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Which Hotel Air Conditioner Should You Choose?

When you’re looking at the dynamic landscape of the hospitality industry, ensuring guest comfort while managing operational costs is paramount. Central to this balance is the choice of a hotel's Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. 

It’s evident that climate control is one of the biggest sources of energy use for hotels and demand for energy-efficient hotel air conditioners is on the rise. The good news? There’s a range of HVAC options for hotels, but only one delivers better energy efficiency.

We'll delve into the mechanics of each system and assess their energy efficiency, and pin down just what type is the most energy efficient.


Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) Systems vs. Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner (PTACs) 

Though both VRF and PTAC systems are designed to handle heating and cooling, they have distinct differences in terms of design, operation, and application.

VRF Systems

VRF systems are more sophisticated and consist of multiple indoor units connected to a single outdoor unit. This modular design allows for individualized control of different zones or rooms within a building.

PTAC Systems

PTAC units are self-contained, all-in-one systems that provide heating and cooling for individual rooms. They are typically installed through an exterior wall, often beneath a window. 

These units operate independently of each other. Each unit serves a single room or area, and there's no centralized control for multiple units.

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It starts with updating lighting and cooling at no upfront cost.


Types of HVAC Systems in Hotels

VRF Systems

Most commonly, VRF systems are more complex than PTAC systems. As we’ve already noted, they consist of multiple indoor units connected to a single outdoor unit. This especially allows for effective, simultaneous heating and cooling in different rooms.

VRF systems are more known for being energy efficient, as they adjust the amount of refrigerant flow based on the demand from each zone, building energy savings. These same systems are also known for having a longer lifespan than PTAC systems.

Incorporating a VRF system into a hospital setting like a hotel may be more complicated, however. 


Updating variable refrigerant flow is one way to improve the energy efficiency for hotel VRF systems. With refrigerant flow going to multiple HVAC units at once, it’s easier to maintain a comfortable temperature for customers.


PTAC Systems

On the other hand, PTAC units are self-contained, wall-mounted units that provide heating and cooling to individual rooms. They are commonly seen below windows in many hotels. Unfortunately, however, they’re not as energy efficient as VRF systems—especially if they’re older or have been repaired poorly.

With a shorter use life than VRF systems, PTAC systems are cheaper to install but may cost more in the long run their shorter lifespan may cause you to pay more in terms of replacements.


The Power of PTAC

Hotels predominantly employ PTAC units for heating and cooling. Notably, during the 1980s and 1990s, some hotels, including Quality Inn, installed vertical self-contained air handlers. These 150-pound R-22 units, especially challenging to maintain in dusty New Mexico, require complete uninstallation for cleaning. Consequently, they often experience compressor failures due to rapid coil dirt accumulation.

Owned by the McCall family, Quality Inn sought a HVAC solution ensuring that a single unit's failure would only impact one guest room. Doc Savage Supply proposed the 21-SEER Fujitsu split terminal heat pump, a 9,000 BTU/h mini-split aptly designed to replace PTACs. However, the hotel's unique infrastructure, with non-PTAC HVAC units, posed installation challenges.

EcoAir, led by Jeff Polk, innovatively addressed this by customizing the existing mechanical space for the new heat pump. With Fujitsu's test units, EcoAir technicians adeptly replaced old air handlers with the new STHP heat pump, utilizing existing electrical setups and designing custom metal diverters for optimal airflow.

Post-installation, the positive feedback was immediate. The quieter and more efficient system prompted the McCalls to upgrade all rooms gradually. Currently, a third of the rooms are upgraded, resulting in significant power savings. Once all rooms are retrofitted, McCall foresees a 40% electricity usage drop and envisions the hotel's solar array managing the entire electrical demand.


Vertical PTAC (VTAC) Systems 

The primary difference between VTAC and PTAC systems is fairly simple: VTACs are vertically oriented and are often installed in a closet or a specific alcove within a room. VTACs distribute air vertically, either from the top or bottom of the unit, which can provide a more even distribution of conditioned air in some room layouts.

These systems can be slightly more challenging to access for maintenance since they are often installed in closets or specific compartments. 



Factors to Consider When Looking at Hotel HVAC Systems

When you’re looking at HVACs for your hotel, there are three factors you need to keep in mind: efficiency ratings, dimensions, and power.


Efficiency Ratings

To assess, start by checking the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) for cooling and the Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) for heating. Higher values indicate better efficiency.

Additionally, review the Energy Star label, which signifies that the unit meets specific energy-saving criteria. Regularly monitoring the system's energy consumption and comparing it to similar establishments can also provide a benchmark.



The dimensions of an HVAC system are crucial for ensuring optimal performance and fit within the allocated space. To assess, measure the physical size of both indoor and outdoor units, noting height, width, and depth. For ductwork, measure the diameter or width and length of the main trunks and branches.



Power assessment determines the HVAC system's electrical consumption and its impact on operational costs. Begin by checking the unit's power rating, usually indicated in kilowatts (kW) or tons. Monitor the system's actual power draw using clamp-on ammeters or power meters. Review electricity bills to understand monthly and seasonal consumption patterns.


Make sure that your system operates within its rated capacity, as overloading can lead to increased wear and higher energy costs.

Regularly checking power factor and voltage can also provide insights into the system's electrical efficiency and health.

Hotel Air Conditioning: Which Type is the Most Energy Efficient?

When assessing the energy efficiency of these HVAC systems in a hotel setting, VRF systems stand out as the most energy-efficient option. 

How VRF systems can adapt to varying loads, and have advanced technological components and high SEER and HSPF ratings, make them a top choice for hotels prioritizing energy savings. 

While PTAC and VTAC systems have their place in the market, especially where budget constraints or simpler installation requirements exist, they generally do not match the energy efficiency levels of VRF systems.

For hoteliers, investing in a VRF system can lead to significant long-term energy savings, reduced carbon footprint, and an enhanced guest experience due to quieter operation and consistent room temperatures.

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Discover the Future of Hotel Air Conditioning with Budderfly

With so many options available, picking the right energy-efficient HVAC system for your hotel is crucial. But how do you ensure you're making the best decision without the stress and complexity?

Enter Budderfly. We're not just another Energy-Efficiency-as-a-Service partner; we're your all-in-one solution. Our expertise ensures that you get the most energy-efficient HVAC system tailored to your hotel's unique needs. And the best part? With Budderfly, there's no upfront costs.

That's right – significant energy savings, cutting-edge technology, and a seamless transition to a more sustainable future, all without any initial financial burden. Choosing and installing a new HVAC system can often be a daunting task, filled with vendor meetings, technical jargon, and unexpected costs.

But with Budderfly by your side, you can say goodbye to those challenges. Our approach is simple: we assess, recommend, and deliver. From the initial on-site assessment to the final installation, our team ensures a hassle-free experience.

Choose stress-free. Choose efficiency. Choose Budderfly. Let’s talk.

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