Energy Manager

How VRF can provide significant HVAC savings

November 19, 2018 - With winter just around the corner, heating units across the country are being called into action. For multi-unit residential building owners and property managers, for example, this time of year often means higher energy bills—and heating is just one more thing to manage among multiple and competing priorities.

November 19, 2018  By Scott Beneteau

This winter, instead of worrying about how much it will cost for you to heat your building, why not consider a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system? This is a flexible solution that can help better manage energy needs and the bottom line.

A VRF HVAC system is ductless, so the installation process is non-intrusive. It only requires a 3-in. opening in the building to connect a direct exchange (DX) copper pipe between an indoor head unit, which conditions the air in the space, and an outdoor condenser unit. They can provide both heating and cooling options, offering maximum comfort and flexibility to occupants.

Adding a VRF system to your building may enable you to implement a new sub-metering program or, for buildings that are already sub-metered, capture the full costs of in-suite heating and cooling. According to a study by Navigant Consulting, converting a unit within a residential building from bulk to sub-metering can provide annual electricity savings of up to 40%.

Beginning the process
Before you commit to making the switch, however, you will need to see if your building is the right fit for VRF.

Bringing in an HVAC technician or engineering company to conduct a technical audit will allow you to learn about your building’s deficiencies and any areas for improvement. Once the technician has determined your building’s suitability, an engineering team can provide an analysis of your energy bills, based on current performance, and compare them to potential future savings and energy use.

This approach will help to lay out the business case for converting your building to a VRF system, i.e. how the long-term energy efficiency of the system can offset the initial costs of retrofitting. The engineering or HVAC company can then prepare a preliminary design and quote.

As mentioned, the installation process is minimally invasive. The new copper pipe connection can be concealed with decorative moulding. There is no need to core-drill for hydronic loops.

Controlling zones
A VRF system helps put more control of your building’s energy management in your hands. You will be better able to regulate comfort in different zones throughout the building. A high-traffic lobby, after all, requires different heating levels than a fifth-floor hallway with minimal windows.

Further, zone control provides energy savings for empty suites. With VRF, you will only heat and cool spaces when they are in use.

Delivering personalized comfort for each zone offers tenants the chance to better understand their rate of energy consumption and to control their own indoor climate. This is an important asset that provides a draw for prospective tenants and allows the landlord to charge higher rent for a given space.

Your building’s design and needs are unique. VRF allows you to customize energy management, so tenants pay for the energy they use and when they use it, rather than force you to take on unnecessary and increasing costs.

Scott Benetau is general manager (GM) of Enercare Commercial Services, based in Markham, Ont. For more information, visit

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