptance criteria
2.8 Provide instructions*precautions
2.A 0pecify test participants and roles*responsibilities
+. nder"!oor Air Distribution P!enum Test Procedure
62. ?evie" all prefunctional checklists for completeness
6.6 :easure underfloor plenum leakage
6.8 :easure occupied space*return plenum leakage
6.A ?eturn system to normal operation
$ Preparation
2.2 'reate a test "orm. Testing "ill be easier if the test procedure is thought through and
documented before conducting the test. Developing a test form "ill assist in data collection
and subsequent evaluation, as "ell as allo" less e(perienced staff to e(ecute the test.
2.6 Determine acceptance criteria. The designer is responsible for establishing the acceptable
leakage rate from both the underfloor and return air plenum. All measured flo" rates should
be "ithin B257 of the acceptable leakage rate. 1lo" measurements can be made by many
methods including but not limited to duct traverse, measuring air velocity across intake,
reading measurements from installed flo" meters ,if factory or field calibrated-, or using a
hand!held flo" device like a hot!"ire anemometer.
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Functional Testing Guidance Underfloor Air Distribution Plenum
2.8 Provide instructions,precautions. +f performing the test during subfree%ing atmospheric
conditions, ensure proper care is taken to prevent free%ing of the #A$ system coil,s- "hen
operating the unit at 2557 outdoor air. <ote that use of a boro%in gun, smoke sticks, or other
smoke generator device may trigger the fire alarm system. The proper authorities must be
contacted and alerted to a potential false alarm prior to using these devices to help identify
the source of a leak. >e sure to have an emergency Ce(itD strategy in place should the test
need to be aborted prior to completion. +f a test fails, the source of the failure should be
identified and conveyed to the proper authority. The system should be retested once the
repairs are complete.
2.A Speci"y participants and ro!es,responsibi!ities. The testing guidance provided in this
document can assist in verifying proper system performance in both ne" construction and
e(isting building applications. The follo"ing people may need to participate in the testing
process. ?efer to the 1unctional Testing >asics section of the 1unctional Test Euide for a
description of the general roles and responsibilities of the participants. These roles and
responsibilities should be customi%ed based on actual project requirements.
New Construction Project Existing Building Project
$ommissioning Provider $ommissioning Provider
:echanical $ontractor >uilding /perating 0taff
$ontrol $ontractor $ontrols $ontractor
+. nder"!oor Air Distribution P!enum Test Procedure
62 -eview a!! pre"unctiona! chec&!ists "or comp!eteness. Prior to performing any plenum
pressure tests, the commissioning pre!start, start!up, and prefunctional checklists should be
completed, as "ell as applicable manufacturerFs pre!start and start!up recommendations for
the mechanical equipment.
Prefunctional checklists checks include, but are not limited to, the follo"ing&
All prefunctional checklists and system start!up procedures for the air handling unit,s-
serving the underfloor plenum are complete.
All prefunctional checklists and system start!up procedures for the terminal units serving
the %one ,if applicable- are complete.
All plenum, duct, or partition dampers ,if applicable- stroke freely "ith minimum play.
Damper assemblies are clean of any construction debris, dirt, or other foreign materials.
+nstallation of all applicable duct "ork and plenum dividers is complete.
All floor tiles are in place and secured to the floor supports.
All diffusers, data*communication ports, and electrical outlets are installed and sealed per
the specification.
$arpet tiles are in place per design.
All temperature sensor measurement ranges, accuracies, and installed locations are per
the specification.
All plenum penetrations and floor edges have been sealed per the specification.
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Functional Testing Guidance Underfloor Air Distribution Plenum
All #A$ systems serving adjacent spaces are operating and under control to maintain
their normal pressure relationship "ith the underfloor %one.
6.6 .easure under"!oor p!enum !ea&age. +n order to quantify air leakage from the plenum, the
central #A$ system supply fan,s- "ill be used to pressuri%e the plenum to design operating
conditions ,typically bet"een 5.59 and 5.6 inch ".c. relative to atmosphere-. /nce the
plenum achieves desired pressure, total air flo" delivered to the plenum "ill be measured to
determine the air leakage flo" rate.
+n order to completely isolate the underfloor plenum from the space being served, all
CcontrolledD sources of air flo" into the space must be closed or sealed off. '(amples
include, but are not limited to&
covering all diffusers "ith plastic sheeting
closing dampers serving individual diffusers
commanding terminal unit fans off and dampers closed
:easuring plenum pressure "ith respect to the outdoors can be achieved by either using the
installed differential pressure sensor,s-, a hand!held measuring device like a 0hortridge
digital air data multimeter, an inclined manometer or a magnehelic. Ghichever device is
used, it must be capable of accurately measuring lo" pressures. +f measurements are made
using a hand!held device, then finding locations for measuring both the plenum and outdoor
pressures may be difficult in a sealed building, especially if it is a multi!story building.
Plenum pressure can be measured by snaking the Chigh!sideD pressure reference tube through
a diffuser and then sealing up the diffuser "ith plastic sheeting.
/n single!story buildings, or multi!story floors "ith outdoor access, measuring the outdoor
,Clo"!sideD- pressure can be achieved by slipping a pitot tube past an e(terior door, operable
"indo", or other e(terior penetration. +f there is no direct outdoor access "ithin the %one
being tested, then it may be possible to make use of outdoor penetrations "ithin a mechanical
room or to use an elevator shaft as the lo"!side reference point. :any elevator shafts are
open to the atmosphere at the top and may provide adequate reference points as long as the
elevator is not in use during the test.
:easuring air flo" is necessary to quantify the plenum leakage flo" rate. To measure air
flo", do one of the follo"ing&
:easure the face velocity across the outdoor intake using a 0hortridge digital air data
multimeter "ith the #elEridH probe and then multiplying the air velocity by the area of
the intake to calculate flo" rate ,ft*min ( ft
6
I $1:-.
Perform a traverse across the supply duct using a digital air data multimeter "ith the pitot
tube to measure the average velocity pressure "ithin the duct and then multiply the
corresponding velocity by the area of the duct to calculate flo" rate.
+f the #A$ unit is equipped "ith a flo" station, use this measured flo" value. <ote that
each flo" station must be accurate and should be calibrated if the accuracy is in doubt.
Plenum pressuri%ation can be achieved and air leakage flo" rate determined by e(ecuting the
follo"ing steps&
6.6.2 $ommand return fan off.
6.6.6 $ommand outdoor air dampers open.
6.6.8 $ommand return dampers closed.
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Functional Testing Guidance Underfloor Air Distribution Plenum
6.6.A Place supply fan #1D in a mode that "ill allo" manual control of the fan speed.
This can be done either at the drive itself or at the building automation system
operator "orkstation.
6.6.9 0tart the supply fan and gradually increase the fan speed until the plenum reaches test
pressure ,e.g. 5.2 inch ".c.-.
6.6.J :easure the outdoor air flo" rate as outlined above. This is the leakage rate for the
underfloor plenum at the plenum test pressure. +f it e(ceeds the leakage rate
specified by the designer, then leak sources must be identified and repaired as
necessary.
6.6.K +dentifying the leak source may be achieved through the use of smoke sticks, a
boro%in po"der CsmokeD gun, or perhaps some other form of smoke generator. Any
one of these devices "ill help the tester visuali%e air flo" patterns, "hich may reveal
the source of the leak. /nce identified, the leak must be fi(ed and the test performed
again until the air leakage rate is "ithin the acceptance criteria specified by the
designer.
6.8 :easure occupied space*return plenum leakage. The air leakage rate from the occupied
space*return plenum can be determined by e(ecuting a test procedure similar to the one
outlined for the underfloor plenum. +n most applications, interior space pressure "ill be
controlled bet"een 5.59 and 5.2 inch ".c. above atmospheric pressure to minimi%e
infiltration of outdoor air into the building. ence the design building pressure differential
"ith respect to atmosphere "ill be the test pressure for the space.
$ontinuing from above "ith the return fan off, return damper closed, outdoor air damper
open, and supply fan controlled manually, space pressuri%ation can be achieved and air
leakage flo" rate determined by e(ecuting the follo"ing steps&
6.8.2 >egin opening or unsealing floor diffusers or opening terminal unit dampers one at a
time. :easure space pressure "ith respect to atmosphere, and increase supply fan
speed to maintain underfloor plenum test pressure. ?epeat this procedure until the
space is held at design pressure differential "ith respect to atmosphere
,e.g. 5.59 inch ".c.- and the underfloor plenum is maintained at underfloor plenum
test pressure ,e.g. 5.2 inch ".c.-. The same pressure gauge can be used to make both
measurements by simply moving the high!side reference pressure tube bet"een the
underfloor plenum and the occupied space. The outdoor air reference remains the
same for both measurements.
6.8.6 Ghen the test conditions are met, measure the outdoor air flo" rate as described
above. This value "ill be the total leakage rate for the underfloor plenum, occupied
space, and return plenum. 0ubtracting this value from the underfloor plenum leakage
rate documented in step 6.6.J "ill yield the leakage rate from the occupied
space*return plenum. +f it e(ceeds the leakage rate specified by the designer, then
leak sources must be identified and repaired as necessary.
6.8.8 Again, identifying the leak source may be achieved through the use of smoke sticks,
a boro%in po"der CsmokeD gun, or another type of smoke generator. /nce identified,
the leak must be fi(ed and the test performed again until the air leakage rate is "ithin
the acceptance criteria specified by the designer.
6.A -eturn system to norma! operation. ?eturn system to normal operating conditions by
enabling correct time and schedules, releasing all override commands, opening and*or
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Functional Testing Guidance Underfloor Air Distribution Plenum
unsealing all diffusers, and setting system operating parameters to the values specified in the
design sequence of operations.
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