Efficient HVAC Multifamily Home

Choosing An Efficient HVAC System for a Multifamily Home

Developers of multifamily housing have numerous initial decisions to make at the start of a project. Yet, the type of HVAC system that will be used in the property is a decision that has long-term implications. This article will outline efficient HVAC systems for a multifamily home.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to a number of factors, from installation and long-term maintenance costs, aesthetics and energy efficiency, as well as the size of the property. Low-rise buildings, for example, tend to have different needs compared to mid-rise or high-rise developments.

Beyond this, multifamily developments also have unique HVAC requirements, compared to single-family homes. Multifamily HVAC units must deliver:

  • Peak load flexibility: It’s difficult to estimate the peak energy demand of a multi-family property. Therefore, the system must be optimized to handle a variety of peak loads.
  • Individual comfort controls: Occupants must have in-unit controls, which can be delivered in a number of ways.
  • Ease of maintenance: HVAC units may be contained in-unit or as part of a centralized system. Either way, the system should be designed to be easily maintained.

Ultimately, the question remains: Which systems are the most energy efficient?

Centralized vs. Decentralized HVAC Units

HVAC units for multifamily buildings fall into two categories: Centralized and decentralized systems. Centralized HVAC systems are similar to a home’s heating and cooling systems. Heat and/or AC are feed from a central location – typically a mechanical room in the basement or in a penthouse of the building. Centralized systems do have a higher cost, and therefore, they’re more common in mid-rise and high-rise properties with many units.

Decentralized units, on the other hand, are compartmentalized. Each unit is treated as its own building, and separate heating and cooling systems are delivered to the individual units. These units are typically considered “self-contained.” Baseboard heat is another type of decentralized system.

Energy Efficiency of Centralized and Decentralized Systems

In general, centralized systems outperform decentralized HVAC systems in terms of energy efficiency. Yet, the higher installation costs may make these systems cost prohibitive. Common types of centralized HVAC systems include:

  • Hot Water Baseboard: These systems deliver hot water from a central location to individual units. Essentially, the hot water flows through the radiator, as the radiator sucks in cooler air and heats it. This type of system is economical to install and is fairly efficient.
  • Two-Pipe Systems: This system includes a central water boiler, as well as a central cooling plant, which is typically on the roof. These systems have two pipes – one for delivering hot or cold water – and one for returning. Therefore, heat and A/C cannot be delivered at the same time. Efficiency is boosted with these systems.
  • Four-Pipe Systems: Four-pipe systems utilize similar equipment to the two-pipe system, but since there are four pipes, heating and cooling can be provided at the same time. Therefore, Apartment A can choose heat, while Apartment B can choose to cool. These systems are expensive to install, but are well-known for their efficiency.
  • Geothermal Systems: One of the most efficient types of HVAC systems, geothermal utilize a water loop buried within the earth to heat or cool the water. This water can then be delivered to individual units with a two- or four-pipe system.

Comparatively, decentralized systems are, on average, more cost-effective to install, but most do not deliver maximum efficiency.

  • Electric Baseboard Heat: Baseboard heat is one of the most economical options to install. But these systems are inefficient and carry high operating costs, and they’re only capable of providing heat.
  • Wall Unit Air Conditioner: Like baseboard heaters, wall units are cost-effective to install, but they are inefficient. Additionally, these systems typically only provide cooling.
  • Packaged Thermal Air Conditioner: A common heating/cooling option used in hospitality developments, PTAC systems are wall-mounted forced air systems units. Generally, these systems have shorter life cycles, and they aren’t very efficient.
  • Self-Contained Systems: These are forced air systems that deliver heating and cooling an individual unit. Heating and cooling equipment is installed in each individual unit, either in a closet or mounted to an exterior wall. In terms of decentralized HVAC units, the self-contained systems offer the best efficiency.

Additional Tips for Developing Energy Efficient HVAC Systems

Ultimately, your choice of HVAC unit will set the standard for the system’s efficiency, but there additional steps that can be taken as well. For example, properly sealing heating and cooling ductwork can instantly optimize a system. Additionally, improving the insulation of the building envelop can reduce the system’s overall heating or cooling load.

To schedule an appointment or if you have any questions please contact us today!

 

Air Conditioner Maintenance Tips

As your air conditioner gets up there in life, you should probably start preparing for the inevitable. Home and business owners that get 10-15, or even 20 years or more from their HVAC system should consider themselves extremely lucky, especially when many are only rated or warrantied for 8-12 years. Of course, as Ernest Hemingway said, “you make your own luck” and in the A/C world that comes from regular system maintenance. An air-conditioner is far from a ‘plug and play’ unit that can be turned on in the spring and put away in the fall.

Your best bet to extend the life of you’re A/C is to perform regular maintenance on the unit; these maintenance tips must be followed semi-regularly.

Read More

Geothermal Energy vs. Solar Panels: Which Has Better Value?

“Going Green” is no longer just for progressive thinking homeowners or those looking to live in a commune and proverbially go off the grid. Instead, having energy efficient property is now an integral part of being a responsible homeowner, not only to lower utility bills, but also as a crucial way of limiting a carbon footprint against an increasingly unpredictable environment.

The best way we can lower our impact on the environment (and save some money in the process) is by harnessing the Earth’s resources to heat and cool our homes and businesses. The two main ways to use the Earth’s free energy for your own good are with solar panels and geothermal pumps. Solar panels capture the sun’s rays and convert it into heat and electricity, which is used to heat and cool your home, while geothermal solutions use the constant core temperature of the Earth to warm and cool a property.

Geothermal vs Solar

The big question remains then: which method offers more return on investment between solar panels and underground geothermal pipes? The answer is provided from a combination of your climate, your existing setup, and how much you’re prepared to invest.

Read More

Geothermal Heat Pumps vs. Traditional Heat Pumps

The main concept of geothermal energy is one that’s relatively easy to grasp. For example, the Earth has a constant core of 50°-60°F at all times no matter the temperatures above ground. It makes sense then that we can harness that energy and use it to heat or cool our homes, but here’s where the process gets a little murky – not so much a matter of why, but how?

Read More

Geothermal Energy Pros and Cons

Instead of using natural gas or oil and as an alternative to incurring high electricity bills, geothermal energy works to draw off the Earth’s constant core temperature to both heat and cool the home. At first glance, incorporating geothermal energy into a house or business would seem like a no-brainer and while there are definite cost and economic savings involved with the process, all that glitters isn’t gold. Here are the definitive geothermal energy pros and cons:

Read More

Why Do Air Conditioners Freeze?

An air conditioner unit has the potential to freeze. It’s a strange sight, especially in the middle of a hot summer day, but that’s when it’s most likely to happen. A frozen air conditioner is a common problem and can sometimes be fixed easily. Other times, however, you’ll need an air conditioner repair technician to take a look at it.

Read More

Recharging a Home AC – What You Need to Know

Central air conditioners have one primary job: to keep you comfortable. If your AC doesn’t do this and it is appropriately sized for your home, something is wrong. You have heard the advice to change your filters, keep it cleaned, and to have a smart thermostat, but did you know that air conditioners may also need to recharge? If your system has malfunctioned or has been damaged, your refrigerant may need to be recharged. Here’s what you need to know about recharging a home AC.

Read More

Common AC Problems

Throughout the years, we’ve seen and repaired a lot of AC problems. The more complex the system, the higher the potential for problems. Knowing the symptoms and what the problems are can potentially add a few years to the life of your system as you may be saving other parts in the process. Here is a list of the most common AC problems and their symptoms.

Read More

Do Air Conditioners Dehumidify?

dehumidifierIn the summertime, the heat brings humidity to many homes around the US. Humidity is a result of moisture in your home, which can come from a variety of sources. During summer, however, the weather brings moisture with it and combines with moisture you create in your home passively. Moisture can lead to health problems, such as allergic reactions to mold and mildew. Mold and other fungi are fond of wet areas, making your basement the ideal place to grow. Your AC does some dehumidification, but that’s not its primary function.

Air conditioners work by pulling air out of your home via return ducts, cooling the air, and then recirculating it throughout your home. But sometimes all your home needs is dehumidification. Along much of the East Coast, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC, Delaware, and New Jersey, a lot of our heat is unbearable because of the humidity levels in the air. The sticky, thick 90º weather is awful, but when the humidity finds its way inside our homes, sometimes all you need is the movement of air. Ceiling fans are a common choice in homes with temperatures around the upper 70ºs. A ceiling fan can reduce the temperature you feel in the room by up to 10º in some cases. But do air conditioners dehumidify your home or just cool it?

Read More

Geothermal Maintenance

One of the main benefits of a geothermal heating system, besides economic friendliness, is a relative lack of maintenance. A majority of the geothermal components are buried underground so much like a radiant underfloor heating system: What you can’t see you can’t maintain (because the parts shouldn’t go wrong). The lack of maintenance perception is a common misnomer because all heating systems need regular upkeep, especially ones that feature a conventional duct work and air handler as the geothermal pumps do. The required maintenance shouldn’t be a deal breaker in purchasing a system though, because the savings still produce roughly $5 of heat for every $1 of cost. Here’s just an idea of what you should do and expect to maintain those high savings ratios:

Read More