Timberline Blog

VRF: The Benefits and Drawbacks of Variable Refrigerant Flow Systems

March 29, 2023 by Timberline

Not everyone understands what variable refrigerant flow systems are, but there are hints at the meaning within the term. Essentially, VRF is a type of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in which refrigerant is automatically flowed from one zone to another to modify the temperature in those areas. It’s a highly efficient type of heating and cooling, particularly for commercial buildings.

Large HVAC installation on the roof of a commercial building.

Of course, like any type of HVAC system, VRF has benefits and drawbacks you should consider before switching from a more conventional HVAC setup. That starts with learning a little about how a VRF system functions.

How Does a Commercial VRF HVAC System Work?

Sometimes called variable refrigerant volume (VRV) technology, VRF was developed in the 1980s, so it’s not new. However, for a long time, it was used almost exclusively outside of the U.S.

But in those early years, American companies and service providers were finding ways to improve and enhance VRF technology and implementations. Consequently, today’s commercial VRF solutions are optimized to provide exceptional performance. In other words, what you have is a technology that’s essentially time-tested and cutting-edge simultaneously!

Several companies make VRF technology. This includes Mitsubishi, whose City Multi (for “multi-range”) is among the best available.

Here’s how these systems work. A VRF solution consists of one outdoor unit connected to multiple indoor units, each representing a unique zone. The outdoor unit conditions the refrigerant as needed, and the system automatically moves it from one inside area to another to transfer heat to where it’s needed and away from where it’s not wanted.

This approach delivers tremendous energy and cost savings. By some estimates, a VRF system can reduce energy consumption by as much as 55%. But even if your savings were just half of that, the amount would be significant.

Commercial VRF System Pros and Cons

If anyone tells you that VRF technology is “all upside,” you should be a little suspicious about their intentions. There are very few things in this world that could justify that descriptor!

As you might expect, there are many advantages to these systems but also a few drawbacks. As a result, it’s essential that you understand both the pros and cons.

On the plus side, commercial VRF systems:

  • Are super-high efficiency heating and cooling solutions
  • Have flexible, modular designs
  • Offer the most precise temperature control currently available
  • Can provide cooling and heating simultaneously
  • Are highly reliable
  • Are quieter than conventional systems because condensing units are outside the building
  • Have advanced control systems that are intuitive and easy to use
  • Are better for the environment due to lower energy consumption

Many Colorado business owners identify strongly with the ability to heat and cool a building at the same time. With our abundant sunshine, it’s not uncommon—especially in the spring and fall—for rooms that are getting sunlight currently to be too warm while those on the shaded side of the facility are too cold. And our lack of humidity (and its temperature-moderating capacity) adds to the challenge of maintaining a consistent temperature throughout a building.

As for drawbacks, they are fewer but still important to consider. A commercial VRF system:

  • Typically has a higher installation cost than a conventional system
  • Requires more space inside a building than a ducted HVAC system
  • May have a higher maintenance cost
  • Might not be ideal for certain climates or building types

However, on balance, it’s fair to say that the advantages of VRF systems outweigh the disadvantages for most commercial properties.

Is a VRF System Right for Your Commercial Building?

The pros and cons outlined above give a high-level overview of the merits of VRF systems. But is this type of heating and cooling ideal for your building? That will depend on several factors. And it’s a decision you shouldn’t base exclusively on articles about VRF technology that you read online. Even the most reliable and informative sources don’t take the specifics of your buildings into account.

That’s why we encourage building or business owners who have heard about VRF and are considering it for their facilities to talk with us. We can get some details about your building and your climate-control goals in a quick call and tell you if we think you’re a good candidate for VRF heating and cooling.

If you are and you want to proceed, we can have a more in-depth discussion. From that, we can generate a detailed and comprehensive quote for designing and installing a VRF system for you.

Talk to the Experts at Timberline Mechanical

VRF systems use cutting-edge technology that must be installed by technicians who understand and know how to implement it, following a plan to maximize the new system’s reliability and efficiency. Our team at Timberline Mechanical has the skills and expertise to complete VRF installations that meet the highest standards.

That includes all system components—outdoor units, indoor units in any configuration (wall-mounted, ceiling-suspended, etc.), compressors, ventilation systems, branch boxes, and system interfaces.

Nobody wins when advanced technology is installed by people who aren’t fully familiar with how it works or the installation nuances that can make a difference between achieving and missing your efficiency goals and other project objectives.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to be ready to move forward before you talk with us. If commercial VRF is something you’re just starting to research or don’t foresee implementing for several months or even years, we still welcome your call. It’s much better to be knowledgeable about VRF before you need to be than to find yourself “playing catchup” when it suddenly makes sense to switch to a more efficient heating and cooling system.

We frequently have productive conversations with building owners in places like Boulder that are leading the way in energy efficiency—and where green initiatives are proving to be good for the environment and the companies that launch them.

Contact Timberline Mechanical today. Let’s see if a VRF system installed and supported by one of the best teams in the region makes sense for your commercial building.

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