Packaged Terminal Air Conditioning units, or PTACs, are a smart, energy-efficient way for owners of hotels, motels, assisted living facilities and other buildings with large numbers of separated rooms to cool and heat those rooms. PTACs eliminate the need for big, costly central heating and air conditioning systems – and the ductwork that goes with them – by replacing the central system with individual self-contained units.
Although PTACs are used primarily in commercial buildings like hotels, they’ve become a popular energy saving solution in certain residential applications as well. Homeowners who build out additions to their houses often find that heating and cooling their new space can be done at less cost by installing a PTAC than by extending their home’s ductwork.
PTACs are relatively easy to install. Units are installed through the building’s exterior walls, allowing the PTAC to vent the heat and humidity it draws from the room. The installation process requires the contractor to break through the exterior wall and install a metal wall sleeve to act as an outer shell and hold the unit in place. The sleeve should be properly insulated to prevent air leakage. The contractor will also attach an exterior grille to the outside of the unit that protects the coils while allowing heat and humidity to flow out and fresh air to flow in. In fact, the installation can be performed by a general contractor rather than an air conditioning specialist because PTACs are self-contained plug-in units that only requires through-the-wall mounting.
The initial cost of installing PTACs is typically less than installing a central system that must be adapted with individual room controls. In addition, PTACs can save space in commercial buildings because they don’t need ductwork or mechanical rooms.
The cost of PTAC units can vary widely. Prices for well-known brands advertised by leading retailers can run between $500 and $1,500, with many models in the $700-$900 range. The variations in price are due to several factors, including the manufacturer, BTU capacity, and whether heat is provided by a heat pump or electric heating element. The Energy Efficiency Rating, or EER, of the unit also affects the price, with higher EER PTACs generally having a larger initial cost but saving money in the long run because they use less electricity. PTACs are not included in the federal government’s EnergyStar program, so buyers should carefully examine the EER rating instead of simply looking for the EnergyStar label.
Energy savings will vary depending on factors ranging from local climate to the capacity of the individual PTAC units, but case studies across the country have shown that PTACs can achieve utility bill savings as high as 20% when compared with central heating and air conditioning systems. Those savings can be increased by integrating the PTAC units with an Energy Management System, or EMS, that can automatically control their temperature settings.
An EMS can be fairly simple; for example, occupancy sensors in each room that can adjust the temperature settings on the PTAC when it detects that people are entering or leaving the room. More sophisticated sensor-based EMSs can make temperature adjustments based on the number of people it detects in the room, or on the length of time that the room is unoccupied.
Owners of buildings with large numbers of PTACs can increase their energy savings even more with a web-based monitoring system. This advanced type of EMS can wirelessly manage dozens of PTACs in a building through a single computer interface. The system can remotely control each unit’s settings while providing data on the unit’s performance to building management and notifying management if maintenance is needed on any of the units. The web-based system can be operated from any computer connected to the internet, so a building manager doesn’t even have to be on-site to manage the equipment.
PTACs don’t require a lot of upkeep, producing maintenance cost savings in addition to energy cost savings. Maintenance only involves cleaning or changing the filters regularly and cleaning the coils twice a year. Although maintenance is easy, it shouldn’t be ignored. A properly maintained PTAC will last longer and operate more efficiently.
The individual nature of PTACs also means that maintenance problems are limited to the room where the unit having the problem is located instead of the entire building, as would be the case with a centralized heating and cooling system. The problem unit can be easily repaired or replaced without affecting the comfort of other occupants in the building.
In addition to the energy savings they provide, PTACs offer greater individual comfort to the guests or residents of the rooms they’re installed in. By allowing the occupant of each room to set the temperature at their own personal comfort level, PTACs improve the guest experience in hotels and the resident experience in group living facilities.
Identifying the proper capacity for a PTAC unit is very important. Capacity refers to the number of British Thermal Units, or BTU, which is a measurement of the amount of heat the unit removes from the air. A PTAC unit with a smaller capacity than the room needs will have to run longer to reach the desired temperature, increasing your electric costs.
The opposite holds true as well. While it may be tempting to buy a larger unit because it costs just a few dollars more than a smaller one, it could be a mistake in the long run. An oversized PTAC will create greater temperature swings, causing the unit to cycle on and off more frequently and putting added stress on the motor. Additionally, the unit will cool the air faster than it removes the humidity, creating a cool but damp feeling for the room’s occupants.
Hotels, motels and other commercial buildings that are sectioned into individual room-sized living or working units would be wise to consider PTACs as an economical alternative to central air conditioning and heating. PTACs offer energy efficiency and year-round comfort in one self-contained package.