Exposed Duct Work

11 Replies

Has anyone done exposed duct work in a SFH or condo? We are debating doing it in an 80 yr old SFH that we are taking down to the studs and giving it a very modern aesthetic. My GC has never done them but said he HAS HEARD that exposed duct work has two problems:

1) Exposed duct work has a tendency to develop condensation on the outside.  I don't understand that because if it were the case, wouldn't the ducts develop condensation inside walls as well, developing mold?

2) The actual duct work used when exposed is much more expensive than the ducts you put in the walls.  My question is, how much more?  Adding extra walls or portions of walls would add to the cost of encasing them.  I'm just wondering net, net, where the cost would be.

Although I truly love our GC, he has a tendency to make excuses when things get out of his comfort zone or with things he has never done before.

Does anyone have any experience or input on exposed duct work?  Below is a picture of how we are considering doing it.

That looks pretty cool to me and it wouldn't bother me at all in a residential space however it wouldn't work for all properties/ locations/ customers.  

Restaurants/ warehouses and other commercial locations have this.  It's pretty common actually.  I also wonder how the condensation issue is handled.


It's spiral round duct which may be more expensive. You should not have condensation issues with exposed duct in your house. Not sure why your GC would say that.

I have heard the same thing from my HVAC guy.  I think he was saying that the cheaper ducts that go in the walls have a layer of insulation and plastic around them thats why they don't condensate.  And that the cool looking duct work in the photo will produce condensation in the summer with ac running full blast.  

I personally think they are awesome looking and worth dealing with a little water. I don't think it would be much either...   I don't know, I see them in restaurants all the time. Doesn't seem to be an issue. 

@Julia Blythe I posed your question to a friend of mine, who is a Professional Engineer in this field. He designs heating & cooling systems for mostly commercial buildings. He replied:

"Exposed ductwork isn’t uncommon. You see it a lot in old buildings that are remodeled due to the difficulty in adding chases and the desire to leave the structure exposed for aesthetics. The problem with condensation on the ductwork generally occurs when you have a building that has air leakage or you have an entry door that is opening and closing a lot so that moist air is in the room and this moist air condenses on the outside of the cold duct. Also if your system is oversized, the air in the duct may be too cold which would increase the chance of condensation of air on the outside of the duct.

When you run exposed ductwork you generally use round spiral ductwork since it looks nicer. It is more expensive I don’t know exactly how much more expensive it is, but I would think it would be cheaper than boxing in rectangular duct."

Thanks so much for your help, @Art Allen.  I really appreciate reaching out to your friend for an answer.  I know it is not uncommon and that is why I was shocked at the response from my GC.  I really think it is something he has just never done and was hoping I would just change my mind.  He obviously doesn't know that I will research, research, research until I find out all the details about it.  What your friend does make sense and obviously, in a house, the door will not be opened and closed a lot.  I've never been to a restaurant with exposed ductwork and had water leak on my head ...... at least yet ;)

One of my previous homes had exposed duct work and the only time I had a "sweating" issue was with one duct vent specifically and only when the humidity went past 90% which in the Austin area does not happen that frequently.  After reading some of the other comments, it was probably because of the install.  That entire place was falling apart and the entire complex is in a lawsuit against the builders.  

It is a great look though and will be probably using it in future if the right place shows up.

We just installed exposed ductwork in an apartment.  The spiral round duct cost double the cost of in-wall duct, but that is more than made up for in savings for creating soffits to house regular duct.  I did see huge variations in cost from different vendors around town.  They all seemed to custom make the ductwork, so get a few quotes.  My contractor is happy to shop around for me, make sure yours is too.

Reactions from renters has been mixed.  I live downtown, so exposed duct is very common, and I figured the modern look would increase value (I am splitting the heat, so the main driver is cost savings).  

This apartment is in a neighborhood, and some middle age working class potential renters did not like it at all.  Comments like "what is this?"   "Will this be covered", etc.  They probably never spend time in newer downtown lofts, etc, so it looks cheap to them rather than trendy.  Younger potential renters have loved it.  Research your market before installing, I never realized it could turn some people off.

@Julia Blythe in Austin it isn't uncommon for exposed ducts to sweat. My HVAC guy double walls (i.e. a duct within a duct) them to prevent it. It is more expensive then in wall hose/flex duct.

Are you considering doing it for aesthetic reasons or for a functional reason like you can't run the duct-work through the ceiling trusses?

@Lynn Currie , we are looking to do it for practical reasons upstairs in this house but I would like to have it for solely aesthetics reasons on the first floor.  It is an old house with some really cool nooks and crannies and I think the look would bode well with the modern look we use in most of our flips.  We are opening up most of the downstairs where the dinning room, kitchen, family room and music room (at least that's how we are staging it) are all free flowing so the exposed duct work would be more of an architectural feature on the main floor.  The second floor has big faulted ceilings made of plaster that have interesting shapes in 2 of the bedrooms and I would hate to lose that look by having to box in the duct work.

Good luck! I personally think this is really risky and specialized for SFH; this type of thing goes over just fine in converted factories and warehouses, where ceilings are high and industrial remnant reminders are everywhere. You will be looking for a very narrow range of buyers that will like the touch, I predict. I can't picture in my head how a house from 1930 would have the type of architecture that would lend itself well to this effect - maybe you can post up a picture?

@Julia Blythe Makes sense.

Since you know that there are likely issues, I'd shop for an HVAC guy that has experience with doing them. Maybe someone that's done commercial projects with them? 

Keep us in the loop and post pictures when you're done!

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