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Commercial HVAC

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

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Is it time to replace your air conditioning system?

Did you just barely make it through the summer with your old air conditioning system? If you’ve been living with uncomfortable temperatures, humidity issues and repeated breakdowns, you know you’re going to need to replace it before the next cooling season rolls around. And if you’re smart (which of course you are as a business owner or manager!) then now is the right time to think about it.

That’s true for a couple of reasons:

  • At the end of the cooling season, you can get a great deal. Many suppliers will have equipment on hand that didn’t sell over the summer that they’re happy to sell for a discounted price to make room for new models.
  • Experts recommend replacing your heating system at the same time as your air conditioning system. In many cases, both systems work together and if you replace one without replacing the other, your comfort may be compromised and it will cost you more in the long run. As we move into heating season, now is an ideal time to replace both systems without disrupting your business.

Related article: Why Getting New Air Conditioning Should Mean Getting a New Heating System.

If you have already started to research your options, you may be a little overwhelmed with all the new technology choices. The brochures and websites are often written in techno-speak and peppered with confusing acronyms. Today we’re going to clear up some of the confusion and explain one of the acronyms you absolutely must know about for commercial climate control: the VRF HVAC system.

VRF HVAC system: what’s in it for your business?

So what exactly is a VRF HVAC system, and why is it so important for you to know about it?

VRF stands for “Variable Refrigerant Flow” and it’s the latest and greatest in heating and cooling comfort. Here are some of the reasons these new systems are becoming very popular choices for commercial HVAC:

  • The VRF HVAC system can provide both heating and cooling in your space. This is great when you are replacing air conditioning AND heating equipment, since one new system can replace both! (In colder parts of the country, some additional secondary heating source, such as radiant floor heat, may be needed.)
  • The efficient design of a VRF HVAC system means they use considerably less energy.
  • The quiet operation of a VRF HVAC system is ideal for the business environment.
  • The VRF HVAC system is designed to provide precise comfort control across multiple zones that may have different heating and cooling needs. As a result, each area of your space is consistently comfortable with well-controlled humidity and no hot or cold spots.
  • Since the air handlers are smaller and a VRF HVAC system does not usually require ducts, it does not require as much wall and ceiling space for the equipment.
  • The VRF HVAC system has built-in controls that may allow you to skip purchasing expensive building management software.

How the VRF HVAC system works

The VRF HVAC system is air-cooled and refrigerant-based, similar to traditional central air systems used for residential and light commercial spaces. They have outdoor condenser units and indoor fan coil units. However, the design of the VRF HVAC system is quite different than the older split system.

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 system is capable of providing not only cooling, but also heat, and even both simultaneously to different areas within the space. The system can provide heat by using the residual heat from the cooling process. 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.

Commercial spaces that are well suited for a VRF HVAC system

While the VRF HVAC system has become increasingly popular in the US over the past 5 to 10 years, these systems have been the HVAC technology of choice in Europe, Japan, China and other parts of the world since the 1980s.

Especially in large cities like New York, where space is at a premium and energy costs are high, business owners are increasingly choosing the VRF HVAC system for these types of spaces:

  • retail stores
  • restaurants
  • office spaces

In addition, property managers are using the VRF HVAC system for luxury apartment buildings and brownstones.

3 tips you should know when considering a VRF HVAC system

Here are some important facts about choosing a VRF HVAC system that you may not learn from the sales brochures and manufacturer’s web sites:

# 1. UPFRONT COST: A VRF HVAC system may cost more than a traditional central air system up front. And in colder climates like NYC, you may also need supplemental heating such as radiant floor heat. Yet 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. EXPERTISE IS CRITICAL: You can’t hire just anyone to install a VRF HVAC system. 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 a VRF HVAC system, 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.

Related article: You Can’t Afford to Make These 7 Air Conditioning Installation Mistakes.

# 3. MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS: Like other HVAC systems, a VRF HVAC system must 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 HVAC 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 to Contract Confidence: Transitioning to a New HVAC Service Provider.

Get Your Free Guide to Vetting HVAC Service Providers