There are several drivers for implementation aside from strides in efficiency. Energy wasn’t the key motivation for a VRF installation in a Manhattan office, designed by engineering firm Environmental Systems Design (ESD). The project utilized VRF for a single 8,000-square-foot floor on a 35-story building of 1920s construction.
“At that site, we were able to shrink the mechanical room by about half, which is huge with the cost of real estate in New York,” explains Louis Franceschini, senior associate at ESD. “Physical dimensions have a surprising impact.”
Lightweight VRF rooftop units typically don’t require a crane during installation, and the systems have limited space requirements, particularly for air distribution inside the building, which utilizes half-inch piping as opposed to 12-inch or larger ductwork.
“The systems are designed to blend into their environments,” Smith says. “You can accommodate the aesthetics of a space instead of sacrificing interior design due to the limitations of conventional ducted systems.”
According to PNNL, the best opportunities for VRF systems include buildings with any of these target characteristics:
- Inefficient fan systems
- Lack of cooling or inadequate cooling capacity
- Leaky and/or poorly designed or installed ductwork
- Inefficient HVAC systems and high energy costs
- Older and historical sites with limited room to install or change systems
- Already targeted for HVAC upgrades, replacements, or energy improvements
- New building projects that can take advantage of opportunities to reduce floor-to-floor height or increase usable floor space by removing mechanical equipment inside.
There is a growing availability of utility incentives, which also provide considerable motivation. Early participants include Southern California Edison, Efficiency Vermont, the Energy Trust of Oregon, and Pacific Gas and Electric.
Buildings with small, separated areas can take full advantage of the zonal control capability. These include offices, schools, lodging, multifamily, healthcare, and retail shopping centers and malls with small stores.