Many of us rely on our HVAC systems to keep our indoor temperatures comfortable throughout the year. If you’re a business owner or you’re just curious about how these systems differ in a residential and commercial installation, this is the article for you. Essentially, there are seven main differences to consider when you are comparing these two types of HVAC systems.
- Power Requirements and Consumption
A commercial space will usually have a larger square footage because it will need to meet the needs of more people. So, any HVAC system installed in an office, retail outlet, or other commercial space will have a higher power requirement and consume more energy than even a large residential system. When a commercial HVAC system is sized for the space, a load calculation will be carried out that takes into account factors, such as the number of people using the space, the layout, the peak usage hours, building orientation, and more. All of these values will be higher than a residential load calculation which means that a higher tonnage output will be required for heating and cooling. In broader terms, it’s easier to think of commercial HVAC systems in terms of more power and less precision when compared to a residential system. In terms of energy efficiency, a residential HVAC system will always perform better than a more powerful commercial system.
- HVAC System Placements
The most common location for a commercial HVAC system is a rooftop. This is because the outdoor units are much larger than a residential unit which would usually be located on an exterior wall. But, a rooftop installation is also preferred because it saves internal space to make the most of the internal square footage. Renting commercial space is expensive enough without accommodating a number of large HVAC units. Another factor is the enhanced security because rooftop mounted expensive units are less prone to theft and vandalism. The heavier grade HVAC systems used in a commercial application can generate a significant level of noise. This can be extremely disruptive, and mounting these units on the roof negates this problem. A roof mounted unit is easier to maintain without causing interruption to normal business activities.
- HVAC System Mechanics
Most residential HVAC systems are split systems where a portion of the components are indoors with an outdoor unit. Attempting to scale this type of system up to a commercial sized system would not be possible. A commercial HVAC system is designed to be a more flexible solution that can be adapted to meet varying needs. After all, a business can scale operations up or down at peak periods or deal with short term contract work. Most commercial HVAC systems have a modular architecture that allows the user to increase or decrease their size and output as needed. At any time, certain components can be added or taken away to increase the cooling and heating capacity in the building. These components are grouped together, which makes this process far easier.
- Comparing Complexity
A typical commercial HVAC system is quite complex when compared to a residential system. Most residential HVAC systems have a pretty simple design, with eight components included with every installation. A commercial system must be more complex because it needs to be flexible to meet changing needs. This can include additional components that can control, disperse and limit heating and cooling in designated zones. This helps the user to focus on varying levels of activity and changing levels of occupancy that can occur throughout the working day. A commercial HVAC system also needs a more advanced exhaust alleviation system which would not be required in your home.
- Drainage Issues
A residential HVAC drainage system can be a compact unit that is confined to a very small area. In many cases, this is a single drain pan connected to the drain with a simple hose. But, the size and output of a commercial system make this type of smaller drainage system unsuitable. These larger HVAC systems typically have multiple pipes and drain pans to facilitate the higher volumes of moisture collected from the indoor air. So, these drainage components require extra space to accommodate them.
- Maintenance Costs
The level of maintenance required for a typical residential HVAC system is extremely low when compared to a commercial system. At the bare minimum, it’s recommended that a residential system is inspected and serviced prior to each heating and cooling season. This is essential to ensure performance, maintain efficiency, lower the energy bills and reduce the chances of a failure. A commercial HVAC system is more complex, and it needs regular maintenance and additional monitoring to maintain efficiency. As you might imagine, this extra attention increases the maintenance costs. Keeping a commercial HVAC system in a well maintained condition can represent a significant investment in addition to the higher running costs.
- Purchasing and Installation Costs
As you might imagine, a commercial HVAC system requires a much higher initial investment to cover the purchase price and the installation costs. As an example: buying and installing a basic commercial HVAC system with rooftop units can cost almost $4,000. This is a baseline figure because there are a number of factors that can affect the costs when you install this type of cooling and heating system, such as the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER), the quality of the equipment, any optional features, the capacity of the unit and the location of the building. At this point, some people shy away from investing more in a high efficiency system, but this is a mistake. There are many case studies that show that these higher quality HVAC systems have lower maintenance and operating costs and longer warranty periods.
As you can see, the size of a commercial HVAC system compared to a residential system comes down to more than just the size. In an average home, the entire heating and cooling potential can be handled by a few units, and there is no need for a modular design. The higher output, increased complexity, and increased need for maintenance increase the running costs significantly. But, you can make savings if you choose a high efficiency system and get regular maintenance for your residential and commercial HVAC systems.
If you’re considering an HVAC system installation or your system needs some essential maintenance, contact your local heating and cooling specialist today.