by Dominique Joseph
on November 18, 2016

Dom Joseph’s Thoughts On the VRF System



Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems are becoming more common in the A/E/C industry and rightfully so. While the conventional HVAC split system is still predominant in the United States, VRF systems are becoming more apparent in the market. The VRF system was developed in 1982 by a Japanese Company named Daiken and has been prominent in Asia and Europe for the past two decades.

Why is America late getting on the VRF systems train? That is a good question. In my opinion, it should be given serious consideration by building developers and owners. Yes, the initial cost will be expensive, but I like to think of it as buying a Rolls Royce. Once you own a Rolls Royce you will not need to replace it if you keep it maintained. This is the same concept with VRF systems. Installation and periodic maintenance will be expensive, however, the mere fact that the VRF system can heat and cool simultaneously will be well worth it given its efficiency over time. The bottom line is this system allows us to deliver the perfect amount of cooling and heating to every room while using the least amount of energy possible. Also, think about having a thermostat in your bedroom without the hassle of going all the way downstairs!

The major benefactors of the VRF system are commercial building such as hospitals, large corporate headquarters, and arenas. They have various large rooms with varying occupancies therefore, the VRF system can accommodate everyone’s needs. For my personal interest, the VRF system’s best attribute is the individual temperature control and the technical advantages it possesses. This all electric, non-conventional HVAC system also minimizes duct work and saves space and reduces the amount of outdoor units required.

Due to the VRF systems complexity, not all manufacturers provide it. Thus, if the system breaks down for any reason repair can be expensive and hard to come by. Also, for high rise buildings the system can be hard to install because of changing temperature and weather conditions. For buildings that are not that high, the overall size of this system is big and can be a challenge to overcome additional piping. Granted the VRF system has its issues but I think as people get more educated and more comfortable with installation it will only get better and more compatible with all types of buildings. Because of its space and energy saving capabilities I feel designers and contractors should make the extra effort to learn this system.

With the industry turning to more eco friendly practices, it is only a matter of time before the VRF systems become more commonplace in America. Companies like Daiken and Mitsubishi have mastered VRF system design and installation. They provide training for companies that are not well versed in design and installation of VRF systems. As the industry gets more comfortable and educated with utilizing VRF systems we will see the tremendous long term benefits it will yield. Besides the initial cost, there is no other factor that is in favor utilizing the conventional split system. Yes, it may cost more to install but because of the absence of duct work, less outdoor units, minimal repair requirements and energy sustainability, your return on investment is a lot higher. Because of these reasons, my conclusion is that if electrical rates remain favorable the standard split system for HVAC will be obsolete in the coming years and you will see the VRF system improve and become more prevalent.