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Commercial HVAC Systems: An Introduction and Comparison of Various Heating & Cooling Units

As a business owner, you may not be familiar with the latest brands and models of HVAC systems. When people talk of HVAC, air conditioning, heating, makeup air and ventilation, there is so much to choose from that the topic can quickly get confusing.

To help alleviate some of the confusion surrounding commercial HVAC systems, here is a handy guide comprised of all the types of systems available. 

Whether you have a small, medium, or large business, knowing this information will help you find the ideal HVAC setup.

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Air Conditioning Systems

Air conditioning systems used in commercial establishments need to have a variety of heating and cooling capabilities and come with several different setups and layouts.

The main types of commercial air conditioning units consist of Single Split Systems, Multi-Split Systems, and VRF or VRV Systems.

While all of these systems use the same basic technology and nearly identical wall or ceiling mounted units, they have different applications. 

Split System Air Conditioning 

Single split systems used in commercial buildings are the most affordable and suited for small to medium-sized environments. The units offer both heating and cooling to individual rooms, which makes them ideal for coffee shops, offices, and cafes. 

Multiple single split systems can be used together to serve larger spaces or even multiple rooms. The only downside is that you need an outdoor unit for every indoor unit, which means you’ll need the required space if you hope to go with several single split A/C systems.

On the other hand, having a few single splits is cheaper than buying a central system, and you can easily replace a single system as opposed to having to diagnose a complicated problem with a central A/C configuration. 

Multi-Split A/C Systems 

These air conditioning setups work nearly the same as single split units, but you can connect up to nine indoor units to a single outdoor unit. As you can see, there aren’t as many space requirements, making this A/C configuration ideal if you can afford the cost. You can also successfully preserve the aesthetic of your outdoor environment, as opposed to having to house a variety of single splits in your patio area. 

VRF or VRV Air Condition Systems 

VRF or Variable Refrigerant Flow or VRV or Variable Refrigerant Volume essentially mean the same thing. Daikin is the brand that originally developed the technology and called it VRV. The company than protected the term to prevent other manufacturers from using it, which is why everyone else calls it VRF.

VRF/VRV A/C is the best solution for hotels, retail spaces, larger offices, and other medium to large applications. 

There are two types of VRF/VRV air conditioning systems.

Heat Pump

Heat pump VRF/VRV systems provide heating and cooling to a building, making them ideal for open plan areas. 

Heat Recovery

Heat recovery VRF/VRV systems are able to provide simultaneous heating and cooling to different areas at the same time. This makes the A/C system perfect for buildings with many individual rooms, as they recover waste heat from around the building and use it to heat other rooms and hot water. Heat recovery systems are more flexible as you can heat one room and cool another. 

Depending on the commercial air conditioning service you work with, you may hear A/C systems referred to in other ways.

Duct-Free Split Systems

These air conditioning systems use the same basic technology as the split systems with a major difference. While other split systems use ducts to move the treated air into rooms throughout the building, duct-free systems must be placed directly into the rooms they are intended to cool. These rooms will also need to have an outward-facing wall. The blower in a duct-free A/C system is contained in the indoor unit, which allows it to blow treated and much cooler air into the room. 

However, the size and sheer visual presence of the ductless split systems can make them impractical for customer-facing businesses. That is because many see them as noisy and obtrusive. They are a better fit for workshops and other open areas where most of the work is completed in a single room, and where an upscale atmosphere isn’t needed for visiting customers. 

Packaged System Air Conditioners 

Packaged A/Cs contain all the components of an air conditioner in the same area. Split systems have the compressor and condenser coils inside the outdoor unit, whereas the evaporator is contained inside to absorb heat from the interior air. 

With a packaged air conditioning system, the components are all kept inside a box that sits against the wall on the outside of the building. This makes the units much less visually obtrusive to people on the inside of your building. Though, the units can be an eyesore to passersby.

Ductless Mini Split System A/C 

These air conditioners are similar to the duct-free split system air conditioners mentioned earlier. The major difference is that they are smaller and make much less noise. This helps business owners enjoy the convenience of having a ductless air conditioning system without compromising the appearance of your interior space. It should be noted that large rooms or buildings can require that you install multiple ductless mini-split system A/C units before they can begin to cool your space effectively. This might reduce the cost-effectiveness of these models, so choose wisely based on the space you have to work with.

Standard Ducted Split System Air Conditioners 

Standard split systems have an indoor unit, an outdoor unit, and ducts that move the treated air to the necessary rooms. Ducted split system air conditioners can be a good solution for restaurants and businesses with multiple areas to heat and cool, but beware. They have difficult to diagnose when something goes wrong, so it pays to have professionals on hand who can inspect and maintain your ducted system over time. This will keep the system working as it should while keeping your energy bills to an absolute minimum. 

Makeup Air Systems

Makeup air systems replace the air that is removed by the exhaust fans. The system pulls in fresh air from outside of your building and filters it inside to replace existing air that cannot be recirculated. 

Makeup air systems are recommended for buildings where environment concerns warrant a greater need for ventilation to improve the quality of air, and to protect the health of those located inside.

There are a wide variety of commercial makeup air systems available. The type you choose will depend on your requirements, where you want the makeup air system to be located, and your budget. 

Here are the most common types of makeup air systems available. 

Heated Makeup Air Systems

These systems heat the air before it is filtered into the building. The system is mounted to the room and blows air downward. Or, there is also a side discharge unit, which can be mounted outside at ground level so the air can be blown in through the wall.

Cooled Makeup Air Systems 

These systems cool the air before it is filtered inside and have both downward discharge and side discharge units available. 

Simple Fan Unit

These makeup air configurations blow air directly into the interior of your building. There are both downward discharge units and side discharge units available, depending on if you want the fan mounted on the roof or at ground level.  

Heating Systems

Heating systems designed for commercial use can be complex. This is because they are required to heat areas with higher square footage when compared with residential heating units. 

Here are the most common heating systems available for commercial establishments.

Natural Energy

These systems use sustainable resources like solar or geothermal power. These heaters represent a fairly new technology in the United States, but they are very kind to the environment and can save you loads in energy bills in the future. The cost of the units themselves and the installation costs can be prohibitive, but the systems tend to be more cost-effective over time when compared to systems that use fossil fuels.

Oil and Gas Steam Heating

The oil and gas steam configuration is one of the oldest forms of commercial heating systems. The units use fossil fuels to boil, condense, and then pass the steam through pipes in order to heat a building. Not only is this technology behind the times, it’s the least cost-efficient out of all the commercial system types available. The systems are also slow to heat a room, making them less than ideal for most applications. 

Gas or Oil Water Systems 

Water-based HVAC configurations that are powered by gas or oil are another option you can consider. The units are smaller than those used in producing heat. The water is passed through radiators throughout the building. These systems are also less efficient than other methods, as the air must be cleared before the heat is engaged. 

Heat Pumps 

Commercial heat pumps are very cost-efficient. The processes are similar to the technology used in refrigeration as the systems extract heat from cold air, then use a refrigerant to pump generated heat throughout the property. Heat pumps don’t need fossil fuels to function, so heat pump systems are considered an option that is kinder to the environment. 

Ventilation Systems 

Commercial ventilation systems are comprised of ductwork that is typically run through the ceiling and into each room. Each room contains a rectangular opening that allows for efficient airflow.

There are a variety of common parts found in commercial heating and cooling ventilation systems. 

Air Handler

This unit is also sometimes referred to as an air handler unit or AHU. The air handler attaches directly to the duct system and is made of a large metal box that contains a blower, cooling and heating elements, filter racks, sound attenuators, and dampers. 

The metal box is manufactured from galvanized sheet metal and is designed to regulate and circulate the air as part of the ventilation system. An AHU can be designed for both indoor and outdoor use. The latter is known as a package unit (PU) or rooftop unit (RTU).

Dampers regulate the airflow inside your establishment. There are two types of dampers available. Volume Control Dampers let the volume of airflow be adjusted, while Combination Smoke and Fire Dampers are designed to seal off the ductwork entirely when smoke and fire are detected. 

Then there are air measuring dampers, low leakage, thermal, balancing, marine, tunnel transit, and many more. 

Duct fittings and configurations can include tees, ells, and reducers. These components are responsible for equalizing the duct pressure while balancing the airflow. For instance, a reducer is used when switching from one sized duct to another.

There is also a vent cap that provides protection for the open end of the ductwork stack. Each fitting and configuration help the ductwork perform its duties efficiently, which is to allow the free flow of clean and conditioned air. 

Duct outlets can include registers, grilles, and diffusers. These parts divide the airflow in a trunk and branch design. For instance, diffusers allow the conditioned air to be distributed evenly with minimal noise. 

Of course, no commercial ventilation system would be complete without vents. These are placed in the ceiling with their edges corresponding to the opening of the duct system. Warm or cool air will pour through the commercial ductwork, allowing it to disperse to the rooms below. 

How Do These Systems Compare? 

By now you have lots of questions – do you need an HVAC system, air conditioner, heater, ventilation system, or all of the above? And with all the brands and models to choose from, how do you know which components will give you the cleanest air, most energy savings, and greatest value for your budget? 

The fact is, all of these systems differ depending on the size and type of your business, your budget, aesthetic needs, and a host of other factors. 

The best solution is to work with a commercial HVAC service company who can not only answer all your questions, but they can also point you in the direction of the perfect HVAC system for your needs and budget. 

Hoodbuilder can help you find the perfect HVAC, heating and cooling, and ventilation components to suit your needs, and we can provide full maintenance and service of those units over the course of their lifetime. You could consider us the one-stop-shop for all your HVAC needs. 

Call now in Denver, Colorado for a free estimate and we can help you compare and contrast the latest HVAC brands and models.

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