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Breaking Down the VRF System | What is a VRF System & How it Works

Last updated: 10-26-2020

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Breaking Down the VRF System | What is a VRF System & How it Works

The HVAC industry is a dynamic one, with new technologies and equipment being introduced on a regular basis. As an HVAC professional, it is part of your job to stay up to date on the latest advancements so you can provide your clients with the best possible service.

One technology that’s gaining popularity across the United States is the variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system; these units currently power approximately 80% of commercial buildings in Europe and Asia—and they’re becoming increasingly popular not just among U.S. business owners, but homeowners as well.

By having a better understanding of what VRF systems are, how they work, and what their key components are, you’ll be equipped to offer this in-demand technology to your residential and commercial clients.

Specifically, a VRF system is an alternative to traditional HVAC units that can provide heating and cooling throughout a building without the need for extensive ductwork. For this reason, VRF systems are practical options in older buildings that may not have any existing ductwork to work with but still need access to efficient heating and cooling. Likewise, in historic buildings where ductwork retrofitting may not be permitted, a VRF system can be used to provide comfortable climate control without disturbing the building’s original structure.

VRF systems are available as heat pump models (which can deliver heating and cooling separately) or heat recovery systems (which can provide heating and cooling simultaneously to different areas of a building), depending on what the client needs.

VRF systems are actually quite simple in their operation. Much like a traditional HVAC system, a VRF system has a central, outdoor unit located on the outside of the building that is connected to a single or multiple indoor fan-coil units that ultimately deliver heat or cold air to each designated zone.

The outdoor unit can connect to the indoor units with two or three refrigerant lines.

This outdoor unit is then connected to one or several indoor fan-coil units, which are the actual units that deliver heat or cold air to different spaces throughout the building. These ductless or ducted fan-coil units can be mounted on walls, within recessed ceiling tiles, or even near floors to achieve a seamless look.

While standard, heat pump basic setup does not allow for heating and cooling to operate simultaneously, it is relatively simple to alter a VRF system design to allow for this by providing a couple of additional components to the system. Often times, this is desired by clients located in larger buildings with very diverse heating and cooling needs.

A VRF system can be a heat recovery system a designated outdoor unit and by installing what branch controllers.  Branch controllers, which can be installed between the outdoor unit and the indoor unit, allows for heating and cooling to run at the same time in different areas of a building. These designated areas are known as zones, with each zone receiving its own controller for customized temperature control.

There’s no way around it; VRF systems are only going to become increasingly popular as commercial and residential clients begin to realize their benefits, especially when compared to traditional HVAC systems. Not only are VRF systems extremely versatile, but they allow for a higher level of customization than any other HVAC set-up without requiring existing ductwork. Likewise, they’re extremely energy efficient, so lower energy bills over time can help clients offset the initial costs of installing VRF systems on their properties.

On your end, VRF systems can also be easier to install because their equipment not only weighs less but does not require the installation or complex retrofitting of ductwork. Still, learning how to properly design and install a VRF system for any given space does require specialized training and experience.

Ready to add VRF systems to your list of offerings? CE has all the VRF tools, parts, and equipment you need from today’s top brands and most trusted manufacturers. Questions? Contact us today!


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