5 Apartment Heating System Options For Building Owners

5 Apartment Heating System Options For Building Owners

How to Choose Between Heat Pumps, Furnaces and Boilers for Your HVAC System

Comparing Heat Pumps, Furnaces and Boilers

Apartment heating systems have an important job: Keep tenants comfortable while limiting utility costs. Unfortunately, as your HVAC system ages, it may fail to provide reliable heat—and as efficiency degrades, conventional systems like boilers and furnaces can dramatically increase your heating bills over time. 

Additionally, an older HVAC system can be a major concern if you’re trying to keep a predictable budget: Emergency HVAC repairs can cost twice as much as a regular service call, not including parts and equipment. Of course, heating systems tend to fail when the weather is coldest—which is exactly when they’re most essential.  To keep tenants happy (and to keep your costs under control), the safest course of action is to upgrade before the system encounters major issues.

Below, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of five of the most common types of heating systems in apartments. Of course, upgrading from an older system to a newer system can reduce heating bills while improving tenant comfort—but high-efficiency options like air source heat pumps (ASHPs) have clear advantages for properties of all sizes.

Upgrading your apartment building to a modern heating system can reduce your utility bills by 20-40%. Answer a few questions about your building to get started.

5 Popular Apartment Heating Systems: Advantages And Disadvantages

1. Mini-Split And Multi-Split Air Source Heat Pumps

Air source heat pumps are complete heating and cooling systems that use ambient air from outside your building as either a heat source or a heat sink. Read about how heat pumps work here. 

Put simply, if you’re looking for the most efficient heating system for an apartment building, heat pumps check all of the right boxes. Heat pumps improve tenant comfort by offering precise temperature control, purify indoor air, and can reduce utility bills immediately after installation by offering 2-4X the efficiency of the most efficient furnace or boiler. They’re extremely reliable with minimal maintenance requirements, and unlike centralized heating systems, they don’t present a single point of failure.

 An ASHP system can also provide a quick return on investment, and many units are eligible for energy efficiency incentives. BlocPower offers flexible financing options including $0 down Energy Service Agreements, which never require a lien on your building.

To optimize the benefits of a heat pump system, it’s important to find a system optimized for your building type (BlocPower can help—click here to get started). Apartment buildings typically use multi-split heat pump systems: Several indoor units run refrigerant lines to a single outdoor unit. Alternatively, some smaller buildings might use mini-split systems, which consist of one indoor unit and one outdoor unit. 

In either case, you’ll be getting an ultra-efficient system that keeps tenants happy with dependable heating and cooling in all seasons. 

The indoor unit of a heat pump system features remote or smart-device controlled temperature settings and has a built in air-filter.

2. Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) Heat Pump Systems 

VRF systems are similar to multi-split heat pump systems, but VRF units can continually adjust the flow of refrigerant to each indoor unit to provide heating and cooling simultaneously. 

Their ability to handle differentiated loads makes them more efficient than multi-split systems, but design and installation costs are higher for VRF units. Generally, VRF systems are an excellent investment for apartment buildings of 10,000 square feet or more.

3. Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner (PTAC) Units

PTAC systems are individual heating units for apartments, and they’re typically much larger than standard heat pumps. They’re frequently used in hotel rooms, commercial offices and larger apartment buildings.

Most PTAC units rely on electrical resistance to generate heat, but some models have built-in air source heat pumps. Because of their size, they require a large wall for mounting the unit, which may have a negative impact on overall efficiency and building aesthetics. However, they can improve ventilation, which makes them a preferable option for certain properties. 

4. Forced-Air Systems: Natural Gas Furnaces And Electric Furnaces

Forced-air systems generate heat by combusting natural gas or through electrical resistance, then sending that heat through ductwork. Some heat is lost while the air travels through the ductwork, so the most efficient units still consume more energy than they output.  

Even so, upgrading from an older furnace to a newer model may decrease your heating costs. Older gas models may have an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating of around 56% to 70%; the remaining 30% to 44% of the energy is lost in flue gasses. High efficiency gas furnaces can achieve an AFUE of up to 95%. 

Electric furnaces have an AFUE of 100%, but should only be considered for buildings where heat pumps are not an option. If you’re upgrading a forced-air system—and you have the option—remember to calculate the long-term costs of the system. 

Note that all heat pumps installed by BlocPower are ENERGY STAR certified – and all heat pumps offer improved efficiency compared to forced-air systems. Get started here.

5. Steam and Water Boilers

Boiler heating systems pump hot water or steam through pipes to radiators in each apartment. Building owners typically stick with boilers for a simple reason: Their properties already have the distribution infrastructure, and boilers are a proven technology. Retrofitting requires investing in design and engineering, and most owners would prefer to avoid those expenses. 

If you’re not prepared to convert to a different type of heating system, look for high-efficiency boilers. Modern units can achieve an AFUE rating of 90% or greater. Steam boilers are inherently less efficient than water boilers, but Energy Star certified models are available for both types of systems.

Upgrade your HVAC with heat pumps: a modern heating (and cooling) solution.

No two buildings are exactly alike, and you’ll need to consider a variety of factors when choosing a new residential heating system. If your HVAC is ready for an upgrade, BlocPower can provide the expert guidance you need to make an informed decision. Our experts can design an efficient, cost-effective heat pump system for your building, taking advantage of energy incentives to keep costs within your budget. 

In the below video, you can hear from a building owner and tenant living in an apartment upgraded with heat pumps.

Whether your goal is to reduce utility costs, improve heating reliability, enhance tenant comfort, or all of the above, we’re ready to help you take the next steps.

See if your building is a good fit for a BlocPower upgrade.