An algebraic thermal zonal model of the ventilation of underground transformer substations during a standardised temperature rise test is presented in this paper. The development and adjustment of the proposed model rely on the analysis of the air flow pattern and temperature distributions obtained by a more complex model numerically solved by means of CFD techniques. The flow domain of the model represents a section of the substations divided into several interrelated zones where the mass and the energy conservation equations are formulated and the generated system of nonlinear algebraic equations is solved. The model is validated by comparing its results with the ones obtained by the CFD model and with the experimental results of eight temperature rise tests under different conditions. A parametric analysis was carried out on the model to prove its utility as an efficient tool to improve and optimise the thermal performance of transformer substations during the design process. From the parametric study it has been inferred that the main parameters affecting the ventilation of the substations are the pass area between the LV-MV zone and the transformer zone, the surface area of the ventilation grilles in the substation with horizontal ventilation, and the perimeter of the protruding ventilation vents in the substation with vertical ventilation. (c) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.