Air Balance Basics for Existing Facilities

We understand the concept of the “band-aid approach” whereby you find a quick cover-up to a problem without actually investigating the root of the it.  This concept applies frequently to Facility Managers or Building Owners wrestling with HVAC emergencies being caused by negative building pressure. They tackle issues such as condensation, hot/cold spots, humidity, odor, and difficult to open doors with “band-aids”. These “band-aids” are in the form of increased air conditioning, dehumidifiers, wet floor caution signs, door mechanisms, air fresheners, apologizing to patrons, comping customers’ bills, and so on.  This is understandable when you’re managing 80+ facilities, all with problems that stretch far beyond just HVAC.  However, it comes with a cost of spending a lot of time, money, energy, and reputation just to have the issues continuing to come back.  While balanced airflow is not a tangible product, the consequences of an unbalanced building are very perceptible.

Facility Managers are ready to de-mystify their HVAC issues by understanding the root causes.  Use the air balance basics below to recognize when an issue is airflow related.

What does it mean to have a balanced airflow?

Think of financial statements with income listed in one column and expenses in the other.  Much like a budget, you want incoming cash coming to be equal to or greater than cash going out. You typically want the air going into a building to be slightly greater than the air going out.  Similarly, think of a balanced scale.  In the graphic below, air is being drawn out of the building by exhaust fans at a rate of 4000 CFM (cubic feet per minute). This is to remove heat and smoke from kitchen cooking appliances and foul air from the restrooms. Air is also being introduced into the building through an outside air fan, at a rate of 4500 CFM. This is to provide fresh breathing air for the occupants and to replace the exhausted air.  The result is a slightly positive building pressure of 500 CFM (4500 – 4000 = 500), which signifies a balanced airflow.  Conversely, if air coming into the building is slightly less than the air leaving the building, then you have a negative building pressure, which is the frequent culprit of many HVAC problems.

Which brings us to a crucial pairing to the air balance concept.  That is if balanced airflow is peanut butter, then a performance test is the jelly.

What is an air test & balance service?

Air balance testing is the process of measuring HVAC airflow performance.  Once tested, the systems are then adjusted, or balanced, so the air brought into a building is slightly greater than the air being pulled out of the building.  The benefit for testing and balancing being a combined service is explained by Rob Falke, President of the National Comfort Institute, “This [positive] pressure condition can be designed, but to be sure it actually happens requires air diagnostic testing.  However, it’s hard to say how great the positive pressure reading in the building will be. It depends on how tight (or leaky) the envelope of the building is, and what other pressure generating forces exist, including the wind, appliances, exhaust fans, and the stack effect of the building.”  The result is a comfortable, healthy indoor environment with an HVAC system that is optimized to perform efficiently.


  • Digital image. Air Concepts LLC. N.p., n.d. Web.  Nov 25, 2015.
  • Falke, Rob. “How to Measure Building Pressures.” Contracting Business, 1 May 2006. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.