VRF Systems: ‘Variable Refrigerant Flow’ Air Conditioning

The various cooling technologies keep on advancing and marching forward. Over time, they are becoming better, more precise, and more common. One of the air conditioning systems whose popularity has grown exponentially in recent years is the VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) also known as inverter technology. The system itself is over 20 years old, and it comes from Japan. It was invented by the Daikin Company in 1982, and the company also holds the rights to the term ‘VRF’. To be clear, ‘inverter’ and ‘VRF’ both refer to the very same technology.

In Israel, this system arrived sometime later, quite fashionably late. Today, it is one of the most popular options on the market today, and it targets businesses, public buildings, and large residential areas.

The guiding principle behind this technology is that the unique compressor (the inverter) of the system changes its speed in accordance with the demands made by the different vaporizing units. In doing so, it manages to adapt itself to the desired temperature in each space. The concept of channeling air into different areas is not really new. Air channeling is also the idea behind the central air conditioning system and the “multi-vapor” system which followed it. But the inverter takes the matter one step further, and instead of air ducts or split-up units, the air comes from one unit and is fed using a single gas line to the different rooms.

How Does VRF Work?

How does VRF work?

As I mentioned before, there is a definite connection between the split 1990s air conditioners and this system. Concerning the airflow and spread, the action is the same – one central unit which provides air for several rooms.

The term Variable Refrigerant Flow’ refers to the cooling substance. In other words, the inverter system streams different quantities of refrigerant to the different rooms, which allows complete control over the heating and cooling capabilities. This way, you can heat and cool different areas of the same building simultaneously. This is a massive upgrade by any standard, and the result is optimal regulation of hot and cold air, on a whole new level!

Without getting too technical, you can describe the system as modular. It is a system which is able to adapt the output with various constraints and loads. One of the challenges which the inverter’s planners and engineers were faced with, was a way to incorporate fresh air into the unit. This is done by using designated ducts, or by using a corresponding unit which is implemented into the main system. The fresh air which penetrates the air-conditioned building is treated by the system, to the specification of the operator.

There are three main types of VRF systems: cooling, heating, and heat recovery. Though they have separate names, the three work in a fairly similar way. There are technical and practical differences between them, of course, and a certified professional will be able to make the right call, in accordance with the client’s wants and needs.

These three types of VRF provide a smooth and unified flow of hot or cold air, without noticeable waves or differences in temperature within the air-conditioned space. This is one of the biggest advantages the VRF system has, and those who choose to purchase an inverter cite it as being a significant point in its favor.

Planning and Designing the System

Smart homes

VRF air conditioning must be planned by a cooling engineer since more often than not it is a system which is “made to order” and is built to the precise specifications and conditions of the space where it is installed. When planning this system before the building is constructed, there is the option of incorporating concealed and exposed units, which provides engineers and architects with the ability to better plan the look of the structure.

The optimal placement of the system’s different units will result in a quieter, more precise, and more efficient system. Because the compressor is working under different loads and outputs, the consumption of energy is also affected. The wise use of inverter technology can reduce your consumption of electricity considerably, and save money and energy.

Another aspect of its design has to do with the controls. The concept of ‘smart homes’ is one which is still in its infancy here in Israel, but it is certainly starting to make an appearance. Not too long from now, we will all be controlling our air conditioning from afar, using a designated app.

The ability to control the heating and cooling of different rooms, even when we’re away from home, is something which some of us are already engaging in, and this is an option which will become more popular in time. VRF systems are able to be controlled using the main controller, a remote controller, or a wall controller – all in accordance with the planner’s and client’s demands. Long-term thinking is a clear characterization of this system.

Disadvantages of the VRF System

Maintenance

We mentioned many of the system’s advantages: lower energy consumption, an almost silent operation, flexibility in installation, design, and planning, convenience in controllability (even from afar), and a high measure of reliability. But what about its drawbacks?

Here are a few of the VRF system’s shortcomings. This is also why a certified professional is a must in these cases because he has the experience and tools to determine if there is even a point to install an inverter system in such a space, or if another system would be more advisable.

Cost is the major disadvantage of this system. It costs a lot of money, but it also saves a lot of money in the long run. We each have our own considerations, and this is certainly one which any person would have. Is the benefit worth the expense? Well, It’s entirely up to you.

A second unit is needed for supplying fresh air. This can be seen as a disadvantage, or not. It is a matter which varies greatly from one structure to another. What would be a deal-breaker for one person, may be innocuous to another. Again, a certified professional will be able to provide clearer answers.

This brings us to a lesser-known drawback; the lack of trained professionals. Because we are talking about a system which is relatively new (to Israel, that is), there is a current lack of skilled and experienced professionals. Granted, this is one drawback which is becoming less and less of an issue, nevertheless, from the client’s perspective, it means doing some market research, and finding an individual or company which has experience with planning, designing, installing, and – most importantly! – regularly maintaining VRF systems. Just because they can install the system, it doesn’t mean they know how to properly maintain it in the long run. This is another consideration. The system is highly efficient and reliable, but just like any other cooling system – it is not without its issues.

Maintenance: The maintenance of the VRF system is inherently different since we are talking about a single gas line which branches out to different spaces. This is a feature which enhances the possibility of malfunction, compared to other A/C systems. In other words, the system is built in such a way, that a single issue with the gas line could potentially affect the entire system. A problem with the line could potentially shut down the entire system until the problem is solved.

Conclusion

The VRF system is one of the most advanced cooling systems to ever be invented. It represents a real upgrade in modern cooling and heating technologies, but it is not without its faults. VRF is an excellent solution for public buildings, commercial buildings, and – in some cases – large residential buildings which necessitate separate conditioning. The ability to operate with varying outputs by using a single system and a smart compressor is no small feat. And it has many short- and long-term ramifications, both financially and with regards to health.

Offices, healthcare centers, factories, hotels, and the like – these facilities are all enjoying this technology, and it is now becoming a standard in residential planning. As previously stated, before purchasing such a system and installing it in an existing or future home, it is best to consult with a professional who will be able to provide advice and guidance. Not every home requires such a system and just because it is more modern, it does not automatically make it the best option for you. It all has to do with the spaces within the structure, as well as the clients wants and needs.

This is a system which is more expensive, but it also gives a lot in return. If you decide that the VRF system is the one for you, you can feel safe with the knowledge that you selected an advanced and highly efficient air conditioning system, which will undoubtedly provide you with many years of enjoyment and convenience. Of course, this is being said under the condition that you treat this sensitive system properly, maintain it when necessary, and use it wisely.

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