Six Differences Between Commercial and Residential HVAC Systems

6 Differences Between Commercial and Residential HVAC Systems

What does it mean when an HVAC contractor says they service residential and commercial heating and cooling systems? I am barely familiar with my own HVAC system let alone the commercial HVAC at my doctor’s office. I just prefer it be cool inside during the dog days of summer and warm inside during the heart of winter. Is that like cold nose, warm heart? Let’s find out!

When choosing an HVAC contractor, their specialty, commercial or residential, is important.

Commercial HVAC contractors are used to complex systems that run on rooftops. Residential HVAC technicians understand a solidarity unit that is responsible for circulating air in your indoor space and regulating the temperature within your home. Each type of HVAC contractor knows the fundamentals of HVAC systems but their day-to-day experiences give them a separate skill set.

While there are similarities in HVAC technicalities, there are enough differences to warrant knowing how each functions independent of the other. HVAC installation is certainly different for a big business than it is for a four bedroom home. Size, location and complexity are a few distinctions between commercial HVAC service and residential HVAC operations. How important are these distinctions, really?

Explore how each is unique so that when it comes times for you to call on an HVAC contractor, you make the best decision for the heating and cooling of your indoor space.

HVAC System Location: High or Low

There is a reason why you do not notice the heating and cooling elements in your favorite shopping mall. They are just too big! Commercial HVAC units are generally housed on the rooftop, which is the perfect spot for their larger size. The rooftop allows an HVAC contractor to perform HVAC maintenance and commercial HVAC repairs without disrupting the place of business. While the top of a building deters theft and vandalism, it also means that the HVAC technician is sharing their day with the glaring elements.

Residential HVAC systems are usually placed on the ground, kept tidy on the side of a house or are located behind the home. The equipment used for residential HVAC drastically differs from the HVAC equipment used for commercial application. Residential equipment must be able to fit in your home and is uniform as compared to the intensive and often very large commercial HVAC equipment. Technicians for home HVAC often interface with homeowners and field questions during HVAC installation, maintenance and repair. Conversational and perhaps more friendly, an HVAC contractor specializing in residential, is used to personal interaction while doing the job whereas commercial HVAC contractors may only have the sun to communicate.

System Size Matters 

Commercial HVAC is often responsible for large areas and needs to produce a powerful punch. Commercial buildings such as retail stores, eating establishments, and places of employment, include a larger number of people, which frequently ebbs and flows with time of day and seasonal shifts. Commercial HVAC systems need to be able to thrive at peak times and muster through the hottest and coldest days of the year.

Not to be overshadowed, residential HVAC systems are responsible for creating a comfortable temperature in your home. If too big, they may cycle off too soon and leave unwanted humidity in the air.  If too small, they will struggle to keep up and constantly run. A residential HVAC expert will be able to determine the proper unit size and HVAC maintenance for optimal home HVAC efficiency.

Each HVAC specialist understands technical aspects of their commercial and residential focus.  Commercial units are more custom while residential models follow a more traditional pattern. Improper sizing will cause unnecessary stress on your HVAC system resulting in repairs and a shorter life cycle. If the inside temperature of your home or business is not hitting the mark or is inconsistent, it may be that your HVAC system is not the right size. A qualified HVAC heating and cooling specialist will be able to determine if your HVAC equipment is of adequate proportion for your home or commercial location.

Packaged vs. Split System

Commercial units generally come as one single package but with multiple thermostats to manage temperatures in different parts of an office, hospital or school setting. Complex parts, more wires, switches and buttons can make commercial HVAC repair or service to the HVAC system more complicated.

Residential systems are typically in two parts: an evaporator found indoors and a compressor located outdoors. Because the parts are split, modification and expansion capability are limited. While it is just as important for the home HVAC technician to service your HVAC system correctly, the residential HVAC service may not include as many pieces and parts.

Replacement Options: Modular vs. Standalone

Even though commercial building HVAC systems generally come as one unit, they are developed in modules. Commercial HVAC modules are added or deleted to adapt to the changing needs of the business. Modules will differ from one business to the next due to capacity requirements and other variables. A commercial HVAC contractor needs to be able to maneuver through the modular architecture with skill and experience.

On the other hand, residential units are standalone and require both interior and exterior components to work together. If there is a major issue, the entire system is subject to HVAC replacement. It is important to invest in skilled HVAC maintenance to avoid total unit replacement too soon or too late.

While the modular make-up of a commercial unit can allow for greater flexibility, commercial HVAC service requires troubleshooting on a system that has unique properties. Similarly, residential HVAC service entails essential problem solving to avoid total system replacement. In both situations, it is always best to do what is in the ideal interest of temperature and air quality control.

Drainage Systems

Due to size and complexity, the inner workings of commercial HVAC units may require more HVAC specialization. One such example is the drainage system of a commercial unit. Because of its sheer size, commercial drainage systems often include a myriad of pipes and pans to prevent overflowing.  On the contrary, residential HVAC typically includes one condensation pan with drainage routed to the outside.


Your home and residential dwellings include windows and sources of ventilation. Commercial structures do not which means commercial HVAC includes exhaust components. It is important to invest in an HVAC contractor that understands the ins-and-outs of each type of system to ensure proper handling of their respective exhaust functionality.

Most local HVAC companies will specify if they offer professional commercial HVAC, home HVAC or both. Invest in quality HVAC with an HVAC contractor that best fits your needs and inquire about 24 hour HVAC to make sure you are covered in all situations.