Centralized Vs. Decentralized Air Conditioning Systems

A Comprehensive Guide on Centralized Vs. Decentralized Air Conditioning Systems

When it comes to commercial spaces, one of the more important things that business owners and office managers cannot afford to overlook is their air conditioning system. By using the right air conditioning systems, they can ensure a cool and comfortable office space which, in turn, would help boost their employees’ productivity.

More than ensuring the comfort of the people in the building, choosing the best system is necessary for practical reasons. In general, HVAC systems require a considerable amount of capital investments. In addition to that, it also impacts a large portion of the building’s operating costs.

The fundamental issue to resolve when it comes to air conditioning systems for buildings is to choose between a centralized and a decentralized system.

Centralized vs Decentralized

A centralized air conditioning system refers to a system that has one base location. This single base is responsible for providing the distribution of cool air to multiple spaces. Chilled water is a typical fixture in these types of air conditioning systems. Through this medium, the system is able to use extensive ductwork for air distribution.

In contrast, a decentralized air conditioning system works by serving a single space. This space is typically adjacent to the location of the air conditioning unit.

To come up with the best decision, it is important to look into the advantages and disadvantages of both systems. While there are significant differences when it comes to financial costs, there are more things to consider than money.

Centralized System: Pros and Cons

Centralized SystemSome of the distinct advantages of choosing centralized air conditioning systems include better control of comfort conditions, higher energy efficiency, and greater load-management potential.

A centralized air conditioning system is often preferred for aesthetic purposes. Because these systems make use of a single base, it is usually not visible to the public. The base is usually kept hidden inside the building’s mechanical room.

Maintenance is also easier since the maintenance team will only need to focus on one group of machinery.

There are some drawbacks, too. Aside from a costly installation, they also usually have more complex operational requirements. Note as well that centralized cooling systems may perform lower outside office hours.

Decentralized System: Pros and Cons

Decentralized SystemOn the other hand, a decentralized air conditioning system has lower initial costs. It has minimum installation and space requirements as well. Choosing a decentralized air conditioning system eliminates the need for ductwork or pipes.

Moreover, choosing a decentralized cooling system proves to be beneficial if the building is anticipating varied conditions. Since decentralized systems are more flexible, it can distribute cool air in different parts of the building at selected times. A case in point is that building tenants may easily adjust the thermostat according to their preferences. In contrast, a centralized system will be difficult to adjust because it has just one base and this base is not typically accessed by tenants.

Lastly, it has independent zone controls which allow users to change the thermostat effortlessly.

The drawback is that decentralized systems are more difficult to maintain. While the separate compressors can be easily adjusted, they would demand more maintenance requirements.

Note that another disadvantage of choosing decentralized systems include higher energy consumption. This directly relates to higher operational costs. It is also worth mentioning that decentralized systems require a shorter lifespan for the unit – it typically justs lasts for 10 years or so.

A note on energy efficiency

energy efficiencyWith more people considering eco-friendly initiatives, it is also necessary to tackle energy efficiency in relation to HVAC systems.

For those who are extremely concerned with energy efficiency, it is important to note that centralized HVAC systems, in general, are more energy efficient as compared to decentralized systems. They emit fewer carbon emissions.

But while you can save more on energy – and keep the electricity costs down to a minimum in the process – note that the upfront costs of installing centralized cooling systems are higher than the decentralized systems.

Which one is better than the other?

Obviously, both centralized and decentralized HVAC systems come with its own set of pros and cons. Your choice ultimately depends on a myriad of factors and variables. Discussing your options with your architect or engineer as well as your maintenance team would significantly help lead you to a more informed decision.

Each air conditioning system has its own set of pros and cons. In terms of upfront cost, the central air conditioning system is cheaper than a decentralized unit. When it comes to efficient air distribution, the decentralized HVAC system is better, which also lowers your energy cost. Decentralized systems of mini splits keep air cleaner while air circulation is better with a centralized HVAC unit.

The efficiency of the unit

When it comes to energy efficiency, unit efficiency is very relevant. In this regard, decentralized HVAC systems come out on top.

Choosing a decentralized cooling system means streaming cool air directly to an adjacent space. That said, this option is more energy efficient because there will be no energy spent in cooling the entire space – some of which may not even require cooling.

With centralized cooling systems, the entire place could easily be cooled immediately due to the ductwork. However, this includes spaces that are not in use. Moreover, if the centralized HVAC system is not properly maintained, poor duct connections, holes or leaks will cause a loss in the significant amount of cool air, leading to wasted resources.

When it comes to choosing the best air conditioning system, it is also necessary to look into the system’s design and functionality and relate it to the design and operation of the building.

Making an assessment

An initial assessment would include checking the functional requirements, occupancy pattern, and usage criteria of the building. These variables would change depending on whether the building in question is a residential apartment, a shopping complex, a commercial complex, or a hospital.

In most cases, architects and engineers provide useful inputs regarding their HVAC recommendations. Some of the things they would consider are the geographical location of the building, ambient conditions, indoor requirements, building materials, dimensional parameters, the anticipated foot traffic, and comfort and aesthetic requirements

In general, the design of the air conditioning system must work well with the requirements of the owner’s needs, operational and maintenance requirements of the building, and the architect and engineer recommendations.

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