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A Comparison of Residential and Commercial Heating & Cooling

What Are the Key Differences Between Commercial and Residential HVAC Systems?

To the uninitiated, commercial and residential heating and cooling systems may seem to work the same way. In many ways, this is true, and the overall purpose of each system is virtually the same. They both exist to heat, cool, ventilate, and control humidity in a given space. However, there are some practical differences between the two, most of which come down to size, complexity, function, and maintenance considerations of the unit itself and the building it’s being used for.

The Size and Location of the Unit


One of the most apparent differences between the two systems is the size of the units involved. A typical residential unit only needs to provide airflow for around 3,000 square feet, so it isn’t very big. A 50,000 square foot retail space or office building naturally requires much more power and a much larger system.

The placement of the unit (or units) is another key difference. Commercial units are usually installed where they can’t be seen or heard by customers, and service technicians can access them without interfering with business - almost always on the roof or in a service alley. 

On the other hand, residential systems typically feature two separate units - one indoors and one outside. The indoor unit is most often placed in a crawlspace or attic. In contrast, the outdoor unit is located in the backyard, beside the house, or on the roof. Aesthetics are less of a concern with residential systems, much to the chagrin of many homeowners.

The System’s Complexity

Another distinction between commercial and residential systems is their level of complexity. Residential systems are fairly simple and straightforward because residential buildings are not complicated and typically only contain one or two thermostats. 

Commercial systems are often much more complicated since they need to fulfill the needs of larger and more complex buildings. Multi-story office buildings have very intricate ductwork and numerous thermostats. Many commercial buildings have areas with particular temperature, filtration, and climate needs - such as electronics factories, food processing plants, and grocery stores.

Mechanism of the Unit and Maintenance Factors

letters Other points of deviation have to do with the mechanism of the units and their maintenance requirements. The mechanism of a unit will vary depending on its specific function and the type of building it’s installed in. Most residential systems are designed as self-contained products that cannot be altered or upgraded, only repaired or replaced. 

Conversely, commercial systems are designed with change and growth in mind. As such, they are modular systems, which means they can be modified and added to over time with additional units.

These differences in mechanism and design also mean that individual units in large commercial systems can receive maintenance and repairs. At the same time, other modules continue to operate so that the business doesn’t suffer interruption. Residential systems must be shut down entirely for maintenance to be performed.

About Wolfgang’s Cooling & Heating

A family-owned and operated local business, Wolfgang’s Cooling & Heating has proudly served Tempe, Arizona, since 1982. Their drug-screened and background-checked technicians arrive on time, with a smile, and ready to handle any job. They back all of their work with comprehensive guarantees and are proud to offer financing and 24/7 emergency service, in addition to their commercial AC services in Tempe.


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