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Understanding the Key Differences Between Residential and Commercial HVAC Systems

The industrial air conditioning compressor outdoor unit installation on the wall of the big building


Residential and commercial buildings have radically different requirements for their heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Knowing the main distinctions between the two can help when you are a homeowner considering updating your system or installing a new one, or are a business owner even starting to plan one. This post will look at the primary differences between residential and commercial HVAC systems.

Size and Complexity

Residential HVAC
  • Residential systems are generally designed for smaller spaces.

  • These are typically more straightforward systems, perhaps doing the work of heating, cooling, and filtering air for the home.

  • The equipment is much smaller, and the system as a whole is simpler, easier to install and maintain.

Commercial HVAC
  • Commercial systems cater to larger areas such as offices, malls, and industrial buildings.

  • These are more elaborate systems, with greater numbers of zones and sometimes significant runs of ductwork to overcome the mismatch between the capacity of a single zone and the need for different conditions in different parts of the building.

  • Commercial HVAC units are designed to be bigger and stronger to provide more air conditioning with more extended operating hours.

System Components

Residential HVAC
  • Typically it consists of an individual furnace, an external air con unit and a simple ventilation system.

  • Typically uses a single thermostat for controlling the entire home’s temperature.

Commercial HVAC
  • Can include multiple furnaces, chillers and condensers that can be found on rooftops or in large mechanical rooms.

  • Employs state-of-the-art equipment such as economisers, which transfer the heat from outdoor air to building interiors, thereby conserving energy.

  • Often features multiple thermostats and zone controls for different areas of the building.

Installation and Maintenance

Residential HVAC
  • Installation is generally straightforward and can often be completed in a single day.

  • Maintenance is simpler, usually involving annual servicing, filter changes, and occasional duct cleaning.

Commercial HVAC
  • Installation can often be more complicated than laying down a simple carpet, and can involve more interactions with other construction professionals, and stricter building codes to follow.

  • Needs more frequent and detailed human maintenance from qualified technicians to keep running efficiently and out of the repair shop.

Energy Efficiency and Cost

Residential HVAC
  • Typically less expensive to install and maintain.

  • Energy efficiency varies greatly depending on the age and type of unit. Improved energy efficiency is usually a priority in newer versions.

Commercial HVAC
  • Higher upfront costs due to the scale and complexity of the system.

  • Provides opportunities for increased energy efficiency through technological and design improvements – potentially reducing long-term running costs.


You see, choosing the right HVAC system can depend a lot on the specific nature of your space. A home could require a system that is simple and affordable, whereas a commercial application could require a robust system that can handle the demands of more complex applications. In other words, once you understand these differences, you’ll better know what HVAC solution suits your needs.

Call to Action

If you are planning a commercial HVAC installation or you require advice regarding the maintenance of your system, contact us, the experts at Burban Air Systems Ltd. For over 40 years, we have offer tailored HVAC solutions to our customers in the GTA, both at commercial and industrial locations.



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