July 19, 2018

If you’ve ever had to purchase an HVAC system for a commercial building, whether it’s for a new property or to replace the system in an existing property, you may have been overwhelmed with the choices. You know how important HVAC is to the comfort and happiness of your tenants, and you want to do right by them. However, you also want to make sure that the system is efficient and practical for the building and that it won’t destroy your bank account for years to come.

Understanding the different types of commercial HVAC systems can help you make an educated decision and ensure that you choose the right system for the size and function of your property.

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What Are the Different Types of Commercial HVAC Systems?

While there is an infinite number of variations, there are three major categories under which HVAC systems fall. These include:

  • Single Split systems
  • Multi-Split systems
  • VRF or VRV systems

The correct choice for your building will depend on a variety of factors. Here is a brief introduction to the different categories and which may work best for your property.

Related: How Many Tons of AC Do I Need Per Square Foot?

Single Split System

A single split system is one of the most popular types of HVAC as it is affordable and appropriate for most small commercial buildings. They are great for buildings with small offices, server rooms, shops, or restaurants as they allow for heating and cooling control in individual rooms. If you have a larger space, they can work together to heat or cool the room.

Your system will likely include an air conditioner to cool the refrigerant as well as furnaces and an evaporator coil that will convert the refrigerant and circulate the air using ducts throughout the building. You will control the system with a thermostat or control panel.

The pros and cons of this type of unit include:


  • Cheaper than installing a central system.
  • Since each system is self-contained, when one unit breaks down, the others are still functional.


  • Each indoor unit requires an outdoor unit. This can take up a great deal of space depending on how many units you need.

Multi Split System

Similar to single split systems, multi splits differ in one major way: You can connect up to nine indoor units with one outdoor unit. These systems work using inverter technology which allows the compressor to operate at variable speeds.

Generally, a large amount of energy is consumed in a forced-air HVAC system each time the compressor turns off and on. This occurs throughout the day as the system senses the proper temperature or the need for a correction. A multi-split system cuts down on the energy that is consumed as it has sensors that help to detect small changes in temperature and make small adjustments when necessary.

Heat pumps in the system work with heat’s natural inclination to move from warm areas to cool ones, saving money and energy over traditional furnaces and air conditioners.


  • Preserve your outdoor space and the look of the building with fewer outdoor units.
  • You can use both wall and ceil mounted air conditioning units and an air curtain for over the entrance.


  • These systems required more pipework than single slits, so the cost of installation will be higher as will the time necessary to complete the job.

VRF or VRV System

VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) and VRV (Variable Refrigerant Volume) both refer to the same type of commercial HVAC system. When the technology was developed by Daikin, they protected the name. As other companies began to offer similar technology, they had to use a different name. The two terms are now used interchangeably.

If your space is medium to large like a mixed-use building, retail or large office space, or hotels, a VRF/VRV system may be the best choice for your business. There are two types of VRF or VRV systems: Heat Pump and Heat Recovery.

A Heat Pump system provides either heating or cooling to a building. This is good for open plan areas. A Heat Recovery system can provide heating and cooling simultaneously, which works best when the building has several smaller rooms. They do this by gathering waste heat from other areas of the building and using it to heat other rooms and hot water.


  • They meet larger builder’s heating and cooling requirements.
  • They are reliable, efficient, and easy to control.
  • Installation is quick, so your daily business is not majorly inconvenienced.
  • The Heat Recovery systems provide a great deal of flexibility.


  • The purchase and installation costs are higher than other systems.
  • In larger building, you may need to invest in a backup condenser in case the outside unit fails.

Related: Cost Difference Between Residential vs. Commercial HVAC?

While educating yourself regarding the available options is always a good idea, ultimately, you should speak with a trusted HVAC company to determine what type of commercial HVAC system will be the best for your building. They will help you weigh the options and determine the most appropriate features for your tenants and your wallet.

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