Price, efficiency lead contractors to take a serious look at fiberglass duct board.

The Fred's discount stores aim to provide their customers with a quality product at a reasonable price. The chain stores, which offer everything from groceries to apparel, are popping up all over the South, and with the help of self-employed subcontractor Ricky Timms, the chain was able to receive a deal of its own.

Timms and his team of three technicians have installed the mechanical systems and ductwork for five new Fred's stores so far. When he started work on his first Fred's store in northern Georgia, the project called for approximately 11,000 square feet of lined sheet metal, the cost of which would have set the chain store back $31,000. But Timms worked with Dixie Duct Fabrication in Roswell, Ga., which offered an alternative - Johns Manville's Mat-Faced Micro-Aire Fiberglass Duct Board, which saved the store more than $10,000.

Johns Manville’s Mat-Faced Micro-Aire Fiberglass Duct Board was used at a Fred’s discount store in Georgia, resulting in a savings of more than $10,000. Image courtesy of Johns Manville.

Time and money

It wasn't the first time Timms had used duct board on a project. The subcontractor has installed duct board in houses and several other commercial projects during his 18 years in business. So Timms was not opposed to using the product when Dixie Duct suggested it.

Jerry King, co-owner of Dixie Duct, said Timms came to him to price sheet metal for the project.

"Basically, we estimated the job per the customer's request with lined sheet metal and with the price of sheet metal going up lately, it involved a considerable amount of money. It was $31,000," said King.

King then estimated the project with fiberglass duct board and found that the job would cost substantially less - $20,500. Timms went to the owner of the discount store and presented the options. The owner chose duct board.

The easy installation helped Timms to finish the project early: The store wanted the mechanical systems to be completed in three weeks; Timms was able to do it in two.

He installed Lennox package units on the ground level of the store. Sheet metal was then ducted up the building where it runs inside and meets the duct board in the store. All duct on the inside is Johns Manville product. Since then, Timms has worked on multiple Fred's stores. He recently finished a project in Livonia, Ga., and will soon start work on another Fred's store in Cleveland, Tenn.

An unidentified worker puts in fiberglass duct board from Johns Manville in a Fred’s discount store. Because the duct board was fabricated on-site and then installed, it was completed a week ahead of time. Image courtesy of Johns Manville.


While duct board has been slower to catch on, the rise in sheet metal prices has prompted contractors such as Timms to seriously look at the product, according to Eric Alley, HVAC development manager for Johns Manville.

Alley said that the Johns Manville Mat-Face Micro-Aire Duct Board has "always had a lot of interest from people. But a significant increase has been seen since the rise in the cost of steel."

While steel prices have been a catalyst for some contractors to give duct board a try, it is the long-term benefits of the product that are prompting them to continue using it, according to makers like Johns Manville.

"If the product is fabricated and installed correctly, you will have a system that leaks less," said Alley.

He also said that a system that leaks less has better energy efficiency and reduced energy bills.

According to Alley, when it comes to installing duct board over metal duct, there are few differences. But to do it correctly, he recommends using duct-board-fabrication guidelines from the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association.

"Even the best sheet metal job leaks," said Dixie Duct's King. Most of these leaks occur at the joints, he added. But with duct board, King believes there is 100 percent air tightness. He also said that in 20 years of offering duct board to customers, he has never had a call-back on the product.

Sound advice

While duct board can save money on installation costs and long-term energy bills, it can also reduce noise associated with the HVAC system. According to Alley, this makes duct board perfect for school applications.

One such project was recently completed last fall in Carbon Hill, Ala. In November 2002, a tornado destroyed the school and the Walker County School District had a $15 million rebuilding budget. There was also a short period to finish construction and open the school for fall 2005.

According to Dan Blackman, vice president of engineering for Edmonds Engineering in Birmingham, Ala., and mechanical engineer on the project, it was very important to stay within the school's budget.

"It's the reason we went with duct board for our heating and cooling system," he said.

Estimates for lined sheet metal exceeded the school district's budget. New quotes were produced using Johns Manville 1 1/2-inch Mat Faced Micro-Air Duct Board Type No. 800. The new quote reduced the price by $120,000. Also, according to the project installers and engineers, the installation would save the school on further energy bills due to low system leakage. Thermal performance is another benefit.

"Classrooms can be noisy places," said Rick Lathan, architect on the school project. "The duct board is going to do a lot to dampen the sound that travels through the duct system, including cross talk from other classrooms and air-handling noise."

Alley said he believes that contractors who are using duct board are beginning to learn that the product has more benefits than just saving on installation time and cost.

"We have seen a duct-board trend sweep the nation this past year and more installers who are use to sheet metal are making the switch every day," he said.