March 23, 2020

packaged terminal air conditioner, or PTAC, is a ductless, self-contained air conditioning unit that heats and cools small areas.  They are most commonly seen under the windows of many of the hotels and motels across the country. PTACs are used as a way to cut costs and increase energy efficiency in places like hotels, hospitals, senior residential facilities, apartments and residential add-ons, like sunrooms.

PTACs are available as electric heat or reverse cycle heat pumps. While PTAC dimensions are standardized at 42x16 inches, 36x15 inches, and 40x15 inches, they come in four different cooling capacities ranging from 7,000 BTUs to 17,000 BTUs. They are made by many different manufacturers, including Amana, GE, Train, Friedrich and LG and operate on 220 volts.

How it works

PTACs can both heat and cool. To cool the air, PTACs use either traditional refrigerant or fresh air intake. PTACs use an evaporator coil that faces the room to be cooled and a condensing coil, which faces the outside.

Using fresh air intake is comparable to opening a window. The PTAC pulls air directly from outside through the unit via a vent in the back. Some models also have a dehumidifier built in that removes moisture from the outside air.

The most common method, however, is recirculating inside air through a refrigerant, which is also the most efficient method. The refrigerant cools the coil, which removes the heat and humidity of the air. The air is then released through the unit through fans and a vent.

To control the air temperature on a PTAC unit, you have the option of using either controls on the PTAC itself or installing a wall thermostat. A wall thermostat opens up the possibility of installing a programmable controller with an energy management system and even Wi-Fi compatible options.

Energy management systems can be as simple as “smart” thermostats like Nest or as complicated as an integrated smart home system that can control lights, climate, appliances and electronics. These systems are designed to optimize energy use and interact with the power grid. 

All PTAC units have resistive electric heat. That involves wires that get hot and a fan that blows air across them — like a blow dryer. Many PTACs use only resistive electric heat, but some also have a reverse cycle heat pump.

A heat pump works similarly to a window unit air conditioner, except in reverse. It blows hot air into the building and cold air out the back by using a valve that changes the flow of the freon in the unit. Heat pumps draw 25-75 percent less wattage than other electric heat units.

How a PTAC differs from a window unit

A PTAC differs from a window unit in efficiency and commercial components. A window unit hangs outside of a wall and has vents on the side of the casing. It cools the outside coil by drawing in air from the side vents, while a PTAC has solid sides. A PTAC is also mounted flush to the wall, so from the outside you can only see the grill. Most window units also don’t have heat.

Cost savings

PTACs save money on power bills by only climate controlling the rooms you need to have heated or cooled. In a commercial application like a hotel or hospital, a giant heating and cooling system that controls the climate of the whole building is very expensive because it has to be on the entire time.

With a PTAC unit, each unit is cooling only one room at a time. Additionally, each room can be set to a unique temperature, allowing occupants to stay comfortable based on their personal preference.

It’s not just commercial buildings that benefit. Homeowners often add PTAC units in areas of the house that are hard to cool, like lofts and attic spaces. Additions to houses, like sunrooms, are also great places for a PTAC. Many people also use these units to heat and cool a tiny home. Using a PTAC here prevents homeowners from having to add new ductwork that’s connected to the existing HVAC system.

Final words

Whether you’re heating or cooling individual rooms in a home, or commercial buildings like hotels, apartments or senior living facilities, a PTAC is a cost-effective choice. The ease of installation and lack of ductwork makes it a simple climate control option, and the cost is much less than installing an entire HVAC unit.

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