PTACs Are Not Just For Hotels And Motels

June 5, 2002
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Packaged terminal air conditioners (PTACs) and their counterparts, packaged terminal heat pumps (PTHPs), are commonly considered as comfort conditioning units for hotel/motel applications. But they do have other applications beyond that niche, and today’s units offer more features and benefits than those of the past.

The News asked several manufacturers of these products for information on the overall PTAC market. Those responding show that this may be a bigger market with more possibilities than some may believe.

Amana Model C PTAC.

PTAC APPLICATIONS

Amana Heating and Air Conditioning, a unit of Goodman Manufacturing Co., Fayetteville, TN, is considered one of the largest manufacturers of PTACs.

According to Paul L. Doppel, product planning and marketing, 50% of his company’s applications are in lodging (hotels/motels), and 35% are in assisted living facilities. Some of the remaining 15% are offices, nursing homes, apartments, and dormitories — applications that require individual zone cooling and heating.

At Carrier Corp., Ron Bench, PTAC marketing and sales manager, says that health care, nursing homes, and assisted living comprise 25% of his company’s market. Office space, residential add-on installations, and sun rooms make up another 10%. Lodging is 65% of his company’s applications.

Patrick Hart, applications engineer, McQuay International, Minneapolis, MN, says the hotel/ motel market is a primary application for PTACs in both new construction as well as replacement, where he proclaims his firm is a market share leader. Offices, schools, dormitories, apartments, condominiums, eldercare facilities, and hospitals are other application areas.

At Trane-Zone Products, Rick Aldridge, business leader, relates that 95% of his installations are hotels/motels, but others include condominiums, dormitories, and retirement homes.

Carrier 52C Comfort Series PTAC.

SHIPMENTS

According to statistics from the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), manufacturers shipped more than 387,000 units in 2001, which was down 10% from 2000.

Doppel stated, “New construction vs. replacement fluctuates greatly. Currently, new construction is down compared to two years ago.”

Bench remarked, “The market is driven by replacement sales.”

“PTAC units are primarily a North American product,” said Hart. “Therefore, most applications require heating and cooling. Cooling-only applications are extremely limited. PTAC units are widely accepted because of their ease of accessibility for service and low labor costs associated with replacing chassis. They have limited use in South America and Africa. The main competitive product of PTAC units worldwide is mini-split systems.”

ARI statistics show approximately 60% of the market is for PTACs and about 40% percent is PTHPs.

“We expect an increase in heat pump sales due to the fact that new hotel construction has slowed and there is a growing apprehension about increasing electric costs,” said Bench.

A Trane PTAC unit.

PTAC FEATURES

Typical cooling capacities are 7,000, 9,000, 12,000, and 15,000 Btu. Typical electric heat capacities are 2, 3, and 5 kW. McQuay offers cooling to 22,000 Btu and heating to 7 kW.

A slim profile is important to maximize room space. Amana promotes its latest units as having the capability to “reduce your energy bills by up to 25% over the previous Amana heat pump models.”

Easier filter access is an important feature offered by some manufacturers. Older units required removal of the front panel in order to clean or replace filters. Some new models eliminate the need to remove the panel, for quick filter access.

Some of the latest features from Amana include:

  • Electronic temperature limiting — Owners have the option of choosing from four preprogrammed settings for comfort level. This prevents the extreme settings that can sometimes occur with guest operation.

  • LED diagnostics — This feature initiates an internal self-check of functions and circuits. If a problem is found, the LEDs will blink in one of eight error codes.

  • Load shedding terminals — A switch can be added to close the circuit to lock out the compressor and electric heat when the electric power company or an EMS (emergency management system) tries to reduce load for a specified time. The indoor fan will still be capable of operation.

    A common option offered is protection from corrosive sea air for coastal installations. Remote thermostat control is also offered. Humidity control is important in some locations, while front desk control helps prevent the wasted energy generated by cooling and heating unoccupied rooms.

    “All buildings using PTACs must take into account condensate disposal,” Bench stated. “No matter how strong a manufacturer’s claims are for internally disposing of condensate — by evaporation or any other method — every building should be designed with a condensate drain system. Every engineer knows that uncontrolled water is the most destructive force to a building.”

    Hart, however, noted, “Only packaged terminal heat pumps require drain kits today. Manufacturers have improved the PTHP’s ability to dispose of its condensate against the coil without having it drain out the back. In addition, manufacturers have improved the anti-corrosion capability of their units. If any water does spill out of the wall sleeve, generally due to rain, there will be less of a chance of unsightly rust stains on buildings.”

    Air deflectors are the most overlooked option, commented Bench, “yet one of the most important items to increase guest room comfort. In typical hotel rooms, PTACs are often located in the worst possible locations, such as in the corner of the room, next to the bed, or behind a desk or chair. These locations often hinder temperature sensing and air circulation.

    “Although an air deflector cannot completely solve the problems associated with a bad location, it can direct the air away from a desk or chair and into the main living space of the room, thus increasing overall guest comfort by improving air circulation and providing better temperature control.”

    Hart stated, “A PTAC operates best if the air is directed up into the height of a room and then back down into the occupied area. However, PTACs are commonly installed below windows, and curtains interfere with airflow. If PTAC units are installed underneath curtains, the air is directed straight into the material like a bellows.

    “Therefore, McQuay does not recommend a deflector for front return. The unit will simply not control the space properly. If a deflector must be used, we recommend a bottom return unit, which will provide better air distribution throughout the room. To avoid using a deflector, McQuay offers bidirectional adjustable louvers on the discharge side.”

    The McQuay ComfortPac.
    Maintenance is an important consideration to avoid downtime and ensure dependable operation. “The single biggest cause of PTAC compressor failures is the lack of a proper annual cleaning,” said Bench. (Recommended maintenance checks from Carrier are provided on page 18.)

    Regarding PTAC sound levels, Aldridge said, “Sound data is not published. There is currently no ARI standard for PTAC sound data.” But he pointed out that units have been made quieter over the years through design improvements to compressors, fans, and insulation.

    “Sound levels in the units vary,” said Hart. “Most of today’s units are designed to operate in the high 50 to mid-60 decibel range on low cool. How a unit is installed in a room directly affects the sound level. Therefore, it is difficult to establish a specific limit.”

    Interestingly, “In performing market research,” reported Bench, “Carrier has conducted a number of focus group studies with hotel owners, general managers, engineers, vacationers, and business travelers. The number one attribute of a PTAC, in each study, was sound level. Everyone felt quiet operation was the most important attribute. They ranked sound level above energy efficiency, looks, and features.”

    According to Bench, “The manufacturer that brings a ‘whisper quiet’ PTAC unit to market first will have a sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

    Publication date: 06/10/2002

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