Commercial HVAC Systems 101

A building’s indoor environment is primarily delivered through its HVAC system, which, if not up to par, can take a toll on your health. This pocket guide addresses everything you need to know about commercial HVAC systems. So for your next HVAC installation or service call, make sure you check it out.

Types of Commercial HVAC Systems

Selecting the right HVAC unit is critical to ensuring that your environment is adequately controlled and eco-friendly. Major types of commercial HVAC systems include:

Standard Split Systems

A standard split, as its name implies, comes split between the heating and cooling modules. It is, by far, the most common type of HVAC systems that typically  contains:

  • An outdoor unit with the condenser coil and compressor
  • An indoor unit containing the evaporator coil and blower alongside furnaces for adequate air circulation and refrigerant conversion
  • Ductwork responsible for carrying air throughout your premises
  • A thermostat to control the systems
  • Other operational components that enhance the indoor air quality

Standard split HVACs offer more energy efficiency and better protection from airborne pollutants. They are also popular as central heating and air-conditioning systems.

Packaged Systems

A packaged HVAC is an all-in-one heating and cooling system ideal for commercial premises. This compact-sized system is usually stored on a roof or to the side of a building, making itself again highly useful for small spaces like offices and homes. Its components include:

  • An air conditioner (or heat pump) with an evaporator (or fan coil)
  • A thermostat for system control

Packaged HVACs are also very efficient and easy to maintain, but they are generally used in warmer climates as their heating isn’t as efficient as cooling. 

Geothermal HVAC Systems

A Geothermal System, unsurprisingly, uses Earth temperature for heating or cooling your property. Water is circulated through its underground pipework where it can stay warm in winter and cool in summer. The heat transferred between the air and the ground is subsequently used for temperature maintenance in homes and buildings.

Geothermal commercial HVAC systems are considered the most energy-efficient, offering the lowest annual energy costs and long-term equipment value.

Duct-Free Systems

Ductless HVAC systems are used for spaces where conventional ducted systems are incompatible. They are easy to install and repair. The refrigerant lines run between the input and output units, hence eliminating the need for complex ductwork.

Duct-free systems usually contain:

  • An outdoor heat pump unit with the compressor, condenser, and fan
  • Electrical wires and tubing for the refrigerant
  • A thermostat to keep the environment controlled

You can mount them anywhere on the wall or ceiling of your home without damaging it. 

Zone Systems

Also recognized as a mini-split, a zoned HVAC system is typically installed in various zones. Each zone (indoor unit) has its own temperature set point and operating mode, so you can control your room temperature per your very preferences.

Zone HVAC systems use dampers in the ductwork to control the way air flows in your dwelling. If one of your rooms is excessively hot or cold, this energy-efficient model is the best fit for you.

Hybrid Systems

Hybrid systems use an electric heat pump in conjunction with a furnace to heat or cool your space. They are way similar to standard-split systems, but with a key difference of an electric hybrid heating system that makes these HVACs more cost-effective.

All of these commercial HVAC systems are broadly categorized as centralized and decentralized HVACs.

A quick difference between the two is, centralized systems treat the entire building as a single unit while decentralized systems operate for one or more small locations within a space. Check this comparison chart for more understanding of which system is best to choose and why:

ParametersCentralized HVACDecentralized HVAC
InstallationDuctwork required, costly and complex installationSimple ductless installation
Capacity ControlBetter modulating control allowing improved temperature/humidity control under any load conditionNo modulating control; instead, the compressor is cycled on/off in response to the signals received from the thermostat
Temperature ControlProportional temperature control for maximum comfortConventional two-position (on/off) control
Environment ControlComplete control of temperature, humidity, indoor air quality, and circulationModerate air control, only Thermal Air Treatment (TAT) is possible
ReliabilityCentralized HVACs are non-distributed systems, so if any equipment fails to work, the entire system suffersDistributed in nature, decentralized systems offer increased reliability. So, in case a unit fails, the rest of the system keeps working. Anyways, this may be a flaw leading the entire system towards failure if the standby option is not available
FlexibilityDiverse options for unmatched occupancy comfortFixed air delivery rate
EfficiencyLess efficient as it divides the load capacity across an entire buildingBetter efficiency as the air is circulated directly to the location you need to heat or cool
Expected LifetimeDurable systems that usually last for 15 to 20 yearsLess durable systems that last no longer than 15 years
Total CostExpensiveEconomical
System MaintenanceAffordable and easierCostly and difficult

As a matter of fact, centralized commercial HVAC systems are though a bit costly, but they come up with more comfort and convenience. Among the types discussed earlier, all except geothermal and zoned HVACs are centralized systems.

Benefits of AI-Controlled Commercial HVAC Systems

The performance of centralized HVAC systems can be further optimized with advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). AI uses progressive learning algorithms to make machines work smarter. And when installed in HVAC systems, it enables them to respond to different ambient conditions dynamically.

While buildings with traditional HVAC systems operate based on fixed, pre-defined setpoints, AI-enabled systems allow them to adjust the temperature intelligently.

A few use cases of AI-controlled commercial HVAC systems include:

  • If the weather is cold outside, the system increases the air temperature to ensure the building stays safely warm;
  • If the outside air is normal, the AI HVAC adjusts the tradeoff to room temperature;
  • If the building occupancy load is greater, the system increases the temperature threshold based on the number of occupants; &
  • If there’s no occupant in the building, the system turns off automatically.

Unsurprisingly, AI HVAC systems are more efficient and intelligent than conventional HVACs. They maintain the temperature and humidity level of your premises to the levels recommended by the federal government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Listed below are the five major advantages of these systems:

Energy Efficiency Keeps Utility Bills Low

The most obvious benefit of AI-enabled commercial HVAC systems is “energy efficiency,” which means it puts more money in your pocket. These energy-friendly systems reduce power demands and conserve energy during peak demand periods.

Improved Ventilation System Mitigates Airborne Contamination

AI-controlled commercial HVAC systems not only slash your bills in half, but they also combat harmful bacteria and airborne viruses like COVID-19. A recent study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health showed that SARS-CoV-2 (a virus that causes COVID-19) remains viable in aerosols for a whopping 3 hours. ASHRAE also mentions in its practice-based article Mitigating Airborne Infection Transmission with HVAC Systems that COVID-19 can be transmitted through aerosols.

High-performing AI HVAC systems offer better ventilation and air filtration to kill contaminated viruses with better precision. What happens is that when an airborne virus enters inside a building, you can either bring in fresh air from outdoors or remove the virus from the indoor air of your building.

DDC Sensors Enable Better Control

AI-controlled commercial HVAC systems contain “self-controlled” DDC sensors that generate input signals for all possible environmental conditions, including moisture, airflow, humidity, dewpoint, and CO2. The sensors also send alerts regarding occupancy and vacancy rates. Thus, if the environmental condition changes, the DDC automatically calibrates itself to adjust the ambiance.

Preemptive Scheduling Improves System Performance

AI-controlled HVAC systems facilitate the functionality of Demand Response (DR) programs to reduce your utility bills. The program follows a preemptive approach to monitor your building’s energy consumption 24/7. This way, you can minimize your energy rate during peak demand times and avoid power blackouts, brownouts, or energy fluctuations. It also helps you extend equipment life span saving more money in the long run.

Energy-Efficient Equipment Reduce Environmental Impact

To protect the environment, AI HVAC systems utilize energy-efficient components that minimize carbon footprint and reduce environmental impact. They conserve energy during peak hours and utilize it in off-peak times. As you use less electricity, you ultimately reduce the number of toxic fumes released by power plants.

Veritably, artificial intelligence equipped commercial HVAC systems are a great way for you to edge forward towards unmatched comfort and convenience.

ActiveBAS is at the forefront of developing smart energy management systems. EnerControl is our proprietary tool―a system upgrade―that utilizes AI to revolutionize the way you perceive your building’s HVAC. Once you install this tool, it wades through your building behavior and implements real-time optimization techniques to make it smart and energy-efficient.

If you’re looking to create a smarter building today, contact ActiveBAS to learn how we can help you smarten up your building at no-upfront costs.