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Choosing the Right HVAC System: Older Building Air Conditioning


You are considering the renovation of your business space in an older building and are faced with many important decisions and among those is choosing the right HVAC system. You probably feel comfortable with many of your choices such as the best floor plan to meet your needs. But when it comes to selecting a new HVAC system, you may feel lacking in expertise and chilled by the thought of choosing the right HVAC system for your space that is on the cusp of renovation.

Here is some basic information that should help break the ice in the decision-making process and steer you in the right direction in making best choice for your business.

Don’t get spaced out when choosing the right HVAC system and replacing older building air conditioning

One of the most common problems facing business owners replacing older building air conditioning is space limitations. Though your building comes with a lot of charm, it may not come with a lot of space, which will likely guide your HVAC system choice. Even with a space shortage, you have good options when replacing your older building air conditioning, including a ductless system or a Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) system.

After learning the basics for replacing an older air conditioning system, it would be prudent to consult with a qualified HVAC installer and if your building is a designated landmark, a preservation professional could advise you on renovation regulations that will impact your HVAC system choice.

Choosing the right HVAC system: ducted air conditioning

You probably are familiar with ducted air conditioning systems, which are frequently found in homes, residential complexes, offices and commercial buildings, but is a ducted system the best choice for your business?

A ducted HVAC system distributes heated and cooled air through a duct network. These ducts are installed behind walls and ceilings and can transport heat and conditioned air from a central unit to registers throughout your building.

When you’re renovating an older building and replacing an older building air conditioning system, if you already have appropriate ductwork in place, you may not want to reinvent the wheel. By only replacing the central unit, you can reduce your costs. If space permits, a ducted system is also a good choice for restaurants and other businesses that produce humidity. That’s because ducted systems remove moisture from the air more effectively.

When airflow is a major concern, a ducted system can better circulate air and equalize air pressure conditions. If aesthetics are an important part of your environment, a ducted system may be desirable because the ductwork is hidden. Additionally, a ducted system is less expensive to maintain.

Choosing the right HVAC system: going ductless

Instead of utilizing one central unit to produce cool air, a ductless system contains smaller air blowers usually mounted to walls and ceilings. If you don’t have room for ducts when replacing an older building air conditioning system, a ductless system is a viable choice.

Ductless systems are also used to supplement air conditioning systems in additions. If your business has different heating and cooling needs, the air blowers in a ductless system can be individually controlled, which makes it a popular choice for businesses that have varied climate control needs such as computer rooms or storage areas. Ductless systems are also a good choice if you must maintain a dust-free environment. Dust accumulating on ducts can be spread throughout a building.

Related topic: Ducted vs. Ductless Air Conditioning? How to Choose

A VRF system also lends itself to businesses pinched for space or need to accommodate different temperature demands.

Older building air conditioning choices: a VRF system

Besides space limitations, you may be faced with preservation issues when you are replacing your older building air conditioning, especially if your building has an historic designation. When ceilings and floors must be preserved and outward façade changes are stringently restricted, ductless or VRF systems may be the way to go.

A VRF system is capable of supplying heat and cooling and can do both simultaneously to different locations in the same building. The system is comprised of small air handlers that can be individually controlled. This is particularly useful for historic buildings that house a collection that must be preserved.

A VRF system is a good fit for restaurants, retail stores and offices in cities like New York where space is at a premium. These quiet systems are energy efficient because its variable speed compressor only runs at the capacity when needed for current conditions. A VRF system tends to be more expensive upfront than other systems.

Now that you know the types of HVAC systems that might be compatible with your needs while going through the process of choosing the right HVAC system, there is other important information to consider.

Related topic: Is a VRF HVAC System the Right Choice for Your Business?

Avoid a load of inefficiency

When you are looking into choosing the right HVAC system or replacing older building air conditioning, size does matter. Bigger is not always better. The first thing you want to do is ensure that the load calculation is accurately determined, so a properly-sized system is designed for your building. An oversized system can result increased upfront, maintenance and energy costs.

An oversized cooling system cools down the temperature rapidly, but does not run long enough to remove moisture from the air and could leave you feeling cool, but sticky. To compensate, many people will lower a thermostat to allow the air conditioning to work longer. By choosing the right HVAC system with the correct capacity, the equipment will run long enough to dehumidify the air and provide comfort without driving up your energy bill.

Though load calculations are square footage-dependent, there are many other factors to take into consideration in choosing the right HVAC system for your business. The building’s construction, weather conditions, insulation quality and window and door thermal efficiency are among the important components when calculating a load calculation. Look for a contractor who utilizes computer software programs for load calculations.

Related topic: New York HVAC Systems: 8 Reasons Bigger is Not Always Better

Learn more about the best types of air conditioning systems for your type of business from The Ultimate Guide to NYC Light Commercial Air Conditioning.

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Choosing the right HVAC system: energy efficiency ratings

When buying household appliances, you have probably noticed the energy efficiency ratings plastered on your intended purchase. When choosing the right HVAC system, these ratings are critical because your HVAC system accounts for as much as 50-percent of your energy usage.

The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) calculates the energy efficiency of cooling equipment based on a seasonal temperature average. Though the federal government requires a minimum SEER of 13 for systems the northern U.S., the latest efficient systems offer greater efficiency with SEERs of 20 and higher.

If you are replacing an older building air conditioning system, an upgrade from a SEER 10 to 13, will reduce your power consumption by 30-percent. The Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) is based on peak loads during the highest seasonal temperatures. Choose a system with a minimum EER of 11.6 for efficient operation during seasonal temperature peaks.

The HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) measures the efficiency of a heat pump that delivers both heat and air conditioning. These pumps cycle in both directions so they can provide heat in the winter and cooling in the summer. Today’s efficient pumps have HSPF ratings of 8 at minimum.