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Commercial Capital: Leveraging Residential Multi-Zone Heat Pump Technology in Light Commercial Applications to Increase Customer Comfort and Reduce Costs

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The comfort of patrons is a top priority for managers and owners of retail facilities like restaurants and shops. Cost savings and energy efficiency go hand-in-hand. A simple solution HVAC professionals can recommend to their customers that checks all three boxes for light commercial applications is replacing aging or outdated rooftop HVAC systems with the latest innovation: inverter heat pump technology. While heat pumps have existed for years in residential applications, huge strides have been made in the technology, making today’s most cutting-edge models attractive for commercial contractors to offer to facility managers as an alternative to what they have used for years. 

Inverter Heat Pump Benefits 

The Department of Energy (DOE) is aware of the efficiencies of inverter heat pumps. In February 2022, it launched the Residential Cold-Climate Heat Pump Technology Challenge, which many HVAC manufacturers have joined. This initiative is encouraging the industry to develop the next generation of cold climate heat pump technology which can effectively generate the needed heat during colder weather without the need for auxiliary heat strips. 

Under new tax guidelines in the Inflation Reduction Act, homeowners who install qualifying heat pumps in 2023 are eligible for tax credits up to $2,000. This incentive goes hand in hand with existing and forthcoming mandates from cities and states that have banned natural gas from construction in new buildings (so far: California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York City, Seattle, Washington DC, and more). Utility companies also offer rebates to homeowners who have switched, and rebates for commercial applications may be next. 

Inverter technology heat pumps function as both air conditioners in the summertime and heaters in cooler months. They are far more efficient, comfortable, and long-term cost-effective than traditional rooftop commercial HVAC units. This next-generation heat pump compressor technology runs on variable speeds to use the minimum amount of energy required to maintain consistent comfort for temperature and humidity while featuring ultra-quiet operation. 

Consider a restaurant built 10-20 years ago with one 20-ton unit on its roof. The compressor will run periodically on hot days to condition the inside air to a set temperature. The unit shuts off at the desired temperature, then turns back on once the inside temperature rises. The system is loud, the ‘off’ periods yield spikes in temperature without being able to consistently manage humidity and the constant on/off cycling is energy inefficient. Plus, in a traditional HVAC system, only one thermostat and zone cover the entire space, resulting in uneven temperatures – customers by the east-side windows shiver as those by the sunny windows on the west side sweat while the system combats beaming afternoon sunlight with a one-size-fits-all approach. By leveraging multiple 5-ton inverter technology heat pumps – which have higher SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) ratings to begin with – along with an indoor air handling unit (AHU) working in tandem with custom-selected multi-splits indoor heads, the same space could feature multiple thermostats and zones to offer tailored control and consistent comfort and humidity within a building. 

The Investment 

Making this investment yields a final benefit: longevity. In traditional commercial rooftop HVAC units, all of the heating and cooling components sit outside, and exposure to the elements reduces both efficiency and longevity. Installing these systems also requires multiple large roof penetrations and complicated installation, requiring coordination with a skilled roofer to prevent leaks or the heavy structure from damaging the roof over time. Further, gas units that are exposed to outdoor elements must work harder to regulate inside climates, and 20% of the energy used to generate heat is wasted and vented into the atmosphere. Electric rooftop units, which cannot hold temperature on cold days, require the use of auxiliary heat strips – one of the most inefficient ways to generate heat. Inverter heat pump technology solves this issue as the latest systems can mix and match ducted AHUs and ductless wall-hung, ceiling-mounted and floor-mounted units to create a flexible multi-zone system. By working more efficiently, inverter heat pumps can last about 20 years, or approximately twice as long as traditional commercial HVAC systems. Switching to a residential-style inverter compressor heat pump also reduces the size and number of roof penetrations, which further promotes energy efficiency by minimizing unconditioned outside air infiltration as well as the safety and longevity of the roof. 

In light commercial applications, multiple 5-ton heat pumps could replace large rooftop units and, when coupled with a mix of AHUs and ductless indoor units, offer retail and restaurants a more versatile multi-zone system to maximize customer comfort and reduce costs. The upfront purchase price to switch to a high-quality inverter technology heat pump system will pay off quickly as energy bills decrease and happy customers return – all while helping to do what’s right for the planet by reducing energy consumption. 

Do you want to learn how to offer this opportunity to your clients? Visit more information. 

David Rames

Posted In: ACCA Now, Commercial Equipment, Print Edition

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