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Ductless AC System? NYC: Think VRF for Comfort & Efficiency


Trying to decide on the right ductless AC system for a NYC luxury residential or light commercial space? It pays to consider variable refrigerant flow or VRF systems for the ultimate in comfort and efficiency.

While it may be unfamiliar to some, VRF technology is not new. In fact, it’s been the ductless AC system of choice in Japan and Europe for decades. These ductless AC units have been gaining in popularity in the US over the past 10 years or so, particularly in the Northeast, including New York City, and on the West Coast, according to a report earlier this year by ACHRNews.

Read on for a review of when you may want or need to choose a ductless AC system in NYC, and why VRF is an ideal choice.

Reasons to go with a ductless AC system for NYC light commercial & luxury residential spaces

Limited space for ducts in older or historic buildings. Installing air conditioning systems in NYC is challenging partly because of the wide variety of building spaces. Luxury residences as well as light commercial spaces (including offices, restaurants, retail and more) can be housed in anything from uber-modern high rises to historic brownstones. VRF systems are ideal for both (more on that in a minute).

However, going with a ductless AC system may be required in older buildings that have lower ceiling heights and limited space inside walls for ductwork. It’s also a good option when there’s a long distance between the indoor evaporator unit and the outdoor condensing unit. In that case, a ducted system would need long duct runs that impede efficiency, so a ductless AC system may be a better choice.

Custom cooling zones are required. There are many reasons that people want individually-controlled zones for both residences and commercial spaces:

  • In a luxury apartment, for example, homeowners may want to raise the temperature in a bedroom where a baby or elderly person is sleeping, while cooling the living and dining rooms for a party.
  • In a restaurant, the kitchen may need cooling while the dining room needs heat.
  • Even office spaces have computer rooms that need more cooling than interior offices that may be too cold without providing multiple cooling zones.
    It’s much easier to provide this zoning with a ductless AC system (and especially with VRF) than it is to zone a ducted system.

Need to reduce dust. Homeowners may be dealing with allergies. Businesses may also have a need to reduce dust in an office or manufacturing facility. With a ductless AC system, forced air is not introduced to the space through ducts, which can decrease the amount of dust.

Related article: Ducted vs. Ductless Air Conditioning: How to Choose

Why VRF is an ideal choice for a ductless AC system

Ability to heat and cool simultaneously. As mentioned previously, there are often times when both homeowners and businesses need heating and cooling at the same time. That’s especially true during the spring and fall in New York City. VRF’s heat recovery feature makes it possible to capture the residual heat from the cooling process and use it to warm another part of the space. Restaurants and hotels can even make use of the VRF’s heat recovery capability to produce hot water.

Customizable comfort. VRF systems are actually central systems with the ability to create multiple, individually controlled zones. That’s a better option than the typical ductless AC system, which really consists of multiple individual units placed throughout the space. The VRF detects the requirements of each zone, and sends the precise amount of refrigerant needed to cool the space. As a result, the space is consistently comfortable, with well-controlled humidity and no hot or cold spots.

Energy efficiency. The VRF system features inverted compressors that can operate under better under partial-load conditions. Rather than running at top capacity all the time, and turning on and off frequently, the system runs only at the capacity that’s needed. This saves energy as well as improving the performance of the ductless AC system.

Modern controls. Homeowners can take advantage of mobile technology that lets them adjust temperature settings remotely for each zone of their space (something that can’t easily be achieved with a traditional ductless AC system). For businesses, the VRF system’s sophisticated, built-in controls may allow them to forego purchasing expensive building management systems.

Smaller air handlers. VRF systems tend to have smaller air handlers, which are easier to squeeze into tight NYC spaces. Size can vary by brand, so be sure to shop around if space is a major concern.

Related topic: 7 Reasons to Choose VRF HVAC Technology for Your New Air Conditioning.

A few cautions about choosing VRF for a ductless AC system

Consider ventilation requirements. As with any ductless AC system, it’s important to ensure that the fresh-air and ventilation requirements are taken into account. Make sure the system you choose meets your ventilation loads as prescribed by ASHRAE 62.1/62.2.

Be ready to provide cost/benefit analysis. VRF systems cost more initially than other types of ductless AC units. However, over the life of the unit they can often be less expensive due to efficiency and energy savings. VRF systems also tend to be more reliable, since the design of the system produces less wear-and-tear on the parts that can lead to breakdowns. That means fewer repair visits and lower repair expenses.

Complex installation and service. It’s essential that HVAC installers and service techs be properly trained to work on a VRF system. Understanding the unique requirements of these complex AC systems is required to avoid sub-par performance.

Given the complexity of this beneficial new technology, you’ll want to be sure your system is both adequately designed and properly installed. How will you know if your installer has the necessary expertise? That questions becomes even more critical for a large facility. Find out how to properly vet HVAC companies with this useful resource: The NYC Facilities Manager’s Guide to Choosing an HVAC Company.

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