Supplementing VRF in Cold Climates

Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems are, by far, the most efficient electric HVAC systems on the market for residential and commercial heating and cooling. The HVAC industry is slowly transitioning to electrically-based heating and cooling in response to the widespread push to use and produce cleaner, greener energy, and attaining the goal of exceedingly efficient all-electric buildings and facilities. Air-source heat pump with supplemental heat source technology was originally developed as a single-use solution. With the development of VRF technology they are now dual function systems, capable of serving multiple zones in a building, each with different heating and cooling requirements. The VRF system is not without its flaws, but with the right supplementary equipment, it is the most effective way to decrease negative environmental impacts while still providing efficient heating and cooling, and maintaining occupant comfort. There are different supplemental fixes for VRF systems, but the quality of the supplements must match the quality of the systems. Radiant Electric Heat’s (REH) infrared electric heating panels offer VRF systems an evenly matched, high-quality technology for supplemental heating. There are several key advancements in air-source heat pump technology that have helped VRF systems become the most efficient electric HVAC option on the market. Thermostatic expansion valves were developed to provide better control of refrigerant flow. Variable speed blowers were implemented to increase the efficiency of VRF systems. The designs of coils, electric motors, compressors, and copper tubing were updated and improved for increased functionality, and reverse cycle chillers were installed in VRF systems for improved zone control and increased efficiency. Variable refrigerant flow systems use air-source heat pump technology to transfer heated or cooled refrigerant extracted from the outside air to various zones inside using one consolidated electric system. Allowing for complete control of occupant comfort within a facility.

“VRF’s lose their efficiency and ability to maintain occupant comfort as less and less heat energy can be extracted from the colder air.”

Variable refrigerant flow systems heat spaces efficiently except in cold weather environments. As the temperature drops, there is less and less heat in the air to mine for use. While they are greener than traditional forced-air systems, as temperatures drop, VRF’s lose their efficiency and ability to maintain occupant comfort as less and less heat energy can be extracted from the colder air. Therefore, supplemental heat for heat pumps is necessary for ductless and ducted VRF systems in colder climates. Often in north or northwest facing areas of a facility that do not experience the benefit of solar gain. Many types of heating systems can supplement VRF systems. Typical VRF supplements include electrical resistance heaters, electric baseboard heaters, electric unit heaters, duct reheaters, and radiant panels. These supplemental heating units power on to increase the air temperature, which increases the amount of heat delivered to the building and its occupants. Unfortunately, most supplemental heating increases negative environmental impact. Radiant Electric Heat’s infrared electric heat panels, however, do not add to those negatives.

“The panels offer infinite zone control possibilities to support and increase system efficiency and flexibility.”

Radiant Electric Heat’s panels are the ideal supplement to a VRF system in need of extra warmth. They are easily integrated with any HVAC system. Their visual impact is minimal and can even be made absent depending on the installation method. Radiant Electric Heat panels provide direct source-to-object heat without using air as the vehicle of transfer. The heat is clean as is the process that creates it. The combination of the carbon steel core, porcelain coating and aluminum oxide resistive trace allows REH panels to immediately produce heat when turned on and to continue emitting heat while powered down when the thermostat cycles off. This slow release of heat energy from the carbon steel core creates very even temperatures, maximizing efficiency and occupant comfort. The panels offer infinite zone control possibilities to support and increase system efficiency and flexibility. Indoor installation is not the only way REH panels can be used as supplements. While most are installed inside buildings in spaces where extra heat is necessary, it is also possible to use REH panels to assist in heating the outdoor units of VRF systems. Many of these outdoor units are placed in enclosures to keep them less exposed to the elements in northern regions. When installed inside these enclosures, REH’s panels can help keep refrigerant flowing and support the function of outdoor heating units. This is because REH’s electric heat panels do not rely on outdoor air for heat production, alternatively, employing infrared energy to heat the unit directly. Radiant Electric Heat’s infrared electric heat panels are the perfect supplemental heating solutions for VRF system HVAC installations. There is no other product on the market that is more efficient, more valuable, or more aesthetically unobtrusive that can be used for both supplemental and whole-building green heating. Using REH’s infrared electric heat panels as supplements for VRF heating leads to a high ROI. After the initial investment, the panels pay for themselves in energy savings and efficient function without maintenance—and by providing dependable, clean heat that cannot be rivaled by competing products.

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