How PTAC technology is keeping guests safe, comfortable

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hoteliers have been looking to provide a clean air in-room environment to help instill confidence and comfort among guests and to encourage them to return. Indoor air quality is now viewed as part of the overall guest experience, with hotels advertising and labeling clean surfaces and clean air in both common areas and guestrooms. Today, you’ll frequently find signage recounting clean air initiatives in many hotel lobbies. 

“We found that 92 percent of commercial building owners expect healthy building demand to continue and an amazing 61 percent have now been involved in healthy building certification systems,” said Jerad Adams, director, commercial product management at Friedrich Air Conditioning Co. “Tenants and guests are increasingly drawn to Fitwell and WELL Building Standard certified facilities and are willing to pay 4 to 7 percent more for a healthier indoor environment.”

New innovations and updated technology are constantly evolving, so the products and the industry are changing very fast, said Steve Santo, senior application engineer at GE Appliances, a Haier company. “The two biggest areas of change are total energy savings and becoming part of the connected world,” he continued. “These are independent, but many times these work in tandem.”

On the product side, there are variable speed compressor systems added to the packaged terminal air conditioner and single packaged vertical unit worlds. Instead of the cooling/heating systems just being on or off and temperatures going up and down with those cycles, these variable speed systems allow the systems to run at slower speeds to maintain tighter temperature control, Santo said. “In the long run, it takes less energy to maintain something (temperatures in this case) than it does to change the temperature,” he continued. “This allows for more efficient systems, better temperature control and a positive way to keep the space properly dehumidified, which ultimately leads to improved guest comfort and fewer guest complaints to the front desk about noise or temperature.”

Energy-management systems continue to be one of the biggest topics in hotel construction and renovations today, Adams said. HVAC and PTAC companies are working with EMS leaders to ensure controls and thermostats are EMS-compatible. 

Additionally, better occupancy detection within the EMS envelope reduces the dependency on motion-based sensors, which can fail with little movement, Adams said. “This increases guest comfort and maximizes the energy saving capabilities of the system,” he said. “The better the unoccupied management system, the better the overall energy savings. This also enables full lighting, heating and cooling controls, as well as [make-up aire]/ventilation control capabilities to provide a much better guest experience.”

Door locks, lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems can all now be controlled remotely if desired, Santo said. The ability to integrate with other connected systems is also a growing trend. “With so many different [Internet of Things] systems, controls and dashboards being available, API integrations between systems are occurring/growing at a fast pace—allowing customers to integrate features and data from multiple systems into their favorite primary building or property-management system,” Santo continued. 

The wireless interface experience will now advance again, post-pandemic, according to Adams. Mobile-centric hotel room initiatives that were previously launched will move forward again. Connected rooms allow hotel guests to not only check in through their mobile device, but also for their device to act as their mobile key, and provide an interface with all in-room technology, including the HVAC, Adams continued. 

“When we say connected, we are talking about ease of use by delivering information about the product to the cloud where it can be monitored remotely,” Santo said. “Rather than just the mechanical systems of the past, now appliances and air conditioning are highly electronic with more sensors. We can now share information with the cloud and truly manage the information to drive increased functionality and climate comfort. We can check sensors, temperatures, operating cycles, error codes, etc., remotely and know whether the systems are running per specification or if they need maintenance.” 

Why Technology Makes Maintenance Easier

With the advances in technology, hoteliers can watch a system operate from a remote location or get a signal from the PTAC that says it needs maintenance. This provides a more efficient way to use the human resources it takes to run a hotel, Santo said. 

“Your maintenance engineers have a thousand things to do,” he said. “If technology can help them know when there is a problem or even alert them before a problem occurs, this allows them to address things in a timely manner and keep the rooms open and operating, driving income for your bottom line.”

Technology allows for maintenance benefits right now, Adams agreed. As an example, adding an ultraviolet kit to a PTAC unit not only contributes to cleaner in-room air but to a cleaner PTAC evaporator coil in general. “The UV prohibits the propagation of mold, mildew and bacteria in what is traditionally a dark, damp environment,” Adams said. “Absence of debris on the coil certainly makes quarterly and annual maintenance significantly easier and contributes to maintaining our rated efficiencies.”

Conceptually, this is a high priority topic, Adams continued. “Not only do we look at efficiency and other benefits, but we analyze the PTAC unit holistically, from the buying process and installation to maintenance and service,” he said.