Fire Technology

, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 211–226 | Cite as

Characterization of Stack Effect in High-Rise Buildings Under Winter Conditions, Including the Impact of Stairwell Pressurization

  • Steven StregeEmail author
  • Michael Ferreira


To characterize the magnitude of stack effect within stairwells and elevator shafts, differential pressure measurements were taken in fifteen (15) high-rise buildings in four (4) different cities (Cleveland, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia) during the winter months of January–March, 2013. Test buildings ranged in height from 44 m to 150 m (143 ft–492 ft). Outside temperatures during testing ranged from −12°C to 15°C (10°F–59°F). Based on the differential pressures measured, there was evidence of winter stack effect in all buildings tested. On the lower levels of all buildings, air was observed flowing from the building into the stairwells and elevator hoistways with pressure differential magnitudes ranging from −2.7 Pa to −24.9 Pa, −12.0 Pa average (−0.011 in. w.g. to −0.100 in. w.g., −0.048 in. w.g. average). Similarly, in most buildings (excluding Buildings 6 and 7) air was observed flowing from the stair and elevator hoistways into the building on the upper levels with pressure differential magnitudes ranging from 0.5 Pa to 34.9 Pa, 11.2 Pa average (0.002 in. w.g. to 0.140 in. w.g., 0.045 in. w.g. average). Under winter conditions, the data suggests that large quantities of air can migrate, floor-to-floor, via unprotected elevator shafts. Data further suggests activation of the stairwell pressurization system can increase vertical air movement via unprotected elevator shafts. This behavior is expected to impact the movement of smoke floor-to-floor during a fire, as airflow is indicative of smoke migration. The exterior stack force on the building’s envelope (governed by the building’s height and temperature differential between the building interior and exterior) does not always translate proportionally to shaft-to-building differential pressures (i.e., “stack effect”), as each building is unique. Although a building’s height and outside temperature play important roles in determining vertical airflow movement within a building, height alone was not found to be a good predictor of vertical airflow (or smoke movement) within the building due to stack effect. Other variables, such as architectural layout, architectural leakage, wind effects, and ventilation systems should all be considered. Simplified algebraic calculations (i.e. hand calculations) do not treat the building as a complete system, and do not account for all variables involved. Therefore, simplified algebraic calculations may result in inaccurate shaft-to-building differential pressure predictions. Based on this analysis, unless conservative leakage values are used, the simplified algebraic calculations may underpredict the shaft-to-building differential pressures. Using simplified algebraic calculations may be suitable for preliminary approximations, however, for design purposes a more complex analysis is recommended. The more complex analysis should consider other variables that affect pressure differentials such as changes in architectural layout and envelope leakage from floor-to-floor, HVAC systems, and wind.


Stack effect Smoke control Stairwell pressurization Elevator pressurization Elevator lobby Building envelope Airtightness Infiltration Leakage 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jensen HughesBaltimoreUSA

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