They never show up in the beauty shots on websites, but heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems can be crucial to a pleasant hotel experience. Scott Beneteau, general manager for Enercare Commercial Services in Toronto, says HVAC systems are often a “grudge purchase” for hoteliers, but he’s working hard to change their perception.

“I’d like to see [hoteliers] start to look at HVAC as an investment in guest comfort and not just something they have to have,” he says. “It’s an asset that can enhance the guest experience and really improve your cost centre.”

Beneteau says HVAC has been a historically stagnant category, but new technologies capable of dramatically reducing both energy and long-term operating costs have led to a wave of capital investment among hoteliers.

In 2015, Toronto’s Sheraton Centre Hotel installed North America’s largest variable-refrigerant-flow (VRF) system as part of a massive $90-million renovation project. VRF systems boast an enticing combination of efficiency, quieter operation, consistent comfort and the ability to heat and cool simultaneously.

The systems require more up-front investment, but hoteliers can recoup some of their initial investment through increased energy efficiency and lower maintenance costs. LG claims its Multi V VRF systems are capable of operating at sound levels as low as 23 decibels — just slightly above the sound of rustling leaves.

“In a world of online reviews, where people are commenting on every aspect of their stays, you want climate control to be something that’s a positive or, at the very least, neutral,” says Beneteau.

Stephan Montroy, director of Products for Montreal-based heating and cooling distributor Master, says VRF systems also enable hoteliers to minimize, or even eliminate, ductwork, allowing them to save on costs such as large distribution fans, multiple water pumps and piping.

Beneteau says VRF systems have the potential to be a “game-changer” for hotel operators, who are attracted by key factors such as simple installation, lower maintenance costs and individualized zone control. “They’re the three elements that will drive operators to look at VRF, particularly as more brand operators, like Sheraton, successfully deploy the technology,” he says.

An enticing combination of affordability and reliability has made packaged-terminal air conditioners (PTAC) the backbone of the hotel industry’s HVAC investment, although they do tend to be noisier than standard air conditioning, with a lifespan — eight to 10 years — about half that of their counterparts.

Montroy says companies such as Houston-based Friedrich have made major improvements to its line of PTAC units.

The company’s SG Series features thicker insulation on the inner walls to reduce sound transfer. Meanwhile, a constant-fan mode produces a steady stream of white noise designed to mask sound-level changes when the internal compressor cycles on and off. The modular design also provides service technicians with easy access to internal components. Montroy says variable refrigerant packaged (VRP) heat-pump systems offer the benefits of VRF technology with the simplicity of a closet-mounted packaged unit. The Friedrich VRP is capable of delivering an energy-efficiency ratio of 13, while helping guests achieve the desired temperature much faster than conventional systems.

Written by Chris Powell

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