If you’re considering replacing the HVAC system in your NYC commercial space or high-end residence, there’s a new type of HVAC technology on the market that you need to know about. It’s called Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) and it’s the latest and greatest in heating and cooling comfort.
What is a Variable Refrigerant Flow or VRF HVAC system?
Variable Refrigerant Flow, or VRF HVAC systems, have been the HVAC system of choice in Europe, Japan, China and other parts of the world for quite some time. Over the past 5 to 10 years, VRF HVAC technology has become increasingly popular in the US and especially in large urban areas like New York City.
Like traditional central air conditioning systems used for residential and light commercial spaces, VRF HVAC systems are air-cooled and refrigerant-based, using outdoor condenser units and indoor fan coil units. But the similarity stops there.
Instead of one large, noisy unit pumping out air to the whole space, a VRF HVAC system features several smaller air handlers that can be individually controlled and piped back to one system. The term variable refrigerant flow, or VRF, refers to the system’s ability to control the amount of refrigerant flowing to each of these small air handlers.
This sophisticated new VRF HVAC technology is capable of providing not only cooling, but also heat, and even both simultaneously to different areas within the space. The use of multiple indoor units provides the ability to create zones that can be individually controlled. What’s more, these VRF HVAC systems are very quiet and energy-efficient because the variable-speed compressor runs only at the capacity needed for the current conditions.
NYC spaces that are ideal for VRF HVAC systems
In New York City, where space is at a premium and energy costs are high, residents and business owners are increasingly choosing VRF HVAC systems for these types of spaces:
- high-end residences including brownstone townhouses and luxury apartments
- retail stores
- office spaces
- anywhere that requires customized heating and cooling over multiple zones
7 reasons to choose a VRF HVAC system
1. Energy efficiency. VRF HVAC systems use less energy for several reasons. The system is designed to provide exactly the amount of cooling needed for the current conditions, which means it runs less frequently and at a lower capacity. The VRF HVAC system is also designed to capture heat from the cooling process and reuse it in other areas that may need heating.
2. Quiet operation. In a VRF HVAC system, the noisier condensing unit is typically outside, and the indoor air handlers are smaller and quieter than a traditional split system.
3. Heat and cool simultaneously. The VRF HVAC system captures residual heat absorbed from the air during the cooling process, and redirects that heat to other parts of the building that need heat. That means you can have air conditioning in the living room for a party, while you heat the bedroom where the baby is sleeping. Or you can have heat in the winter for cooler window offices, and air conditioning in the central conference room for a large meeting.
4. Consistent comfort. The VRF HVAC system’s compressor can detect the precise requirements of each zone, and send the precise amount of refrigerant needed to do the job. As a result, each area of your space is consistently comfortable with well-controlled humidity and no hot or cold spots.
5. Less downtime. Since the VRF HVAC system is designed to run only when needed and under partial-load conditions, there is less wear and tear on the parts. That means fewer breakdowns. Also, if something goes wrong with one air handler, often the others are unaffected. That means your whole space won’t be without air conditioning all at once.
6. Requires less space. Since the air handlers are smaller and VRF HVAC systems don’t usually require ducts, they don’t require as much wall and ceiling space for the equipment. That means you get to keep those gorgeous high ceilings in your apartment.
7. Modern controls. For residences, you can take advantage of mobile control technology that lets you adjust temperature settings for each zone from your mobile device. For commercial settings, the VRF HVAC system’s built-in controls may allow you to skip purchasing expensive building management software.
Related article: 5 Money Saving Features to Look for in New Thermostats.
Issues to consider when choosing a VRF HVAC system
1. Higher up-front cost. VRF HVAC systems may cost more than traditional central air systems up front. But this cost can be offset by lower energy bills and repair expenses over time. Ask an HVAC expert to help you with a cost-benefit comparison.
2. Requires an experienced installer. These systems are extremely sophisticated and require a trained and experienced installer. If you choose a company that doesn’t understand the unique requirements of VRF HVAC systems, you’ll end up with sub-par performance and you’ll pay more in the end to have an expert come in to fix it.
3. May require supplemental heating in NYC. The VRF HVAC system may not be able to adequately heat your NYC space during the coldest months. Many homeowners and business owners install radiant floor heat as a supplement when needed.
4. Consider the size of the air handlers when choosing a brand. If space is tight (when isn’t it in NYC?) be sure to ask your installer to check the size of the air handling units when recommending a brand. Some VRF HVAC brands have much larger units than others.
Don’t forget maintenance
Like other HVAC systems, VRF HVAC systems do need to be regularly inspected and maintained by a professional. With such a sophisticated system, you want to be sure to choose a provider with the right experience, and who can design a maintenance contract based on the needs of your system.
When you’re considering replacing your old HVAC system with a new VRF HVAC system, you may be concerned that your old maintenance company may not be up to the task. If you think it’s time to switch air conditioning companies, but you’re unsure about how to proceed, grab a copy of our free guide: Contract Confidence: Transitioning to a New HVAC Service Provider.