Regardless of whether it is the height of summer or the depths of winter, your comfort will depend on your HVAC system. Your HVAC system works hard to ensure that you feel warm in winter and comfortably cool in summer, but does it really make a difference if you choose a residential or commercial system? Here we’ll explore the differences between residential and commercial HVAC systems, so you can know what to expect.


Since commercial spaces tend to have far more square footage and serve larger numbers of people, their HVAC systems need more power compared to a residential system. Although sizing for both types of system is similar, including assessing square footage, occupant numbers, peak usage hours, and efficiency, the variables have higher values in a commercial space, so they need a higher tonnage output to provide sufficient heating and cooling. Generally, the power output for a commercial unit will be larger, but less precise, while residential systems have a focus on precise sizing to offer greater cost efficiency.

Equipment Placement:

Commercial heating and cooling systems are commonly placed on rooftops. This is usually because of the space that the larger equipment requires. This is often not practical or necessary for the smaller units of residential systems, which can be placed behind or beside the home.

Even if a commercial premises has unlimited space, there are a number of reasons for rooftop placement. Rooftop equipment placement not only saves space, making use of the unused space on the roof, but can also provide greater security. A rooftop installation will provide greater security against tampering or vandalism while providing greater controlled access for repairs and maintenance. Placing the equipment on the roof can also provide less noise disruption. The larger equipment can be noisier, so roof placement will provide greater noise isolation.


Another area where residential HVAC systems differ from commercial ones is the degree of complexity. Although your residential system may appear complex, it actually has quite a simple design. There are typically eight standard components used in every residential installation, but commercial systems need to be more adapted to the type of building and the level of service needed. In addition to the basic components that are needed to control and disperse heat and cool air, a commercial HVAC system will often need more components to restrict or limit treated air in the various zones of the building. This will be tailored according to the zone occupancy and the activities that occur at different times of the day and night in different areas of the building. Commercial systems also typically require more advanced systems to alleviate exhaust, which is simply not necessary in the typical residential installation.

The Mechanics:

Typically, residential HVAC systems are a split system, which means that there are components inside and outside the building. Generally, it is not possible to modify or expand these components. A commercial system is far more flexible. Owners can accommodate any changing requirements due to increased or decreased operations. Additionally, commercial systems tend to be more modular, so components can be added or removed to adjust capacity. The different parts are housed together that also makes maintenance and upgrading easier.


Residential HVAC drainage systems are compact and can be contained in a small area. Typically, this is just a single pan that is located outside the property. With the size and power of a commercial system, this simple drainage method would not be sufficient, so drainage can be far more complicated. It is not uncommon for a commercial HVAC system to feature multiple pans and pipes to prevent drainage overflowing and ensure complete evaporation. These components add to the space needed to accommodate the system.


Residential HVAC units handle the cooling, heating, and humidity control with an indoor evaporator and outdoor compressor. It is unusual to have additional components since the installation does not include extremes. This is another area where commercial systems differ, as commercial systems use dampers, thermostats, blowers and other equipment to provide treatment in different areas of the building in the different hours of the night and day.

Maintenance Costs:

Due to their simple design, maintenance for residential HVAC systems is actually quite straightforward. Typically, maintenance is only needed at the start of each seasonal phase, so before the summer, when the air conditioning is needed and before the arrival of winter when the heating will be needed. Commercial HVAC system maintenance requires more effort and dedication due to its complexity. The various components and size of the system require additional monitoring and attention, adding to the costs of maintaining and operating the system.

Installation Costs:

In addition to being more costly to maintain, the initial installation costs for commercial systems are higher. As a baseline, basic commercial HVAC systems can start at approximately $4,000, but there are variables that can impact the initial cost, including brand and quality, SEER, unit capacity, and optional features.

It is worth considering that, just like a residential system, more efficient systems will offset their higher initial cost due to the lower operating costs, lower maintenance expenses, and longer warranty periods.

In this regard, both residential and commercial systems are similar, since the price should not be the only consideration when planning an installation. You should look at the efficiency, operating costs, and warranties offered, as this will impact the long term costs of your system.

As we’ve discovered, while there are many similarities, residential and commercial systems are quite different, and they are not interchangeable. It can be tempting to try to cut costs by installing a residential system in your business or vice versa, but this will cost you far more in the long term.

If you’re considering installing an HVAC system at your home or business premises, be sure to speak to a reputable HVAC company. An experienced HVAC technician can assess your property to determine the system that is best suited to the characteristics of your home or business for maximum efficiency and performance.