Whether you’re just laying the foundation or remodeling the inside of your building, it’s never too early to start thinking about an air conditioning (AC) solution. Keeping your building occupants comfortable is often top priority, but this can be tough to balance with other concerns such as efficiency, maintenance, and the upfront cost of buying a new system.
That said, there are plenty of options available for different building types. To make the best choice for your space, consider how different solutions will impact your business goals and what you will need to achieve adequate ventilation and comfortable temperature within that space. In the case of large buildings with lots of individual rooms (i.e. hotels, hospitals, and office buildings), Packaged Terminal Air Conditioners (PTACs) are often a go-to for many business owners.
While you may have seen them before in these settings, it might not be clear why they are such a common choice for these types of buildings. Let’s discuss a few of the reasons these industries prefer PTAC units over any other AC solution.
What Is a PTAC Unit?
PTAC stands for “Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner.” Each unit is a “packaged” or single-unit air conditioner that usually offers both heating and cooling in the same unit. PTACs usually come in standard sizes, including:
- 42” X 15”
- 40” X 15”
- 36” X 15”
PTACs typically run on electric power only with energy outputs ranging from 7,000 to 15,000 BTUs. While some models incorporate electric heat pump technology, some cooling-only units use an outside heat source such as a hydronic coil or heat pump integration.
These units are usually installed through the wall beneath a window using a metal PTAC sleeve. The installer cuts a hole in the wall and places a sleeve into the space for support and insulation. The unit then slides easily into the sleeve and plugs into a nearby outlet.
Why Hotels Use PTACs
There are a number of reasons why PTACs are a great choice for hotels. From guest comfort to ease of repair, PTACs offer a heating and air conditioning solution for these spaces that traditional ducting systems simply can’t.
Guest comfort is one of the top priorities for hotels. But a central HVAC system with a wall-mounted thermostat doesn’t offer the individual control of a packaged unit. That’s one of the many reasons hotels choose to install a PTAC in every room – the unmatched potential for individual control.
With a duct system and a thermostat, guests often end up having to contact the front desk in order to change their unit settings. Even then, other guests may have conflicting preferences and it can be impossible to keep everyone happy. Having a PTAC unit in each hotel room provides individual guest control that would not be possible with a standard central AC system.
The control panel on the side of the PTAC unit lets the guest set their own room temperature from the unit itself. While installing a wall-mounted thermostat is optional, it’s not usually a requirement for accessible operation.
Low Upfront Cost
When trying to maintain comfort across multiple rooms, the idea of buying an individual air conditioner for each of them might seem like a financial nightmare. However, there’s a reason PTACs are still a popular choice for air conditioning even in budget hotels. Many great PTAC models are available for less than $1,200 per unit. You can also purchase refurbished units that achieve the same result. This makes the idea of owning a fleet of units much more achievable.
Any malfunction with a central air system is bound to be a significant project. You may have to open up a wall or ceiling to access the ductwork, and a problem with the main system can leave the entire building without air conditioning.
However, if one PTAC unit breaks down in a hotel, you don’t need to shut down the entire floor. You only have to purchase a new or refurbished unit for one room, thus minimizing the impact on regular business operations.
Because PTACs are installed directly into a fitted sleeve in the wall, the replacement process is as simple as purchasing a new unit of equal size. The ease of installing and replacing individual units often makes them an ideal choice for hotels over ducted systems.
PTACs can also be repaired without much expert knowledge. Unlike larger industrial AC solutions, experienced hotel maintenance staff can typically install and repair PTAC units themselves without needing to contact a professional HVAC technician.
Why Hospitals Use PTACs
In addition to providing comfort to recovering patients, hospitals are responsible for abiding by indoor air quality standards and making temperature control accessible. This was especially true during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the spread of airborne illnesses between rooms became a major concern. Because of this, hospitals also need to find a way to make indoor spaces safer for guests by restricting airflow between rooms.
Among many other concerns, specific air quality control standards for hospitals include:
- Maintaining an acceptable climate for patients and staff
- Removing odors
- Releasing and preventing the build-up of anesthetic gases
- Prevention of infection through fresh air exchange
- Humidity control
While ease of installation and low upfront cost are certainly two major reasons why hospitals choose PTACs, there are two other features that make these units a great fit in this environment.
Patient and Staff Temperature Control
Because PTAC units offer individual temperature control, they allow patients to control the comfort of their recovery environment for them and their visitors. This way, each guest can maintain a certain temperature without affecting other rooms.
In addition, PTAC units also utilize an easy-to-use control panel located directly on the unit. Although it is not always necessary, installing a wall thermostat or programming the unit to use a remote control can also help with accessibility for patients looking to adjust the room temperature for their personal comfort.
An individual PTAC unit can also control the climate in spaces like offices or nurses’ stations. This way, patient and staff AC settings need not affect each other.
Some air quality standards are very specific to the hospital environment. Industry requirements state that medical facilities treating any patients affected by airborne diseases should have a minimum air changeover rate (ACH) of 6. Most experts suggest this as a best practice for most buildings. For new constructions, ACH should be 12 or higher.
Since most of the bacteria and other contaminants in a sterile environment are brought in by hospital staff, high air turnover rate is essential to the success of any hospital AC solution.
Air turnover is the rate at which new outside air is being exchanged with the old air inside the conditioned space. A higher air turnover rate means that space is being filled with more fresh air. Because PTAC units draw air from the outside of the building, their high turnover rate makes them an excellent choice for hospital environments.
Why Office Buildings Use PTACs
In an office full of busy working professionals, business goals often take a higher priority over personal comfort. However, research has shown that office temperatures can impact employee productivity when changed by only a few degrees.
But what is the right temperature for the entire office? As employees battle over offices that are too hot or too cold, a central heating and air conditioning system won’t allow management to accommodate everyone at once.
In addition to being cost effective both for initial construction and maintenance, PTACs also offer individual control over office temperatures.
PTACs are an excellent solution to the problem of temperature preferences among individual employees. Each unit is self-contained, individually installed, and controlled directly from the front dashboard. By allowing employees to control their own office temperature, you can focus less on maintaining the work environment and more on being productive.
Supreme Cooling Ability
There are many PTAC options that can work with office spaces of various sizes. A small unit can serve an individual office with a few occupants. A larger unit is capable of heating and cooling common spaces like break rooms and cubicle floors.
Typically a 7000 BTU unit will heat or cool about 250-300 square feet, and a 1400 BTU unit will heat or cool up to 550-700 square feet. While an open floor of cubicles may require multiple units to cool, using a PTAC in an individual office of 700 square feet or less is very practical.
Just like hotel owners, office managers often prefer PTAC units to central air conditioning because of their ductless design. Maintenance to these units doesn’t require an expensive or disruptive repair project on complex duct work. You can often repair or replace a PTAC unit without interrupting the workflow of all employees.
In addition, a broken unit will not affect everyone who works in an office building. One unit can typically be serviced or replaced while the others continue to function normally.
Modern PTAC models are more efficient now than ever. With cooling and ventilation representing 32% of electricity costs for most small office buildings, it’s important to invest in something that will be cost effective to run over time.
With newer models like the Friedrich Freshaire and the GREE ETAC II series boasting better efficiency ratings than ever before, PTACs can also offer great energy savings for office buildings in the long term.
Tips for Selecting the Right Unit
With so many considerations that go into selecting the right PTAC unit, it can be a bit overwhelming. Here are a few key points to consider when shopping around.
Pick the Right Size Unit
When looking for a PTAC unit, make sure you select the right size for your space. One common misconception for PTACs is that bigger is better. The logic is that a larger unit with more heating/cooling BTUs will blast the room with air much harder than a smaller unit, thereby reaching the set temperature point much quicker and saving energy by not having to run as long.
While this seems like it could work that way, it is actually quite the opposite. Oversized units can create humidity problems even in the most ventilated areas. A unit with too many BTUs for the size of the room actually causes the unit to kick on and off more frequently. This shortens its lifespan over time. The goal is to select the power of the unit based on the square footage of the space.
Consider the Price
While a whole fleet of brand new PTAC units would be ideal, budget is also a valid concern when choosing a new AC solution. New units are very affordable, but refurbished units are even more cost effective. Before buying the shiniest thing on the market, see what kind of equivalent models you can find that have been refurbished to work like new.
Look at the Efficiency Rating
There are a number of different ways to look at the efficiency of an AC unit, and it can be tough to tell which one is the best representation. PTAC power is indicated with an EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio), a standard energy specification for most AC units.
As a good rule of thumb, it’s best to select a PTAC unit with an EER of 8.5 or higher. Depending on which region of the country you live in, your state or local government may have minimum requirements. Be sure to research this before purchasing a new unit.
Hotels, hospitals, and office buildings have long used PTAC units to meet their air conditioning needs. Now, the popularity of these units is growing in a number of other industries due to their convenient design.
In addition to being easier to install and maintain than a traditional ducted system, PTACs offer individual guest control at an affordable price. This helps to lower their operating cost over the long term, without sacrificing comfort.
While PTAC units are better suited for some spaces than others, their easy maintenance, individual control, and affordability are hard to beat. Whether you’re looking to try out a single PTAC for an apartment or install a fleet of new PTAC units in your building, we have you covered. See what new and refurbished units are available today.