Featured image of industrial HVAC systems vs. Residential

Industrial and residential HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems serve the same function of providing enough heat, good ventilation, and cool air conditioning. However, they differ in their purpose and operation. 

The core differences between industrial HVAC systems and the residential types are in size, placement, power, costs, and maintenance. Industrial HVAC systems provide a suitable workplace that promotes productivity and safety. Meanwhile, residential HVAC makes your home comfortable and cozy.

What Are HVAC Systems?

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems are various technologies used in houses and buildings to provide proper ventilation, heat, and cool air.

The three main functions of an HVAC system are: 

  • Provide heating
  • Provide cooling
  • Maintain acceptable air quality

A HVAC heating system is designed to keep people comfortably warm when it is cold. There are many ways of providing heat, but the use of furnaces – which heat air directly, and the use of boilers – which heat water which is then used to provide heating – are the most common.

Cooling systems are designed to keep people cool when it is hot. Three commonly used forms of cooling include the use of fans – with air movement creating a cooling effect on the human body, the use of vapour-compression air conditioning, and the use of evaporative cooling.

A ventilation system is designed to both remove contaminants from air, through filtration, and also to ensure that there is not an unsafe build up of gases that can be harmful to humans in high concentrations. Buildings need to continuously be drawing in fresh air from outside and expelling stale air from inside.

Infographic of the main functions of an HVAC System

Residential HVAC

A residential HVAC system works to make your house comfortable. Systems may provide heating only, cooling only, heating and ventilation, cooling and ventilation, heating or cooling, or heating, cooling and ventilation.

There are many types of residential HVAC depending upon your home’s area, size, layout, and other factors. The tow common types of residential HVAC are:

  • Unitary systems – This has individual units to condition a single room. Examples include split system air conditioners, reverse cycle split systems providing heating and cooling, wall furnaces for heating, electric radiators. 
  • Central system – This is a single system which is designed to condition the whole house. It may be a ducted system, or in colder climates it may be a water-based system for heating, such as a hydronic heating system.

When choosing the right HVAC for your home, you want to look for a unit that gives good air quality, properly regulates the indoor temperature, and is energy-efficient. If looking at a central system, you want it to be capable of being easily zoned, so that you aren’t needlessly conditioning spaces when they are unoccupied. 

Residential HVAC systems cost less than commercial or industrial ones because they are generally smaller stand-alone units. Additionally, they may be simpler.

Infographic of the two types of residential HVAC

Industrial HVAC

Industrial HVAC systems condition large areas and may also provide conditions that meet the requirements of the facility, and not just the people. For example, in an art gallery, the temperature and humidity needs to be stable at all times to preserve the artwork. 

These large systems also regulate air quality to provide healthy working conditions. According to studies, providing a good environment increases worker satisfaction and higher productivity. The HVAC systems used in production and manufacturing may also be configured to enable the manufacture of high quality goods. For example, in semi-conductor manufacturing great care is taken to ensure that the air is very clean and that the humidity is tightly controlled.

Industrial HVAC systems are often equipped with a large number of sensors to ensure appropriate conditions are maintained, and may have many components. Control is usually achieved with direct digital controls (DDC), also known as a Building Management System (BMS) or Building Automation System (BAS), that may have complex control algorithms.. 

Industrial HVAC systems often have large and complex air distribution systems, requiring maintenance by skilled technicians.

Residential HVAC and Industrial HVAC Side by Side

While it serves the same function, a residential HVAC system is different from an industrial version in several ways. The key differences between industrial and residential HVAC are shown in the table below.

FeatureResidential HVACIndustrial HVAC
SizeSmaller, stand-alone unitsLarge, complex, and modular units that can be modified or expanded
VentilationDepending on the climate, residential systems may be designed with little consideration for ventilationIndustrial systems pay much more attention to ventilation, and are usually typically designed to achieve a particular ventilation rate, in terms of air changes per hour. 
Controls Residential controls are generally simpler with fewer configuration options.Industrial controls are complex and highly configurable

Best Practices for Industrial HVAC Systems

An industrial HVAC system generally lasts between 10 to 25 years. You can make it last longer by following the best practices for industrial HVAC systems. Here are some suggestions:

  • According to the US ENERGY Star, dirt and neglect are the leading causes for HVAC systems’ failures. You need to regularly maintain the equipment for it to run efficiently, saving unwanted extra repair costs.
  • Investing in a higher-efficiency HVAC system may initially cost more, but it can bring considerable savings to your operational expenses in the long run.
  • Installing variable fan-speed control helps deliver significant savings is some systems.
  • Eliminate or minimize using cooling and heating simultaneously. When both are working, more energy is used, increasing wear and tear on the system.

Final Words

Industrial HVAC systems are not only larger and more complex than residential systems, but they also operate differently. A residential HVAC system keeps your family comfortable, while industrial HVAC works to create an effective indoor temperature and air quality for employees, products, and entire facilities.

According to the US Department of Energy (DOE) data, HVAC accounts for around 35% of the carbon emissions in a typical building. When business owners switch to energy-efficient HVAC systems, they’re taking a vital step towards saving money whilst reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. 

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