Your HVAC is Showing: Designing with Exposed Ductwork

The exposed ductwork look is in, everywhere from offices to homes. Designs are incorporating more exposed wood beams, unfinished concrete, steel, and brick – and exposed ductwork.

Exposed ductwork makes air distribution easier and eliminates the need for insulation. It may cost less than installing a ceiling or routing ductwork in a concealed space. Below are some examples of what exposed ductwork looks like in practice. Knowing some of the basics about what your options are for exposed ductwork can help you when planning for interior design, the mechanical engineering and architectural needs of your space, and construction plans.

Smooth Sheet Metal Duct

The most common kind of ductwork is made of smooth sheet metal, shaped either round or rectangular. Smooth ductwork is typically the most economical option. Fittings and transitions can be made in the field to fit through tight spaces and create odd angles. Special care must be taken to make a clean appearance, and the thin metal can easily be dented or deformed, so it has to be handled with care, both during construction and during maintenance.

A photo taken from below of smooth, silver metal exposed ductwork. The room has white walls and ceilings that look like they are in the process of being completed, and a skylight in the top right corner.
Smooth, round ductwork is economical and adaptable.

Spiral Round Metal Duct

Spiral ductwork is made by a specialized machine that wraps sheet metal in a spiral pattern with folded seams, creating an air-tight seal. This is the most common type seen in designs featuring exposed ductwork. It is uniform, rigid, and has clean connections. Spiral ducts can be left as shiny bare metal or field-painted to be any color. This is a super versatile, durable option for interior designers.

A photograph taken from below shows silver spiral exposed ductwork is shown against an exposed plywood and wooden beam ceiling with lights hanging from it. The room has cream colored walls.
Spiral ductwork gives a clean appearance and is the most common exposed ductwork.

Fabric Duct

Fabric ducts are made from polyester fabric with orifices or nozzles built into the ducts for air distribution. Ducts are formed in a variety of shapes with custom fabric colors. Internal supports can be added to maintain the duct shape when no air is flowing. Fabric ducts work best in large, open spaces where the desired air distribution is uniform. Fabrics are corrosion resistant, making it a great choice for tough, humid environments like indoor pools where metal ducts might suffer from corrosion quite easily.

A photograph taken from below shows a pale colored fabric duct running along a finished wooden plank ceiling.
Fabric duct provides uniform distribution and high-corrosion resistance, making it perfect for indoor pools and gyms.

Get a team on your side who understands how to incorporate exposed ductwork into your designs. Contact us today!


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