New technology boosts PTAC effectiveness

Inverter compressor technology helps improve efficiency, increases dehumidification capabilities and reduces sound levels. Photo credit: Friedrich

As technology advances, packaged terminal air conditioners are continuing to help hoteliers increase guest comfort and reduce energy usage. More and more manufacturers are turning to inverter technology to help increase PTAC effectiveness in cooling and heating.

“Inverter technology acts somewhat like a dimmer switch on a light bulb,” said Travis Bullington, president of PTAC Crew. “Whereas standard systems turn off or on, depending upon the call from the thermostat, inverter systems can run at reduced output to save energy while still keeping the room cool (or warm).”

Inverter technology will modulate rather than run at 100-percent capacity every time there’s a call for heating or cooling, especially when the room is only occupied 40 percent of the time, said Michael Govea, regional sales manager for Perfect Aire.

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“Perfect Aire's new inverter technology allows the unit to operate all the way down to half capacity 30 Hertz when needed,” he said. “Which in turn will save the hoteliers thousands off their electric bill.”

Inverter technology also is quieter and in some areas will qualify for a rebate because it has a higher energy efficiency ratio rating, Govea said.

Douglas Mackemer, national director of parts, supplies and specialized equipment at Carrier Enterprise, said inverter technology is particularly helpful on extreme temperature days. “It allows [units] to ramp up to the high mode on hotter days,” he said.

Friedrich uses inverter compressor technology in its recently released FreshAire PTAC. The advancement offers higher efficiencies, reduced sound and increased indoor air quality. “We help our hotel and lodging customers meet the latest building code standards that require them to deliver up to 35 [cubic feet per minute] of make-up air with [minimum efficiency reporting value] 8 filtration,” said Jerad Adams, Friedrich’s director of commercial product development. “The inverter compressor is a game changer that helps improve efficiency, dehumidification capabilities and reduces sound levels.”

This new technology allows owners and developers to cost-effectively meet building codes, reduce energy expenses and provide filtered, in-room make-up air designed to meet The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 62.1-2013 standards, Adams said.

Along with the technology innovations, PTAC units also are becoming more energy efficient and have much better self-diagnostic capabilities than they used to, Bullington said.

Wi-Fi-enabled PTACs now can communicate with thermostats, and hotel operators can control the whole network from one centralized location.  Amana is focusing on the expansion of energy-management systems and wireless controls for PTAC units, said Steven Pettus, director of marketing and product management of PTACs at Goodman Manufacturing, which produces Amana machines.

“With emerging technology expanding, such as radio frequency and Bluetooth, the presence of energy-management systems and wireless controls are becoming more engrained,” Pettus said. “Energy-management systems provide benefits by reducing the overall amount of energy consumed per room.”

How to prepare your PTACs for summer months

As we approach the summer months, hoteliers should make a point to clean PTAC units and filters, as well as the condensate drains. PTAC units produce significantly more water during the humid summer months, Bullington said. “Though certain PTAC brands paired with [energy-management] systems can alert hotel operators to dirty filters and units not keeping up, we still have to clean PTAC units the old-fashioned way,” he said.

Some PTACs allow for a management interface, which gives front-desk associates
the ability to control room temperature based on rental or vacancy.
Photo credit: Carrier Enterprise

The extended hot spells of summer can cause PTACs to work nonstop, leading older and improperly maintained units to fail.

“We recommend using the spring months for those cleanings so you have an efficient and properly working unit for the busy summer season,” Pettus said. “Professionally cleaning the units allows better airflow through the unit, increasing operating energy efficiency and decreasing the operational time and integral component temperatures. This decreases the probability of failure and increases the overall life of the PTAC unit.”

Once cleaned, the units' indoor coil, outdoor coil, filter and discharge grill should be clear of dust and lint build-up to promote positive airflow.

Friedrich recommends conducting semiannual full-service maintenance, in addition to monthly filter cleaning, ideally before the cooling and heating seasons, Adams said. As part of the full-service maintenance, it is highly recommended that PTAC wall sleeves be properly checked and cleaned to ensure they are free of debris to help optimize PTAC performance.  

Technology can help make maintenance easier. Amana’s Digismart control system monitors a series of thermistors and control board diagnostics to understand the operation of a PTAC unit, Pettus said. “This system can chart and store data values of all operational aspects of your PTAC unit, allowing you to monitor and correct potential issues before they turn catastrophic,” he said.

Installation and maintenance technology advancements were a key design consideration for Friedrich’s FreshAire unit. The PTAC features a convenient access plate on the exterior side, allowing technicians easy access to internal components for maintenance, removal and/or cleaning. But there are some ways that technology won’t assist with PTAC performance.
 
Bullington suggests double checking the placement of furniture and drapes. “They should never block the intake or discharge air,” he said. “That can definitely contribute to poor performance, and when hot guests want cool rooms, underperforming PTACs translate into bad reviews and refund requests.”

But ultimately Bullington suggests hoteliers need to pick the right units. The right unit depends upon geographic location, room size and budget,” he said. “Bigger isn’t always better. Right-sized units perform better, last longer, keep guests happy, and keep more money in hotel owners’ pockets.”

Where will new PTAC technology be headed?

Technology and industry requirements are evolving at a fast pace for PTACs, which means good news for hoteliers down the road. While inverter technology is setting the pace for the market, Adams said, he believes customer adoption will accelerate quickly, primarily to keep up with increased efficiency standards and overall system performance.

Automation allows hoteliers to identify and correct potential issues before they becoming a problem. Photo credit: Perfect Aire

“As [indoor air quality] demand grows, so will technological enhancements that deliver optimal performance,” he said. “Certainly, with advancement in integrated building-management systems and Wi-Fi capabilities, more PTAC options will compete for these highly intelligent building-management opportunities.”

Control boards will become more advanced as technologies progress, Govea said. In the future, PTACs will have added temperature and pressure sensors, maybe even with some averaging capabilities to help control the unit, he continued. “That will also help with fault codes for troubleshooting and could help with preventative maintenance reminders,” he said.

Integrating feedback from PTACs to property-management systems and the maintenance staff will dramatically increase efficiency, Mackemer said. “By identifying what equipment needs critical attention, labor hours can be booked to those crucial maintenance issues first,” he said. “The equipment that has the immediate need can be repaired first, instead of the old-style maintenance program of starting on a floor and systematically moving on to the next.”

Having maintenance address needs before a room is booked ultimately allows for greater guest comfort, Mackemer continued.

As wireless integration expands across all facets of the average American life, Pettus believes it, too, will begin to develop roots in the hotel industry with PTACs. “We believe home-automation-style units, such as Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home and Apple’s HomePod, will become more commonplace in hotels,” Pettus said. “There will be further integration to allow full control of your hotel room via these types of smart devices."