Commercial HVAC systems are more complex than residential systems. Whether a project involves new construction or a renovation, any issues in the design or installation process can mean lost income, lost clientele, and expensive changes to current blueprints and system configuration. In a worst-case scenario, you may have to completely reinstall the system. Commercial air conditioning has special requirements from design to construction, to ongoing maintenance. In this complete guide, we will help you understand all of them.
What Is Commercial HVAC?
A commercial air conditioning system, like a residential one, is designed to maintain comfortable temperature and humidity levels. Gas, oil, or electricity may be used for heating and cooling. The HVAC may extract warmer indoor air and cool it using refrigerant or a water-cooling system. Heat pumps can also be used to transfer heat outdoors.
In a system that uses circulating water, a boiler is used to heat water. The hot water is then distributed through pipes within walls, ceilings, and floors, thereby warming the air from within the structure. Other elements of commercial HVAC design include:
- Ventilation: Fans draw in outside air and move outdoor and re-used indoor air through filters. At the same time, they pull contaminated air out of the building. A commercial ventilation system should remove carbon dioxide (CO2) and other diluted gases, odors, and unwanted particles. Various controls automate airflow control and constantly evaluate airflow to identify leaks and pressure issues, test indoor air quality, and evaluate load and capacity use.
- Controls: Commercial buildings typically use programmable thermostats for precise control throughout the day. They may also include direct digital controls that rely on a central computer to monitor data from sensors and automate temperature management. Meanwhile, staff can also adjust settings manually, view performance parameters, and troubleshoot the system from a main workstation.
Types of Commercial HVAC Systems
When selecting an HVAC system, it’s important to consider many design factors. Capacity, energy efficiency, and calculations for heating, cooling, and airflow requirements are just a few. Floor plans are important as well. They help determine the right configuration, as commercial systems are often custom fabricated and installed while building occupancy rates must also be considered.
In addition, there are different HVAC systems available. The most commonly used ones in commercial buildings are:
- Packaged Systems: Integrate the compressor, condenser, evaporator, fan coil, and thermostat in a single unit. A packaged terminal air conditioner can be window-mounted in hotels, hospitals, and residential buildings.
- Split Systems: Used in small commercial buildings and connect to the ductwork. Zoning is possible, but separate HVAC units may be required for each zone, cluttering rooftop or indoor space.
- Rooftop Systems: A rooftop unit (RTU) is a packaged system placed on a flat roof, contained in weatherproof housing. It’s an air handler that can heat, cool or both. Air is pulled in by an air hood, passes through dampers that regulate airflow, filtered, and then conditioned before reaching the duct system. Mixing outdoor and indoor air helps control CO2 levels and system load.
- VRF Systems: These are ductless and use heat pumps or heat recovery systems. Suited for medium to large buildings, they control refrigerant flow to indoor units, which determines the amount of heating or cooling in each zone. The equipment is typically compact, quiet, and efficient thanks to a variable compressor speed.
Importance of Proper Planning and Design
Commercial HVAC systems are complex and expensive. When your system is properly planned, it will be sized to your building and installed so it’ll meet your needs in terms of peak performance and efficiency. This reduces ductwork leaks, repair costs, and the frequency of emergency visits.
Diligent planning helps control costs and cash flow, especially when you budget for HVAC work such as preventative maintenance. It also ensures consistent air temperatures throughout the building and lowers the risk of disruptions due to system breakdowns.
Key components of an HVAC design plan for a commercial building include:
- Size: Commercial heating and cooling systems generally serve larger spaces than residential systems. Therefore, they have larger components that are more powerful. While a residential AC can have an up to 5-ton capacity, commercial rooftop units can be up to 50 tons.
- Location: While a residential HVAC unit may be placed in the backyard or in a basement or attic, commercial units are often located in a dedicated utility room. This can be in the basement, alongside the building, or on the roof.
- Zoning: Zoning is often necessary because a commercial building may have a range of indoor climate needs. From offices to hallways, to equipment rooms, different areas need to be controlled independently. Oftentimes, one zone can be repaired at a time to reduce disruptions.
- Drainage: The humidity extracted by the HVAC system creates condensation, which is collected by piping and into a tray. In commercial systems, the network of pipes and drains is much larger and more complex than in a home.
- Logic Controllers/Sensors: An economizer is typically not part of a residential HVAC system. A commercial system uses this to bring in cool outside air. This process helps flush out heat from the building, which lowers energy output, reduces wear and tear on the system, and increases ventilation.
About Commercial HVAC Maintenance
Commercial heating and cooling systems require more frequent maintenance than residential equipment. They consist of larger components that can be more difficult to access. Maintenance is thus more costly. However, it has major benefits in terms of increased system lifespan, more reliable temperature control, and more consistent indoor air quality. A contaminated system can cause your eyes to water or make breathing difficult. While a well-maintained HVAC will reduce ownership costs, it will also ensure your building is a healthier, more comfortable environment.
A maintenance plan should be customized based on system size and complexity. You’ll need to hire a skilled maintenance provider. Instead of waiting for trouble to schedule service, employ a maintenance plan that includes replacing filters, monitoring for signs of trouble such as odors and noises, and removing dirt and debris from the system. Electrical equipment, pans and drains, seals, air ducts, insulation, and heating/cooling bills should be checked periodically for any changes.
These are some of the most common problems to look for in a commercial HVAC system:
- The compressor constantly turns on and off (short-cycling).
- Refrigerant leaks or loss of oil from valves, connections, and service ports.
- Clogged air filters, causing reduced air flow and negative air pressure.
- Dust, dirt, and debris contaminating the condenser coils.
- Vibration and loud noise including squeaking, thudding, rattling, or booming.
- Condensation, clogs, and mold due to a clogged drain.
- Loose evaporator belt, which reduces fan speed and can freeze the coil.
These problems can be addressed or avoided by checking the system regularly, having minor problems fixed quickly, and having a plan that includes assessing every part and feature. Working with the right contractor means your commercial HVAC design, installation, and maintenance needs will be consistently met, reducing the risk of inefficiencies and breakdowns.
How to Choose a Contractor
Select a contractor knowledgeable in HVAC design, construction, and evaluation. They should have a portfolio of past work and be attentive to planning and customization. At IRBIS Heating Cooling Plumbing, our technicians are trained in the latest technologies, equipment, and commercial heating/cooling trends. We help businesses throughout the San Jose area thrive. To schedule your commercial HVAC appointment, book now online or call 669-266-5464.