Large multifamily apartments need a comfortable solution for their HVAC requirements. But that solution must also fit the budget and the floor plan. Installing VTAC units in apartments provides an excellent balance between cost and benefit, but they don’t work in every situation. Here are the pros and cons of using VTACs for multifamily apartment complexes and how to know if they’re right for your project.
A Vertical Terminal Air Conditioner, or VTAC, is a packaged through-the-wall HVAC solution that provides heating and cooling for one or more zones within an apartment or rental unit. It’s popular in apartments and higher-end hotels but can also be used in condominiums and townhomes.
VTAC units in apartments are found on an exterior wall, usually enclosed in a closet-like space. Instead of a separate compressor unit sitting outside of the apartment, VTAC units provide the compressor, condenser, furnace, and air handler in a single piece of equipment.
The single-stack design of VTAC units makes them appealing for several reasons, including their minimal space requirements and their flexible heating and cooling abilities. While they tend to be more expensive than some options commonly found in hotels or lower-end rentals, they are less expensive and easier to install than conventional centralized and decentralized solutions like separate furnaces and CUs.
VTAC units provide a balance between cost and comfort. Their ability to heat and cool multiple zones, as well as single rooms, makes them versatile enough for most apartment applications. They’re quiet, they’re easy to maintain, and they don’t require any extra space outside of the unit.
- Less expensive to install than separate furnaces and CUs
- Better heating and cooling than PTAC (under-the-window or in-the-window) units
- Capable of heating and cooling more than one room or zone
- High level of tenant control for maximum comfort
- Quiet operation
- Minimal interior space requirements
- Out of sight for tenants
- No exterior footprint
While VTAC units in apartments may be more comfortable for tenants, they come with a greater cost and less control than alternative solutions. The need for ductwork with VTACs also limits their application, especially in retrofits or where wall and ceiling space isn’t available.
- More expensive than PTAC units
- Less flexible in heating and cooling than mini-split solutions
- Require exterior wall for condenser
- Designed for ducting, so may not be an option for retrofits and refurbishments
- Less cost-efficient than some centralized HVAC solutions
Furnaces with separate compressor units generally offer greater efficiency, but only some multifamily buildings have adequate space for these units. In many cases, decentralized furnaces and CUs require massive footprints, either on rooftops or on the outside of each individual rental unit. VTAC units in apartments require no exterior pad or CU installation, allowing multilevel buildings to incorporate a decentralized heating and cooling system that can be installed anywhere.
Cost is also a factor when installing VTACs in apartments. Compared to separate 2-unit systems, the vertical terminal design is less expensive to install. There is no additional copper piping to install outside of the unit, and the ducting is fairly simple.
Maintenance is another important consideration. VTAC units, with no outdoor components, require less upkeep than conventional separate units. It’s a big benefit for maintenance workers.
There are other alternatives to installing VTAC units in apartments, especially in cases where you might need more economical solutions. But in each case, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of the systems you consider.
Packaged terminal air conditioners are familiar solutions for hotels and some apartments, although they give the impression of economy over quality. These units are typically installed under a window or within a window frame.
PTAC units provide both heating and cooling. But they can’t provide heating and cooling for more than one zone or room. They’re designed to condition a single room. This makes them ideal for single-room apartments and hotel rooms, but they don’t work as well for larger apartments.
Mini-split units are heat pumps with a compressor installed outside the unit. These units offer efficient heating and cooling for single rooms, and multiple head units can be installed throughout a larger rental space to provide separate zoned heating and cooling. They can also be built to utilize variable refrigerant flow systems.
The biggest drawbacks of mini-split systems are the need for an installation space for the compressor and their expense. Since each head unit is a separate system, it can be expensive to heat and cool multiple rooms.
Centralized HVAC solutions are far more efficient than PTAC, mini-splits, or VTAC units in apartments. These systems give building owners and managers more control over the heating and cooling throughout a building, and space and installation requirements are dramatically different.
Hot water systems, including both two-pipe and four-pipe systems, offer independent heating and cooling for rental units. Centralized geothermal systems can do the same. In both cases, the overall maintenance costs are less than some of the other options, especially since they require less apartment access.
However, these solutions often provide lower operating costs at the expense of tenant comfort. Compared to installing VTAC units in apartments, centralized solutions simply don’t provide the same convenience for renters.
Not sure which solution is right for your multifamily building project? We can help you find the perfect answer to your heating and cooling questions. Whatever you’re designing—townhomes, condos, apartments, or commercial suites—our experienced engineering team can design a system that provides efficient, cost-conscious solutions for your endeavor.
Contact us today to start working on the best MEP solutions for your project!