Guide to Types of Commercial HVAC Systems

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Guide to Types of Commercial HVAC Systems

Commercial building HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems are mechanical ventilation systems designed to keep occupants warm or cool by maintaining optimal temperatures within working spaces. An HVAC system circulates air and regulates an area’s temperature and humidity to maintain a comfortable healthy environment.

There are different types of HVAC systems for commercial buildings, but understanding how these types of heating and cooling systems work is paramount to choosing the right one. The decision of which commercial HVAC system you go with will depend on factors such as air quality, energy efficiency, climate conditions, the layout of a building, and budget.

In this guide to the types of commercial HVAC systems, we’ll make it simpler to choose the right one for your commercial property.

To begin with, let’s start with an overview of how commercial HVAC systems work, and the integral components that power the heating and cooling process.

Overview: How Do HVAC Systems Work?

person controlling thermostat

A HVAC system is a that controls the distribution and modulation of cool and warm air. Wondering how HVAC systems work? Here are three essential stages:

  • Stage 1
    Creation or Transfer of Heat

    Commercial building HVAC systems are designed to create or move air. Heat is either created by a furnace that generates heat through burning fuel, or a heat pump that transfers heat between the indoors and outdoors. On cold days, warm air is circulated indoors. On warmer days, the system performs this process differently by expelling warm air from inside a room to outside of it.

  • Stage 2
    Air Distribution

    The distribution system of commercial HVAC systems ensures optimal indoor air quality and temperature with the movement of the temperature-adjusted cold or hot air through the distribution system. In general, a distribution system consists of blower fans that eliminate air, ducts that transport the air, and valves that control airflow.

  • Stage 3

    Temperature settings are regulated by programmable devices such as thermostats and complex direct digital controls. Thermostats can be manually controlled to modulate cooling and airflow functions through simple settings.

    Direct digital controls rely on a central operating system of sensors that regulate temperatures based on real-time readings. Direct digital controls can be monitored, updated, and controlled by staff through a computer. This allows greater control of an HVAC system in temperature-sensitive locations such as commercial buildings with a large network of servers, factories with manufacturing units, and the like.

Main Components of Commercial Building HVAC Systems

commercial ventilation pipes

Commercial building HVAC systems contain several critical parts that come together as a whole to ensure everything is working seamlessly. The compressor is regarded as the most important part of commercial building HVAC systems but when it malfunctions, it means other parts of a unit have also been compromised.

Let’s check out what the main components of commercial HVAC systems are in the coming sections.

  • Compressor

    Cooling starts in the main component of an HVAC system, the compressor. This process relies on a chemical medium known as a refrigerant that constantly changes between a liquid and a gas as it absorbs and releases heat during the cooling process. In order to regulate temperature, the compressor serves as a pump that circulates the refrigerant through concealed connections between the evaporator and condenser coils. The compressor’s motors agitate the refrigerant to raise its pressure and temperature before the hot refrigerant is passed through the condenser.

    This looped process is vital to ensure optimal thermal comfort within indoor spaces such as commercial, residential, and industrial buildings.

  • Condenser

    A condenser is the outdoor portion of an air conditioner that expels heat when an air conditioning unit is turned on. In order to cool an area down, the condenser facilitates the movement of hot air from inside a building to outside of it by expelling heat via pipes and coils. As a heat exchanger, the condenser is responsible for condensing gaseous refrigerant into liquid during the cooling phase.

  • Air Conditioner

    Commercial AC units dehumidify air and eliminate heat to transfer and circulate cool air in indoor spaces. An air conditioner works by drawing heat from outside a building and redirecting cool air inside. It relies on other parts to function normally.

  • Thermostat

    A thermostat controls an HVAC system by regulating the production of warm or cool air, depending on temperature readings. A thermostat’s heating and cooling functionality rely on a sensor that signals when an air conditioner or a heating system needs to be turned on or off.

  • Air Handler

    Commercial air handlers help circulate air through an HVAC system and are usually connected to the ductwork. They contain blowers that help circulate cool or hot air within a building. Air handlers include other components such as racks, dampers, sound attenuators, and chambers that work in tandem to ensure optimal temperatures.

  • Thermal Expansion Valve

    This important component allows an air conditioner to successfully draw heat from inside a room and move it outside. For this to happen, the valve removes pressure from the refrigerant, cooling it down rapidly before converting it into cold gas.

    An expansion valve doesn’t eliminate heat but removes built-up pressure to effectively lower the temperature of the refrigerant. When it exits the valve, the refrigerant is in its coldest state. It then moves through the evaporator coil of an air conditioning unit, and when it encounters warm air it successfully lowers the temperature of the air.

  • Terminal Unit

    Terminal units control how much air an AC unit circulates within a building. These units mainly rely on blowers, coils, and a filter.

    A terminal unit’s main job is to eliminate pollen, dirt, dust, and other contaminants to maintain good air quality. As filters accumulate contaminants, they will need to be cleaned or replaced regularly to ensure optimal air quality.

  • Furnace

    A furnace works differently from an air conditioning unit by warming up a room when a thermostat signals it to initiate the heating process. To generate heat, a gas valve first ignites the burner. Heat is converted into hot air once it goes through a heat exchanger. Lastly, the hot air is circulated by a motor and fan and pushed through the ductwork and into a blower before it’s expelled into a room.

Types of HVAC Systems for Commercial Buildings

Now, let’s look at commercial HVAC system types and appropriate models for different buildings.

  • Rooftop Unit HVAC

    Rooftop units (RTUs) are self-contained by design and are generally used for small commercial buildings. They’re connected to a building’s ductwork, providing adaptable heating and cooling to specific parts of a building. RTUs are designed to withstand outdoor elements such as snow, wind, rain, and sunshine.

    RTUs have compressors, evaporators, blowers, and condensers. This kind of HVAC system is designed to produce hot or cool air, or both. Circulating metal sheets push air through a filter, then through coils that either heat or cool the air. As the desired air temperature is generated, it is blown by a fan into the duct system.

    Ideal for: Flat-roofed buildings with a maximum of 10 floors

  • Packaged Systems

    These all-in-one units have a condenser, compressor, fan coil, and evaporator. Packaged systems can be controlled directly through a thermostat and are often window-mounted in hospitals, sports facilities, hotels, schools, and condos. For these to work, heat pumps in commercial buildings draw air from the outside to the inside on cooler days and vice versa on hot days.

    Ideal for: Spaces where occupants can directly control the temperature of a room

  • Split Systems and Variable Refrigerant Flow

    Split systems, such as a commercial split air conditioner, are connected to a building’s ductwork. Smaller commercial spaces such as restaurants, offices, or convenience stores can install a commercial split system and control it through a thermostat. You may need to install separate HVAC units, depending on how many rooms a structure has. This can create clutter on a roof or within a space.

    To combat the mounting costs and space constraints associated with split systems, building owners can opt for a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) or variable refrigerant volume (VRV) system instead. Although not a popular HVAC system, it can provide optimal thermal comfort for small commercial spaces.

    VRF systems can move refrigerants by efficiently converting liquid to gas and back again as it produces hot and cool air. This functionality makes it a better option for smaller spaces that need a compact HVAC system.

    For larger spaces, a multi-split system can be installed. It works like a split system with multiple indoor units that are connected to a single outdoor unit.

    Ideal for: Small to medium-sized commercial buildings but not large facilities that would benefit better from a multi-split system

Professional Commercial HVAC Systems Services by Edison Parker

Edison Parker is a reliable and sought-after provider of commercial building HVAC systems in the NY/NJ tri-state area. We have our own in-house team of commercial HVAC contractors to ensure that customers receive consistent quality services.

Edison Parker caters to large-scale industrial establishments such as hotels, nursing homes, malls, and recreational centers. Our services include the installation and maintenance of new and existing HVAC systems as well as the replacement of its mechanical parts and units. Our expertise encompasses commercial HVAC installation for complexes and buildings that require elaborate HVAC systems.

Our highly trained and knowledgeable team has extensive experience in meeting our clients’ stringent requirements for commercial HVAC systems. Just give us a call for commercial building HVAC systems services, maintenance, and repair requests.


How much does a new commercial HVAC system cost?

The commercial HVAC cost of installation can fall anywhere between $6,000 and $30,000 or more. Factors such as the layout, type, and size of the commercial buildings will influence installation cost. On average, the commercial HVAC cost per sq ft can fall between $15 and $30 for recreational and office buildings.

How long do commercial HVAC systems last?

HVAC systems that regularly receive commercial HVAC repairs and maintenance will last longer than systems that don’t. Depending on usage and brand, an HVAC system can last anywhere between 15 and 25 years. It’s thus wise to get regular maintenance checks from a trusted commercial HVAC contractor to prolong your HVAC system’s longevity.