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Types of HVAC Systems for Commercial Buildings

Types of HVAC Systems for Commercial Buildings

If you’re considering a commercial HVAC system for your business, you probably have a lot of questions, such as: 

  • What are the different types of systems out there? 
  • What’s the difference between them? 
  • How do I know which one is right for me and my business?

We first need to look at some of the available HVAC systems available for commercial buildings to answer these questions. Let’s break down what’s out there, what they’re good at, and whether each system fits your needs.

Ductless Split HVAC System

A split HVAC system is divided into two separate cabinets: inside and outside. 

The indoor unit, known as the air handler, houses the following:

  • Blower
  • Dampers
  • Air handler
  • Evaporator coil

The purpose of the indoor unit is to handle air distribution, regulate fan speed, and control indoor temperature. 

Ductless Split System HVAC systems don’t use ductwork as single-unit systems do. Instead, the air handler is connected to the outside cabinet through a hole that runs the suction tubing, power cord, condensate drain, and tubing for the refrigerant.

The cabinet is usually located in an attic, basement, utility closet, or other unfinished space within the building. Control of the system is usually handled with either a hand-held remote or a wall-mounted panel.

The outdoor unit, known as the condenser, houses the:

  • Fan
  • Compressor
  • Condenser coil

The job of the outdoor unit is to vent hot air and manage the cool air. Typically hung from a wall of the building, the outdoor unit can also be stationed on the ground near the building or installed on the roof.

In general, in order to cool the air in the building, the split system takes the hot air from inside the building and pushes it outside. In order to heat the air, it does the reverse, taking hot air from outside and bringing it inside.

A Split HVAC System is Best Used By

  • Cafés
  • Restaurants
  • Small offices
  • IT rooms

Pros of a Split HVAC System

  • Less expensive
  • Can both heat and cool
  • More energy efficient (lower long-term utility cost)
  • Versatile installation options (can add more units later)
  • A single outside compressor can handle multiple indoor air-handling units (in some cases)

Cons of a Split HVAC System

  • Installation is costlier than that of packaged units
  • Improper installation results in poor energy efficiency
  • External condensers are loud and may disturb customers depending on their location
  • Filters must be changed/cleaned regularly, as clogging will ruin the unit’s effectiveness and result in mechanical failure

Packaged Unit Systems or Roof Top Units

When most people think of commercial HVAC, this is usually the system they picture. Packaged units can be designed to work as either a straight air conditioner or a dual heat pump system capable of providing heating and air. Generally, these units are placed on the roof of a commercial building, either alone or as part of a row or group of cabinets, and connect directly to the building’s ventilation system. 

These all-in-one packaged units also come in various sizes and packages to better service different buildings’ designs and climate needs. Humidistats, for example, can be installed in the system to control the fresh air and humidity in a system, something split systems can’t do.

Packaged Unit HVAC systems include:

  • Blower
  • Compressor
  • Condenser
  • Evaporator coil
  • Fan coil
  • Air Handler

Packaged Unit HVAC is Best Used By

  • Retail stores
  • Large offices
  • Multi-story office buildings

Packaged Unit HVAC Pros

  • Energy efficient
  • Handles both heating and cooling
  • Fast, easy, centralized installation
  • Houses all components in one unit
  • Optimized space with rooftop units
  • Flexible packages available to meet your environmental needs (air conditioner, gas-electric, heat pump, dual-fuel)

Packaged Unit HVAC Cons

  • Rooftop units may attract lightning and suffer other storm damage
  • Units are large and heavy, which may result in rooftop damage if not properly installed
  • Being in an “out of sight, out of mind” location like the roof could result in less frequent maintenance and upkeep if a strict maintenance routine is not followed

VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) Systems

Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) HVAC system was created in the early 80s in Japan and has become the predominant HVAC solution throughout Asia. These systems are finding increased popularity in the US as they allow for more precise climate control of individual parts of an office or building.

VRF systems are similar to the split systems discussed above in that they have both outdoor and indoor units that aren’t connected by ductwork. Instead, they are connected by refrigerant piping and can be controlled by a central controller, individual wired control panels, and remote controls.

However, there is one big difference between VRF and split units. Instead of turning completely off once the desired temperature has been reached in an area, the VRF will continually adjust the refrigerant’s flow to each room to ensure they stay at the predetermined temperature as set by each individual thermostat. This means that a server room can be cooled through A/C while a colder room full of people can be heated to comfortable levels.

VRF Systems are Best Used By

  • Small shops
  • Restaurants
  • Small to large commercial buildings

VRF System Pros

  • Relatively quiet
  • More energy efficient than packaged unit systems
  • Better zoning as Individual areas or rooms can be cooled or heated
  • Compact, flexible design allows for installation in more challenging spaces

VRF System Cons

  • More expensive to install and maintain due to multiple units
  • Parts and components are not interchangeable. The brand you start with is the brand you must use for the system’s life

Which is Best for You and Your Business?

As you can see, when choosing an HVAC system for your commercial building, there are many factors to consider. You need to consider what kind of space you have, the size of your building, the amount of heat loss you need to deal with, and your budget. In the end, it’s all about getting the most efficient system possible that meets your needs at a price you can afford. Contact us today with your questions.


Founded in 2004, DMC Service, Inc. is proud of our decade-plus service to the Kansas City Metro and beyond. Based out of Olathe, we are a 100% woman-owned business with Karen Crnkovich at the helm as President and “Chief Hand-Shaker.” Karen leads the DMC Service team with unwavering passion and enthusiasm to fulfill our purpose: To keep people comfortable, safe and healthy.