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The Difference Between Commercial & Residential HVAC Systems

Residential Rooftop Cooling System

There are various types of HVAC systems, including the two major types, residential and commercial HVAC systems. Residential HVAC systems are typically used in homes and possibly small businesses. Commercial HVAC systems are used in office buildings, large retail stores, warehouses and other large buildings.

While both systems are responsible for the same functions of heating, ventilating and cooling, they have a few differences. This includes the amount of power needed, size, location, complexity, responsibility, drainage and the way they’re manufactured. Some HVAC companies specialize in both, while some specialize in one or the other, which helps to explain why the services differ as well.

There are exceptions when it comes to some of these differences, but for the most part, this is how they vary.


A commercial HVAC system is much larger than a residential HVAC system. This visible difference doesn’t need too much explaining. Bigger buildings need bigger HVAC systems because of the amount of space they need to serve. They’re also more complex in terms of dampers and thermostats.

Due to the size difference and the size of the areas they both serve, the amount of power differs as well. The commercial HVAC system needs a much higher level of power to function.


Residential HVAC systems are typically placed on the side of the house or in the backyard. Commercial HVAC systems are typically placed on the roof of the building, some located in swamp coolers. The roof is the most ideal location for multiple reasons:

  • The building can use the indoor space in a more beneficial way than the HVAC system would. If the HVAC system can function properly on the roof, the interior might as well be used for something more useful and attractive.
  • A large HVAC system would cause a great deal of noise pollution in the building, possibly disrupting guests and others who occupy it.
  • It allows for easy maintenance. The technicians will not have to interfere with whatever the building is used for.
  • With the amount of traffic in commercial buildings, having the system on the roof prevents damages and vandalism


Just like the size of a commercial system is the reason it’s found on the roof, the complexity contributes as well. Commercial HVAC systems are more complex than residential HVAC systems. Commercial HVAC systems have to take types of rooms into consideration and be more adaptable. Depending on the room and what it’s used for, the temperature may have to vary. It could also depend on the amount of people occupying the building, if there are scheduled events and functions that call for different temperatures and the type of building or business.

What’s being made in the building? What’s being sold in the building? What’s the building used for? Are there items that need to be in a certain temperature? These are the types of questions one must take into consideration with commercial HVAC systems and that’s why they’re overall more complex. Another difference that impacts the complexity is that residential HVAC systems have windows, therefore needing less to alleviate exhaust.


Depending on the type of HVAC system, the responsibility may differ. Homeowners and local HVAC pros are responsible for residential HVAC systems. Some maintenance tasks can be done by the homeowner, while others need a professional.

Commercial HVAC systems fall under the responsibility of property owners and commercial HVAC technicians. When it comes to hiring a technician, it’s important that they specialize in that specific system. For example, HVAC technicians must know the specific local electric codes for commercial buildings.


Along with every other aspect of the commercial HVAC system being larger, the drainage system is larger as well. Since residential units are smaller and serve smaller areas, the system drains into a single pan outside. For a commercial system, multiple pans and pipes are needed for the draining. These components ensure evaporation, eliminating the chance for overflow.


The type of building they’re going in is the most important factor during manufacturing. A commercial HVAC system is manufactured as a packaged and modular system, meaning all the components on the rooftop are housed together. They can be moved and modified as needed. A modular system allows for transportation and expansion. The pieces housed together include the condenser, condenser fan, evaporator, compressor, blower and drainage system.

A residential HVAC system is manufactured as a split and standalone system, meaning it’s almost the exact opposite of a commercial system. The components are split between inside the home and outside the home. While the parts are split up, it’s still considered to be a standalone because it cannot be expanded or reduced. To modify the cooling or the heating, a whole new system needs to be put in its place.


As you can see, residential and commercial HVAC systems are not the same, but both function to accomplish the same goal, providing a comfortable and healthy space. Whether it’s for yourself, your family, customers or clients, it’s important to schedule HVAC maintenance checkups often. Commercial and residential HVAC systems contain different components, so it’s crucial to contact an HVAC professional that specializes in whichever system you own.

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