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Residential vs Commercial Air Conditioning

commercial air conditioning
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Most people mistakenly assume that commercial and residential air conditioners are very similar because they technically perform the same task. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from the fact that commercial air conditioning systems have to service a much larger area, they’re often relied upon to control the temperature more accurately.

Residential air conditioners, on the other hand, have a much smaller surface area they need to cool and are mainly installed for owner comfort as opposed to accurate temperature control. These are two of the many differences between residential and commercial air conditioning systems.

Although they essentially perform the same task, there are at least 10 major differences between commercial and residential air conditioning.

These differences include:

  • Size, usage, and location
  • Modular vs. stand-alone systems
  • Power consumption
  • Cost
  • Control systems
  • Drainage
  • Lifespan
  • Spare part availability
  • Warranty
  • Maintenance Requirements

Size, Usage, And Location

The most obvious difference between the two types of air conditioners is their size. Commercial air conditioning systems are much larger, are used for longer periods, and typically have a longer lifespan.

  • Commercial air conditioners – are used between eight to ten hours a day, Monday to Friday. This amounts to 40 to 60 hours a week, on average.
  • Residential air conditioners – This is used for a maximum of six hours a day during the week but between 14 to 16 hours per day on weekends and holidays.

Because of their size,

  • Commercial air conditioners are typically more noisy. To combat this problem, they are usually placed on a roof, in a garage, or a plant room. The area is normally not accessible to the public.
  • Residential air conditioners are usually placed on a slab on the ground or a wall bracket in walkways. They are easily accessible and less noisy, depending on the make and model of your system.

Modular vs. Stand-Alone Systems

Commercial air conditioners are usually more complex, modular systems that can be customized. They work on an efficient multi-stage system that allows each area to be regulated individually, and at different capacities.

More is expected from commercial air conditioners, so it stands to reason that they are more complex. Commercial air conditioning systems have numerous thermostats placed in various areas of the building. Each thermostat is set according to the size of the room and the desired temperature.

Residential air conditioners are usually basic, stand-alone systems. They have a single-stage, fixed speed that functions at full capacity. They are cheaper to buy, but less energy efficient to run. Residential air conditioners are simple in nature and static, their only requirement is to heat or cool the home to the desired temperature and usually have only one thermostat.

Power Consumption

Commercial air conditioners require between 10kW – 100kW output power to function. Due to their larger workload and power requirements, they normally run off a 3-phase power supply. They require more power but utilize power more efficiently than residential air conditioners.

Residential air conditioners need 2kW – 25kW output power to function and run off a single-phase power supply. They consume less power but are proportionally less power efficient than commercial air conditioners.

The Cost

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the installation and maintenance costs associated with a commercial air conditioner are significantly higher than that of a small residential unit.

Control Systems

Commercial air conditioners are wired, with the control usually in a locked box.

The reasons for this is two-fold:

  • The temperature in commercial buildings usually needs to be strictly controlled. A locked controller discourages individuals from changing the temperature settings.
  • There is a much greater risk of the remote controller getting lost or misplaced.

Residential air conditioner systems are usually wireless. Temperature does not need to be strictly controlled, so the remote control is usually accessible to the whole family.


Commercial air conditioning systemshave a much larger drainage system, requiring multiple drainage pans. Residential air conditioners usually only have one drainage pan.


The general rule of thumb is, the larger the system, the longer the lifespan.

There are of course exceptions to this rule, but commercial HVAC systems generally have a longer lifespan than their smaller, residential counterparts.

Spare Part Availability

There are usually more parts available for commercial air conditioners because:

  • Their lifespan is longer, so genuine spare parts are available for longer.
  • They can accommodate generic spare parts when necessary.

Residential air conditioners usually require manufacturer-specific components. Due to their short lifespan and the shortage of genuine spare parts, the whole system is often replaced when there is a major fault.


Commercial air conditioning systems usually come with a one to five-year manufacturer warranty. Residential air conditioners usually have a five-year manufacturer warranty. For the warranty to be valid. all air conditioners must be installed by a professional HVAC technician.

Maintenance Requirements

Commercial air conditioners require regular maintenance. In some cases, they require monthly maintenance, but most time maintenance is scheduled every three, six or 12 months.

During scheduled maintenance, HVAC technicians will:

  • Check all the major components
  • Check and clean/replace the filters

Residential air conditioners usually only require maintenance once a year.

South Florida’s Commercial Air Conditioning Experts

Do you have air conditioner problems, or are you simply looking for experts to maintain your commercial air conditioning system? Art Plumbing, Air Conditioning & Electric has been South Florida’s choice for all HVAC services since 1983.

If you are looking for expert maintenance or advice on commercial or residential air conditioners, call us at 1-800-475-1504 Monday to Saturday between 8 am and 8 pm and for any emergency on Sundays.


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