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Evaluating Potential Benefits of Air Barriers in Commercial Buildings using NIST Infiltration Correlations in EnergyPlus



Lisa Ng, William Stuart Dols, Steven Emmerich


According to the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE), infiltration accounts for 6 % of the energy use and $11 billion in energy cost for U. S. commercial buildings. One strategy to reduce infiltration in commercial buildings is to provide more supply airflow than return and exhaust in order to "pressurize the building". DOE has developed EnergyPlus models of several prototype buildings which assume that pressurization results in system-on infiltration rates that are 75 % less than the system-off rates. However, airflow simulations of these buildings using the CONTAM multizone airflow software showed that pressurization reduced infiltration by an average of 44 % only. To improve the infiltration rates calculated by the EnergyPlus models of prototype buildings, CONTAM infiltration rates were used to develop coefficients that can be input into EnergyPlus. CONTAM captures the effects of wind, temperature difference, and system operation on infiltration rates. Coefficients were developed for 11 prototype buildings, eight cities, and two levels of building envelope airtightness. Comparisons of the predicted infiltration rates were made between using the DOE prototype model inputs and the NIST infiltration correlations. Using the NIST correlations resulted in an average HVAC-EUI (HVAC-related energy use intensity) savings of 6 % or 1.4 kBtu/ft2 due to airtightening. These results indicate that the effects of infiltration on HVAC energy use are important and that infiltration can and should be better accounted for in whole-building energy modeling.
Building and Environment


airflow modeling, commercial buildings, CONTAM, energy modeling, EnergyPlus, infiltration, building envelope air-tightness


Ng, L. , Dols, W. and Emmerich, S. (2021), Evaluating Potential Benefits of Air Barriers in Commercial Buildings using NIST Infiltration Correlations in EnergyPlus, Building and Environment, [online],, (Accessed May 29, 2024)


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Created March 15, 2021, Updated April 6, 2021