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CFD for HVAC System Optimization

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Computational fluid dynamics (CFD), allows engineers to visualize flow velocity, density, thermal impact and chemical concentrations for any region where the flow occurs, enabling engineers to analyze the problem areas and suggest the best solutions. While CFD is used across the construction industry for analysis and design optimization of an HVAC system, some organizations and individuals have been slow to fully utilize it within their practices, citing restrictions such as cost, unreliability, and inaccessibility. In this article, we examine the key advantages for its use, and assess how CFD tools such as EXN/Aero have addressed such concerns.

Why Use CFD Analysis In HVAC Design

Engineers designing HVAC systems face the challenge of meeting aggressive sustainability and energy-efficiency targets while delivering comfortable environments at a reasonable cost. Traditional design methods involve the use of hand calculations requiring many simplifying assumptions, which limit the accuracy of calculations.


Fig 1. CFD simulation is highly effective in challenging HVAC environments such as clean rooms and operating theatres.

Incorporating CFD simulation into the design process offers a level of reassurance, allowing a complex design to be tested as a computer model before any construction cost is incurred. Design certainty can be established as scenarios can be accurately simulated with the calculated results graphical displayed providing an “easy to relate to” representation.

More and more, engineers are moving to CFD to compute airflow patterns and space temperatures based on complete 3D geometries with fewer assumptions, resulting in a greater level of accuracy. Click here or below, to read our essential guide to HVAC simulations.

Learn more about HVAC Simulations

Performance Prediction: One of the most notable advantages of using CFD in HVAC design, is the ability to simulate fluid flows and analyze HVAC performance without actually installing the HVAC system or even building a prototype. This allows for significant problems, and ultimately solutions, to be identified and devised to enhance a building's overall HVAC performance.

Provides Key HVAC Design Parameter Information: Due to key advances in HVAC/IAQ technology, broader and more detailed information about the flow within an occupied zone is required, and the CFD technique satisfies this requirement better than any other method (e.g. experimental or theoretical methods). 

Using CFD For Validation/Optimization of HVAC Design Parameters: An HVAC system and the finer details such as location and number of diffusers and exhausts, temperature and flow rate of the supplied air etc. can be optimized and validated for an occupant structure and for increased occupant comfort.

Modification Of Malfunctioning HVAC Systems: Design modification can be suggested, these modification can further be simulated and any kind of malfunctioning of HVAC system can be mitigated for improved performance and better HVAC within a building.

Examples of HVAC CFD Analysis In Practice

  • Industrial ventilation design
  • Swimming pool ventilation
  • General office/room simulations
  • Fume hood design
  • Effective smoke evacuation in smoking lounges
  • Fire simulations for ware houses
  • Thermal assessment of data centers and server rooms
  • Smoke and fire propagation simulations and implementation of fire safety in occupant structures

CFD is used extensively when designing HVAC systems for non-standard systems, eg stadiums, large atriums, concert halls, natural ventilation systems, smoke ventilation etc and most of these systems could not be accurately designed without using CFD.

Learn more about HVAC Simulations


Fig 2. At Envenio, we performed a case study for HVAC design of an aircraft hangar, and the above image shows a collection of outputs. The full case article can be found by clicking here.

Common Misconceptions & Limitations

Factors limiting the use of CFD have been lengthy modeling and setup time, expensive software licenses, and extensive training requirements. These challenges are being overcome with a new generation of cloud-based software enabling engineers to access leading-edge CFD capabilities from the cloud on an on-demand basis in a fraction of the time and cost involved in using conventional CFD tools. A recent article explored how to overcome limitations with a cloud-based, on-demand solver.

Cost: A common misconception held among many HVAC engineers, is that CFD is simply too expensive to justify its use, and this relates particularly to the expensive software licenses previously required. Over recent years, many HVAC engineers have vocalized their efforts to find cost-effective, affordable CFD tools, and companies such as Envenio have worked to answer these calls.

With the inception of cloud-based, on-demand CFD tools such as EXN/Aero, expensive software licenses are no longer required, and engineers can simply pay for the software as and when needed. In addition, there are key cost savings to be made when using CFD for HVAC design purposes, as physical modifications are hardly required.

Workload Variations: In situations where an engineer's workload is variable, individuals and organizations have questioned the justification of investing in CFD tools. The availability of on-demand, cloud-based CFD software packages, has given these engineers the ability to upscale and downscale according to their workload. This also gives engineers the option of including CFD software in their client pitches, paying for what they need if and when they secure the contract.

Confidence, Training & Time: As with other industries, old habits die hard, and some HVAC engineers have been reluctant to fully embrace CFD into their design practices. For some engineers, having confidence in results with reduced real-world tests has been an issue, and this has also linked in to concerns over user training and knowledge levels. Software developers such as Envenio have focused their efforts on producing code that is most importantly accurate, with the speed-up of simulations very much a secondary factor. Modeling and set-up times have been vastly reduced and the workflow has been simplified. 

There can be no denying that CFD has opened up possibilities in the HVAC arena that were previously not viable, safe or considerable.


Fig 3. CFD simulation is also useful for the HVAC challenges faced by indoor and vertical farmers.


There is no doubt that times have changed, and affordable cloud-based simulation tools such as EXN/Aero has changed the way many HVAC engineers view CFD. For a full run-through of the EXN/Aero solver, check out a recent webinar here.

CFD tools in the cloud can reduce the time and cost required to achieve thermal comfort, minimize energy consumption, and clear contaminants by providing insights. These insights include predictions of comfort with different design alternatives and quick evaluations of different “what-if” scenarios, early in the design process. For those requiring support getting started with CFD, check out the Envenio Onboarding Program.

Explore Onboarding

Users can now optimize HVAC designs in less time and at a lower cost than was ever possible in the past, so the results of an Aberdeen Group research study come as no surprise, when it found design engineers for best-in-class companies to be 15 percent more likely than the industry average to use CFD to make design trade-off decisions. 

With so much to offer, CFD can play a vital role in designing HVAC systems, and with such clear advantages, it is perhaps now a question of changing perception and overcoming long-held views, rather than proving its suitability in this sphere. For those looking to outsource CFD, check out the Discovery Project.

Discover The Benefits Of Simulation

Try It For Yourself

EXN/Aero is a general purpose computational fluid dynamics, cloud solver that reduces simulation times by up to 20x. The platform includes a meshing tool, the solver, and a post-processing tool, and plenty of storage for your files. There are a range of on-demand options available to users, helping them to better manage project cash flow. This affordable CFD software is sure to be an asset to companies or CFD freelancers like. We offer free trials of the product, starting with a walkthrough with one of our engineers.

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2018-08-28 | Categories: CFD, simulations, HPC

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