Is a Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner Worthwhile?

The last time you stayed in a hotel, you may have had a Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner, or PTAC, in your room. They can both heat and cool without the need for complex ductwork installations or overhanging units outside the building.

If you're looking for energy-efficient temperature regulation, a PTAC can be an excellent choice, offering other benefits like easy installation, room-specific controls and ventilation. You'll find these units in many places where ductwork isn't viable and in buildings that want to maintain an attractive outer facade. For many businesses, PTAC units are the most aesthetically pleasing options available.

Here's a closer look at these devices, along with comparisons to similar AC units and how to choose the right size for your application.

How Do PTAC Units Work?

Packaged terminal air conditioner units are self-contained and ductless, perfect for both heating and cooling small areas. That's why they're pretty standard in places like hotels, hospitals, apartments, dorm rooms, and senior living facilities. They're also popular for residential applications, primarily for add-ons or hard-to-reach areas with central air, like sunrooms or lofts. PTAC units are a good choice in these environments because they don't require the complicated installation that comes with wall units or central air conditioning (AC). There's no ductwork to install or outside components to support.

The cooling mechanism of a PTAC unit uses traditional refrigerant or fresh air intake:

  • Fresh-air intake: A fresh-air intake model uses an evaporator coil facing the room and a condensing coil facing the outside grille to pull air through, cooling it down along the way.
  • Refrigerant: A more common and slightly more efficient option is to use a refrigerant like freon. The indoor air recirculates through the unit, moving around a coil that the refrigerant cools. This coil removes the heat and humidity from the air before it gets sent back into the room.

There are two options for heating methods, as well. Packaged terminal air conditioner units might use resistive electric heat or reverse cycle heat pumps:

  • Electric heat: In an electric heating system, air moves across the coils to warm them up before entering the room. This type of PTAC is usually the more effective option and is a good choice if it'll be the main source of heat in the room or you're in an area with extreme cold. They're also quieter and tend to last longer.
  • Reverse cycle heat pump: This system is essentially the opposite of a window unit air conditioner. A valve that changes the flow of freon in the unit pushes out the cold air while hot air moves through to the building. These pumps will usually cost a bit more upfront, but they offer greater energy efficiency and cost savings in the future.

PTAC units come in several standard sizes and various cooling capacities. You can either control them via a panel on the unit itself or through a connection to a wall thermostat. It's essential to look into each option available so you pick the correct one for your needs.

Some of the components of a packaged terminal air conditioner system might include:

  • Filters that clean out the air and provide freshness.
  • Indoor and outdoor fans to pull air through the system.
  • Automatic frost control to remove ice buildup on the coil.
  • Digital screens and diagnostic tools for easy control and servicing.
  • Condenser and evaporator fan motors to efficiently adjust the air temperature.
  • A condensation removal system to remove moisture from the unit.
  • A thermally insulated wall sleeve that keeps heat and sounds contained within the unit.
  • A rotary compressor to minimize operating noise and vibrations.

How Do PTAC Units Differ From Ductless Mini-Splits?

A PTAC unit and ductless mini-split operate on similar principles. They both work on individual spaces rather than an entire building, and can both cool and heat via a reversible heat pump. Alternatively, ductless mini-splits use a system of refrigerant lines to connect indoor units to an outdoor one. That refrigerant allows mini-splits to cool down and heat the indoor air.

If you're using a PTAC unit without heating, you can even use both in the same space, so they're not necessarily exclusive to each other. The most significant advantage of PTAC over ductless mini-splits is ventilation. Since mini-splits don't run air between the units, just refrigerant, they can't ventilate the air. That's a problem when trying to meet building codes and specific standards. The right PTAC unit can do all three — heat, cool and ventilate. Another advantage is that PTAC units are usually cheaper and have fewer maintenance requirements.

On the other hand, a mini-split doesn't require a hole in the wall, which can be necessary for some buildings. The mini-split just needs an opening large enough for the small refrigerant lines to fit through to connect the indoor and outdoor units. That smaller gap also helps deliver slightly improved efficiency for cooling.

Both options can be a good choice for ductless environments, but a PTAC provides better ventilation and an all-in-one solution.

Benefits of Installing a Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner

There are many reasons why someone might choose a PTAC. They're an outstanding ductless option, with a less obtrusive appearance, excellent performance and an easier installation than some other varieties of air conditioners. If you want a sleek and simple product that cools your space efficiently, you'll want to explore the numerous benefits of PTAC models.

The benefits of packaged terminal air conditioner units include:

  • Cost savings: Since you're only going to be using climate control in individual rooms, rather than the entire building, a PTAC offers savings by focusing the temperature effects onto one area and eliminating the need for pricy ductwork construction.
  • Selective temperature control: A PTAC can help provide greater satisfaction for occupants with individual controls for each room. For instance, in hotels, apartments, and dorms, guests want to control the temperature during their stay, and a PTAC allows them to do so. It's a simple way to improve user happiness and keep them coming back. Selective controls also allow you to meet the needs of areas with different operating schedules, such as an apartment complex lobby that isn't monitored after 5 p.m. Rooms can be heated and cooled without wasting resources on the lobby.
  • Better air quality: While the ventilation capabilities of a PTAC can already improve air quality, newer models with desiccant wheels can help even more. In both instances, you're getting a breath of fresh air that can significantly improve the health and enjoyment of a room.
  • All-in-one solution: Setting up a separate heater and air conditioner in a ductless environment can be tricky, especially if you don't have much space for them. Since a PTAC offers heating, cooling and ventilation, it can be a great way to save space and reduce the number of devices you'll need to buy and maintain.
  • Better energy efficiency: Energy costs can be a big chunk of regular operations costs. A PTAC can reduce these costs significantly through energy-efficient designs that use up less electricity. Along with costs, you'd also be helping the planet by reducing your carbon footprint.
  • Easy additions: PTACs are also suitable for residential projects and add-ons. It can help homeowners with hard-to-heat locations, like attics or lofts, and incorporate climate control into new additions without the need to modify ductwork. PTACs can even provide whole-home cooling and heating for tiny houses, all while looking sleek and without needing an outdoor setup.
  • Simple installation: With no need for ductwork, installation is much simpler, saving time and money. The units will still require professional installation by a licensed heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technician, but the turnaround time is quicker. This time can add up if you're installing units across many rooms, such as in a hotel or apartment building.

How to Choose a PTAC Unit for Your Home

You've decided that a packaged terminal air conditioner unit is right for your application. What do you need to know when shopping for one? There are many types of PTAC units, so you can easily find one to suit your needs. Be sure to browse your options beforehand to ensure you make the best decision for you.

When it comes time to pick a packaged terminal air conditioner unit, you should consider several factors:

  • Type of unit: If AC is your priority, consider a heat pump model, which offers less powerful heating but strong AC. If you're in an environment with hot summers and cold winters, an electrical model is likely a better choice, with a more well-rounded performance. Keep in mind that an electrical model will likely cost less upfront, but the heat pump model will cost less to run since it's more efficient.
  • Region: If you live in a warm climate, you may not need a unit that can do both cooling and heating. Getting a cooling-only model can help you save a bit.
  • Room size: PTAC systems are rated in British Thermal Units (BTUs). Most models will come with suggested room sizes, so you just need to know the square footage of your room. Once you know that number, you can check out common BTU requirements for room sizes to help your decision.
  • Noise level: Some units will be louder than others. Consider how important this factor is to you and check the decibel ratings before you buy.
  • Voltage and amps: Residential units typically run on voltages of 208/240, while commercial units have voltages of 265/277. Make sure this matches up with the voltage of your space. You'll also need to know how many amps the unit needs, which is usually either 15, 20 or 30, so you buy the right power cord.
  • Cost: Of course, your budget will play a role in which PTAC fits your needs. Consider what's most important to you and what features are worth a splurge.
  • Warranty: Make sure to choose a PTAC unit with a robust warranty, in terms of length and covered issues. A strong warranty can give you greater peace of mind and back up your investment.

How Long Does a PTAC LAST?

With proper care and no unnecessary stress, packaged terminal air conditioner units can often last up to 10 years. However, keep in mind that technological advancements and improvements to energy-efficient designs might make you want a new one sooner if you're after the latest and greatest models. It's always smart to be on the lookout for new appliances that can upgrade your space.

PTAC systems, while long-lasting, require regular seasonal maintenance to run their best. This level of care can keep your system working and lasting as long as possible. Maintenance is essential for systems that patch into the building's water systems. If you experience problems here, they can lead to blockages and eventual property damage.

Want to Learn More About Our PTAC Units?

If a packaged terminal air conditioner (PTAC) unit sounds right for you or your clients, contact us today! We have a variety of options that will deliver the comfort you want at an affordable price.

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