Packaged terminal HVAC units are the first choice for hospitality, senior living, and other facilities where many similarly-sized rooms must be heated and cooled to different levels. These units are inexpensive, easy to install without major renovations, and can be replaced one by one if an issue arises. However, commercial property owners can experience outsized heating bills if their HVAC system does not align with their needs. Two of the most common choices—packaged terminal air conditioner (PTAC) and packaged terminal heat pump (PTHP) units—differ significantly, and your choice could impact your maintenance and utility costs for years to come.
Similarities Between PTACs and Heat Pump Units
Two out of the three systems in packaged terminal units are the same: the air conditioner and the resistance strip used for heating. Further, installation dimensions are often alike, with most fitting into the same gap in curtain walls. And since cooling is performed by the same system, there is relatively little difference in efficiency when it comes to maintaining comfortable spaces for occupants when the outside temperature is above 72 degrees. Additionally, for both types of units, resistive heat is often used at or below 35 degrees.
So what distinguishes packaged terminal air conditioners from units with heat pumps, and how can you choose between them?
The Key Difference: PTHPs and Climate
When a packaged terminal unit with a heat pump operates between 35 and 72 degrees, it uses a different, more energy-efficient system than standard PTAC units. The heat pump is effectively the same as an air conditioner run in reverse: the refrigerant pulls in heat from the outside, and a fan then blows air over the heat element to warm the room.
This process uses much less electricity than the traditional resistive heat strips used in PTACs, which will save you money on utility bills. However, it comes with a caveat: PTHPs are slightly less effective in cold climates. However, recent advances mean that heat pump technology will work in frigid temperatures, and most heat pump units are equipped with back-up heat sources.
If you’re focused solely on upfront costs, PTHPs are a bit more expensive. However, their energy-efficient technology will cut your power bills significantly within a year. In fact, PTHPs cut electricity bills even more quickly north and west of the I-20 corridor that crosses the southeast and southwest United States.
With that in mind, make sure you take this payback period into consideration as you plan to update your units. It’s also worth noting that the lifespan of most PTACs is approximately seven years, while PTHPs can last for ten or more years.
Making the Call: Which Unit Works For You?
As with many other HVAC-specific issues, deciding between packaged terminal air conditioner and heat pump units depends on your space and budget. A qualified professional can help you consider your circumstances and choose the best unit for your building.
Although heat pumps work best in more moderate climates, their back-up heat sources mean that they function well even in frigid winters.
Get the Right Packaged Terminal Units for Your Commercial Project