Seven ways to fight stack effect in buildings

Stack effect can have a nasty effect on buildings during the winter months. Consider these seven steps to mitigate their effect and keep the occupants comfortable.

By Aaron Frantz, PE February 20, 2020

In the depths of winter, there’s nothing nicer than escaping from the wind and cold into a warm building. Unfortunately, sometimes winter creeps from the outdoors into lobbies, causing discomfort for occupants and sometimes freezing pipes. However, don’t be fooled. Your heating system is not always to blame. Consider what stack effect does to a building.

If you’ve ever lit a fireplace, you’ll know that hot air rises up the chimney and cold air is drawn from every corner of the house towards the hearth. Most high rise buildings don’t have chimneys, but they do have something similar: stairwells and elevators shafts. As warm air rises up these shafts, the lowest floors become negatively pressurized, sucking in cold air. Unfortunately, we can’t fight the laws of physics – this negative pressure will always be present in winter on tall buildings.

Seven ways to fight stack effect

Luckily, there are several ways to fight the chill and keep buildings safe and warm:

  1. Vestibules are your friend. Instead of opening the door and hitting the lobby with an icy blast, put two doors in a row. This prevents the momentary direct opening between indoors and outdoors, and is required for many new buildings by energy code.
  2. Revolving doors achieve the same result as vestibules – instead of a blast of cold air when the door is opened, it’s just a little puff.
  3. Insist on tight construction. Even with vestibules, negative pressure pulls air in through windowsills, door jambs, and cracks in walls. The older the building, the worse this effect tends to be.
  4. Place tight doors between your elevator lobby and the reception area. Even sliding doors can help.
  5. Modern HVAC systems can adjust themselves automatically in the winter, providing additional heated make-up air when needed to fight the pressure.
  6. Dedicated cabinet unit heaters in vestibules helps eliminate drafts before they reach the indoors.
  7. Placing lobby return air openings close to the ground helps draw warm air down away from the ceiling, which can be particularly important in tall lobbies.

Fighting stack effect usually requires a combination of these approaches. Expert help can help building managers find the right approach unique to their situation.

This article originally appeared on Peter Basso Associates’ websitePeter Basso Associates is a CFE Media content partner. 

Original content can be found at

Author Bio: Aaron Frantz, PE is a mechanical engineer for Peter Basso Associates' Corporate and Governmental building group.