The type of HVAC system you choose for the multi-family building is crucial since it tends to have long-term implications.
If you are planning to build or remodel a home in California, you may be wondering what type of roof design is best for your HVAC system. Should you opt for a vented roof or an unvented roof? What are the pros and cons of each option? How do they affect your energy efficiency, indoor comfort, and air quality?
In this blog post, we will answer these questions and help you make an informed decision for your HVAC design. We will also share some tips on how to optimize your mechanical design for vented or unvented roofs.
What is a Vented Roof?
A vented roof is a traditional roof design that has a gap between the roof deck and the insulation layer, allowing air to flow freely from the soffits to the ridge vents. This ventilation helps to remove excess heat and moisture from the attic space, preventing condensation, mold growth, and ice dams.
A vented roof is usually preferred when the HVAC ductwork and equipment are located in the conditioned space below the attic floor. This way, the ducts are not exposed to extreme temperatures and air leakage, which can reduce their efficiency and performance.
A vented roof also helps to keep the home cooler in the summer by reducing the heat gain from the sun. In addition, a vented roof can prevent overheating of asphalt shingles, which can shorten their lifespan.
What is an Unvented Roof?
An unvented roof is a modern roof design that has no gap between the roof deck and the insulation layer, creating a continuous thermal barrier. The insulation can be applied either above or below the roof deck, depending on the type of roofing material and climate.
An unvented roof is usually preferred when the HVAC ductwork and equipment are located in the attic space or in a room with a cathedral ceiling. This way, the ducts are protected from external temperature fluctuations and air infiltration, which can improve their efficiency and performance.
An unvented roof also helps to keep the home warmer in the winter by reducing the heat loss through the roof. In addition, an unvented roof can prevent moisture problems caused by warm air rising from the living space and condensing on the cold roof deck.
How to Choose Between Vented and Unvented Roofs?
The choice between vented and unvented roofs depends on several factors, such as:
In cold climates, where snow and ice are common, a vented roof can help to prevent ice dams by keeping the roof cold. In hot and humid climates, where cooling is more important than heating, an unvented roof can help to reduce cooling loads by keeping the attic warm.
Building design and configuration:
Some building designs and configurations may not allow for adequate ventilation of a vented roof, such as complex roof shapes, low-slope roofs, or roofs with skylights or dormers. In these cases, an unvented roof may be a better option.
Location of HVAC:
As mentioned earlier, the location of HVAC ductwork and equipment can influence the choice of roof design. If the HVAC system is located in the conditioned space below the attic floor, a vented roof may be more suitable. If the HVAC system is located in the attic space or in a room with a cathedral ceiling, an unvented roof may be more beneficial.
Energy efficiency goals:
If you are aiming for high energy efficiency standards, such as ENERGY STAR or Zero Energy Ready Home programs, you may want to consider an unvented roof with high-performance insulation materials, such as spray foam or rigid foam boards. These materials can provide higher R-values and better air sealing than conventional insulation materials, such as fiberglass batts or cellulose.
How to Optimize Your Mechanical Design for Vented or Unvented Roofs?
Regardless of whether you choose a vented or an unvented roof, you need to optimize your mechanical design to ensure proper performance of your HVAC system. Here are some tips on how to do that:
For vented roofs:
Make sure to provide adequate ventilation for your attic space by installing soffit vents and ridge vents according to code requirements. The net-free ventilation area (NFVA) should be at least 1 square foot per 300 square feet of attic floor area, with at least 60% of it at the soffits. Also, make sure to install baffles or air chutes between the rafters to prevent insulation from blocking the airflow from the soffits to the ridge.
For unvented roofs:
Make sure to provide adequate insulation for your roof deck by choosing an insulation material that meets or exceeds code requirements for R-value and vapor permeability. The R-value should be at least R-30 for climate zones 1-3 and R-38 for climate zones 4-8. The vapor permeability should be less than 1 perm for climate zones 1-3 and less than 0.1 perm for climate zones 4-8. Also, make sure to seal all gaps and cracks in your roof deck with caulk or spray foam to prevent air leakage.