Highly efficient, discreetly placed and fully controllable, variable refrigerant systems are becoming the basis of design for skilled nursing and memory supportive living environments.

Refrigeration technologies by Daikin, LG and Mitsubishi are providing building operators with the environmental comfort that has been lacking in some recently constructed buildings.  Historically, skilled nursing and similar healthcare providers were an outgrowth of hospitals and institutional facilities.  These buildings typically utilized a four-pipe heating and cooling system to maximize user comfort.  Those systems were extremely effective, however they came with the financial burden and substantial building footprint of a central heating and cooling plant.

Today, skilled nursing is provided alongside more residential venues such as Independent Living and Assisted Living complexes.  This evolution led designers away from the large, costly and maintenance-intensive boiler/ chiller/ cooling tower plants.  An alternative HVAC system was needed to provide comfort and temperature control without blowing the project budget.  One option was to group several similar rooms onto a single air handler, providing an average temperature that should be pleasing to most people.  Another option was to install a simple through-the-wall, motel room “window shaker” or PTAC (Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner) in each unit.  While it gave temperature control to the occupant of that room, it was unsightly, drafty and energy inefficient.  Worse yet, they created large holes through the building envelope which could lead to long term moisture intrusion concerns.

Residents of these buildings demand individual temperature control.  Much like politics, there doesn’t seem to be an ‘average’ or middle ground temperature that makes everyone happy anymore.  The stereotype of little old ladies feeling a chill due to their blood thinners may still apply, but this is balanced by people on other medications causing them to be very warm.  The HVAC system must satisfy both needs simultaneously, or it will make residents very unhappy and frustrated.  Here is where a Variable Refrigerant, or VR, system is a perfect application.

The system utilizes one or more outdoor heat pump units connected to multiple indoor fan coils to condition each space individually.  The outdoor units are approximately the size of a refrigerator and can be located on grade or on the roof.  The highly efficient inverter driven heat pumps have the ability to move heat into or out of the building, or even from the hot rooms to the cool rooms within.  The VR system uses modulating compressors to match load inside the building.  These are particularly suited to small spaces where other types of HVAC systems would be oversized.

VR System Benefits:

  • Resident Comfort- each occupant has control of their unit temperature
  • Energy Efficiency- Simultaneously heat and cool as needed using variable speed heat pump technology
  • Quiet Operation- small fans within the space and compressors located outdoors
  • Simple System- simple to install & service. Routine maintenance consists of changing filters and cleaning coils
  • Indoor Units – Either ducted fully concealed, ceiling recessed and wall mounted fan coil options
  • Outdoor Units- remote heat pumps may be roof mounted
  • Digital Monitoring- System controls with web based software or interconnection to Building Management Systems for ease of maintenance.

These systems come with a bit of a price premium at this time.  This is partly because in healthcare occupancies, the code required ventilation air must be distributed and conditioned by additional equipment.  Some VR manufacturers are incorporating this into their product offering as well.  There are several methods of distributing the refrigerant to the numerous fan coils, either by field fabricated piping or pre-fab line-set kits.  Either way, these systems provide a high degree of occupant comfort with the sense of control over their environment, all while maximizing energy efficiency.

Contact AG’s engineering department today to learn more about the benefits of a VR system on your next building project!