PTAC, VTAC or VRF: What’s ideal for you?

NATIONAL REPORT—With so many HVAC options in today’s market—including PTAC, VTAC and VRF—narrowing down the more common selections can help properties properly examine their heating and cooling solution needs.

“With the rising cost of construction materials and labor nationwide, there are few discussions in our industry that don’t center around cost,” said Blair D. Hildahl, COO/principal, Base4, a design-led architecture and engineering firm. “Upfront and installation costs are the primary concern when we are evaluating HVAC options.”

There are costs to consider beyond upfront costs. Using PTAC as an example, upfront costs are relatively inexpensive; however, this option tends to be the least efficient, meaning higher utility costs and increased replacement frequency for properties. In many markets, the costs associated with upgrading to a VRF system can be paid off in three years or less. This route can also provide a “much better overall guest experience” and further utility savings, he said.

Many hotel owners initially seek out the best HVAC system available; however, constrained budgets often restrict potential options. “Beyond initial system cost, it’s important to consider long-term expenses associated with operational (energy use) costs, ease of installation and maintenance, customer satisfaction, sound reduction and reliability,” Barry Bookout, director, lodging sales for Friedrich Air Conditioning Company, said.

Douglas Mackemer, national director of parts, supplies and specialized equipment, Carrier Enterprise LLC, said it’s important to understand the property. Then, “it’s really a function of what they’re looking to invest,” he said. “Are they going to have the property for a long time, or are they building it to flip it? That really helps give some guidance as to the mechanical costs for the project.”

Blair Hildahl Base4

Cost isn’t the only area owners should examine. “The selection needs to be appropriate for the hotel flag, project location and guest profile,” Hildahl said. Hotel design plays a role in narrowing down HVAC system options as well, as does service level. Even room type can be a deciding factor for many properties.

Many limited-service properties choose PTACs for their ease of maintenance. “The PTAC chassis slides out of the wall sleeve to allow for fast, easier maintenance and servicing,” Bookout said. “Due to the plug-and-play nature of PTACs, they’re also a popular choice for the fast-growing modular segment.” Many properties keep extra units on premises, making it less likely rooms will have to be taken offline due to PTAC failures.

VTACs operate very similarly to PTACs, but are vertical and stored in a small closet in the corner of the guestroom. “We see these installations in suites or corner rooms with more space available to accommodate a larger HVAC installation,” said Brigitte Mader-Urschel, marketing manager of specialty air products at GE Appliances, a Haier Company. One VTAC unit can heat and cool multiple rooms.

VRF systems are more common at full-service properties, but do offer competitive pricing for other segments. “When an owner [looks at]more than just upfront cost, they will often find that VRF is a good fit,” Hildahl explained.

Bookout said, “VRF systems utilize variable speed technology with multiple inverter compressors to deliver unrivaled energy efficiency. The systems can be designed to precisely match the building’s cooling and heating demands.”  

Deciding on an HVAC system isn’t an easy task, but understanding the needs of the property will go a long way in ensuring the right choice is made. “Choosing the right HVAC system is crucial for guest comfort and property ratings,” Mader-Urschel said. HB

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