June 12, 2020

When you’re looking for an energy-efficient method of heating and cooling for a home or building, variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems are an efficient solution. This technology was invented in 1982, but it has only recently become popular in the United States. The development of home automation systems, LEED certification, and other environmentally friendly HVAC technology have inspired many people to take a look at VRF heat pumps for their homes and buildings. Here’s what you need to know about VRF systems, including how they work, their benefits, and their applications.

What VRF Means

VRF refers to the use of a chemical refrigerant that flows at variable speeds for heating or for cooling a home or building. The chemical refrigerant cycles through one or several outdoor units called condensers. It circulates back into the home or building to multiple indoor units. The indoor units can be located in a utility room or in the zone they control.

How VRF Works

A VRF heating and cooling system is a large-scale system designed for big spaces. It does not require any air ducts. The design of any particular VRF system is customized to the building or home where it’s installed. Most VRFs are installed with a DC inverter that connects to the indoor unit. This allows its motor to operate at a variable speed instead of just 100% on or off. The variable speed of the motor is what allows for the variable refrigerant flow to work. The system has an onboard computer that allows it to calculate the needed speed of the motor in order to reach the temperature setting on the thermostat.

There are two VRF system layouts. One is a two-pipe system. It works like a heat pump. A branch circuit controller communicates with each indoor evaporator. Each zone can be heated or cooled to a different temperature, just like in other zoned ductless systems. For cooling, the chemical refrigerant absorbs heat from a zone. If a different zone requires heating, the heat absorbed from the first zone is transferred to the second. If no zones require heating at the time, the refrigerant cycles to the outdoor unit, which dissipates the heat.

The other VRF system layout is a three-pipe system. It is also known as a heat recovery system. The third pipe acts as a condenser for the refrigerant. No branch circuit controller is required in a three-pipe system. The heat recovery style of the VRF system costs more to install, but it has higher energy efficiency and lower operating costs. It can cool one zone and use its extra heat for another zone. If there’s too much heat from the first zone, it dissipates the extra heat to the outdoor air. If there’s not enough heat provided by the first zone, it’s able to extract heat from the outdoor air and deliver it to the correct zone.

Types of VRF Systems

There are two types of VRF systems. The first type is air cooled. This is the same technology as the most common type of heat pump used throughout the United States. Because VRFs have a high capacity and usually heat or cool very large homes, office spaces, and other buildings, the outdoor units are large. These condensers are about the size of a refrigerator. This is because they have large heat-exchanging coils for transferring heat to and from the outdoor air.

The second type of VRF system is water cooled. It relies on a chiller. A water-cooled condenser is much smaller, but it has to be surrounded by water. Although the water-cooled VRF systems are smaller and more energy efficient, they’re less common because of increased maintenance needs and more complicated installation and service requirements.

What Makes VRF Different From Other Heating and Cooling Systems

VRF systems are different from heat pumps, including ductless heat pumps because they can heat and cool at the same time. All other types of heat pumps must either be in heating mode or in cooling mode. This allows the home’s or building’s occupants to set each zone’s thermostat to the desired temperature. If one room requires cooling, such as a server room or kitchen, and the rest of the zones need heating, the VRF system makes this possible.

Benefits of Installing a VRF System

There are many benefits to installing a VRF system. They can be customized to serve a single-family home, an expansive office space, or a high-rise residential, commercial, or mixed-use building. These systems use about 55% less energy compared to using a furnace, central air conditioning system, or traditional heat pump.

Each zone can be set to a different temperature, reducing the workload and extending the system’s lifespan. The customized zone control also allows each occupant’s preferences to be considered. The internal heat recovery functions of the three-pipe system formats offer more energy-efficiency improvements. This makes them a good choice for places with extreme temperature swings, such as San Antonio. VRF systems operate quietly. Both the inside and the outside units create low noise levels, even when operating at their peak capacity.

Where VRF Systems Can Be Installed

VRF systems can be installed at a single-family home, duplex, condo, apartment building, office space, or commercial building. They have the capacity to heat and cool buildings that are 70,000 square feet in size. The installation requirements for VRF systems include having a sturdy, level surface for the outdoor unit and appropriate spaces for the indoor units. The indoor unit can be 150 vertical feet away from the outdoor unit. Each indoor unit must be at least 14 feet away from any other indoor unit.

Who Can Install a VRF System

Not all HVAC technicians are properly trained for the installation of a VRF system. At Beyer Air Conditioning & Heating, our technicians have been factory-trained and certified to install VRF systems at homes and businesses throughout San Antonio and the surrounding areas. It’s important to choose a factory-trained and certified technician for the proper installation of the system. A VRF system will operate more efficiently and will have a longer lifespan when it’s installed and maintained by a factory-trained service technician.

How to Decide on a VRF System

Before you decide on a VRF system for your home or business, it’s important to consider a few factors. You may want to look at the operating costs of other heating and cooling equipment and compare it to the VRF. Also, consider the initial installation costs. If you’re renovating a historical residence or you’re needing to heat and to cool a building without ducts, VRF provides you with more design flexibility.

At Beyer Air Conditioning & Heating, we install quality VRF systems that you can rely on for energy-efficient heating and cooling in San Antonio, TX, and the surrounding areas. In addition to these systems, we’re also ready to install, repair, or maintain air conditioning systems and heat pumps. If you’re in need of a ductless air conditioning system, our NATE-certified technicians install, repair, and maintain them. You can also count on us for duct repair and cleaning, indoor air quality solutions, and home comfort plans. To learn more about VRF systems and our other products and services in the San Antonio area, call us at Beyer Air Conditioning & Heating today.

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