What is a VRF System for residential air conditioning?
If you’re considering replacing the air conditioning system in your NYC luxury residence, there’s a new type of HVAC technology on the market that you need to know about. It’s called Variable Refrigerant Flow (or VRF system) and it’s the latest and greatest in heating and cooling comfort.
Why a VRF system is the technology you want for your HVAC system
VRF systems have been the HVAC technology of choice in Europe, Japan, China and other parts of the world for quite some time. Over the past 5 to 10 years, VRF systems have 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 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 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 system 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 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 a VRF system
In New York City, where space is at a premium and energy costs are high, residents and business owners are increasingly choosing a VRF system 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 system
1. Energy efficiency. A VRF system uses less energy for several reasons. The VRF 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 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 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 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 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 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 a VRF system doesn’t usually require ducts, it may not 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 your luxury residence, 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 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 system
Now that you know more about what is a VRF system, you should know about some issues to consider when you choose this new technology:
1. Higher up-front cost. A VRF system may cost more than a traditional central air system 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 a VRF 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. May require supplemental heating in NYC. A VRF 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 system brands have much larger units than others.
Don’t forget maintenance
Like other HVAC systems, a VRF system does 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 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.