Central Air Conditioning May Not Be The Best Choice for New Urban Development

High Rise HVAC Systems

Air conditioning is a necessity in some parts of the world and not a luxury. There are regions of Asia Pacific struggling with the rising temperatures as the climate changes. Many major cities continue to rise with urbanization but lack the best HVAC solutions for tenants.

Many people in this region need a better, updated solution for their heating and cooling needs. Old-fashioned large build-in systems may not be the best choice anymore. Improved systems could transform apartment living for millions across the Asia Pacific. Tenants just need to know what is better to use. Did you know that for example, using small portable air conditioners in single rooms can consume far less electricity each month, according to CoolAndPortable.com, than running a large central A/C system all day long?

Rising Need For  Air Conditioning Systems In Asia Pacific

The wet, humid conditions of south-east Asia mean an increased need for effective air conditioner units. Climate change means high demand for HVAC solutions in the region. The cities and tropical regions become more and more uncomfortable. There are growing populations and increased urbanization in many countries in the Asia Pacific. There are also the high summer temperatures across India.

Major developed nations like China and Japan have already cashed in on new HVAC options. This means forecast market growth by 3.27% between 2016 and 2022. This is big business for contractors and manufacturers.

Are they putting the right systems into the right spaces?

(Source: Sven K)

Building-wide Central HVAC systems or personal & portable solutions?

This is an important question when dealing with HVAC and air conditioning in high rise buildings. Is it best to create a more effective solution for the whole building, or to have personal devices?

Some would say that personal, portable air conditioning units would solve a lot of problems. Tenants would have full control of its use and could choose a solution that works for them. This is often the best solution in older buildings or small spaces because it is harder to retrofit an entire Central HVAC system. Portable models might limit air cooling to one room, so multiple units may be needed to run.

The ideal building-wide HVAC system would be problem-free, and therefore out of sight and out of mind. As long as tenants can maintain a comfortable temperature in their home, they have little else to worry about.

HVAC systems still suffer from the same old problems.

Many established properties have old-fashioned HVAC systems in place. This could be because of a lack of access to better options, costs or the design of the building. Old buildings may have restrictions on developments. New builds may cut corners on costs. Some of these old systems are not fit the current tenant needs. They often share the same problems:

  • they take up too much room in the building
  • they aren’t energy efficient enough for modern needs
  • they are too noisy for tenants
  • they are a potential health and safety hazard.

These old HVAC systems take up a lot of space in high rise buildings.

First, there is the issue of space. Space is hard to come by in busy urban cities. New building projects for apartments and high rise seem compact to fill the plots. This leads to small buildings that are efficient with their space. Ideally, this will mean lots of apartments for tenants and no wasted space. These “wasted” areas are those with systems and operations.

How much wasted space is there in a building with a large HVAC building?

Tenants lose a lot of space to the ducts, vents and other pieces of equipment between the floors. Extra space gained could give a builder another story or floor to add to the high-rise building and more units equals more profit.

HVAC building

They also offer heating and cooling solutions at a cost – both financial and environmental.

A big problem here is energy inefficiency. As much as 30% of a building’s energy use comes from the heating and cooling systems. Therefore, an ineffective, inefficient system could lead to unnecessary energy use. This could increase bills for those already struggling with costs.

It could also waste precious energy at a time where every building needs to reduce emissions. There is also an increasing desire to turn to HVAC systems because of global warming and rising temperatures. At the same time, there is that desire for a new, energy-efficient system to be a little more green – because of climate change. This means there is a clear need for a different, updated approach to building systems. This is the only way to improve these issues. Create more energy-efficient units or apartments, combined with portable air conditioners and there is a positive outcome for all tenants.

Then there is the annoyance of the noise produced by Central HVAC systems.

It doesn’t take long to get used to the annoying hums and groans that come from the venting system. Homeowners accept the odd creak or the buzz of the fridge. However, nobody should have to put up with the loud noise of an HVAC system if they can do without it. These machines are never going to be whisper quiet.

Many systems in modern high-rises are loud. This is a problem for those looking for peace at the end of the day. It might even keep some people up on hot, muggy nights. Ideally, new builds need a much quieter solution. One that homeowners barely even notice. As things stand, most are pretty accepting of the fact that this won’t happen

Finally, some systems could be hazardous to health and safety.

This is something that some homeowners may not even be aware of. If HVAC systems have been in place for decades, and are so commonplace, how could they be unsafe? There are two factors here.

First of all, there is the risk of mold and contamination inside the vents and the pipes. This could cause “sick building syndrome” effects on the safety of the building. Secondly, some buildings in the US saw cases of major diseases, such as Legionaries, through contamination via the water in the HVAC system. Modern systems must address this risk.

Four Common Types of HVAC In High-rise Developments

There are four types of old-fashioned HVAC system to watch out for. These machines tend to conform to old standards. While they are effective to a point, their flaws are too important for modern high rise builds. Those four systems are:

  • Old-fashioned packaged units
  • Individual split systems
  • Four pipe systems
  • Central water cooled systems


1. Old-fashioned packaged units are still common, but highly flawed.

Old fashioned packaged units are individual units for one or two rooms. These units are still quite common in some old buildings, especial across the US. This is down to restrictions on modifications to these older properties. Develops simply can’t go in and rip out the old vents and units to add a modern alternative. This is a problem for tenants because, as the name suggests, they are out-dated. They aren’t that eco-friendly, because of the energy use in such a small space, and are also ugly and noisy.

2. Individual split systems break the HVAC down but don’t solve many of those problems.

Individual split systems break the HVAC down into individual units per apartment. They aren’t quite as ugly because the units are smaller and usually installed under windows, out of sight.

Even so, there are still small indoor fan coil units inside the home. This cause spacial issues for small apartments, as the unit takes up vital cupboard space. There is also the risk of lowering ceilings to hide ductwork.

Users note that they are pretty noisy, even with half the unit outside. They also lack efficiency on the higher floors of a high rise building.

3. Four pipe systems are too costly.

Four pipe systems offer a different approach with a series of central pipes. This carries water with additional air-cooled chillers for more efficient air conditioning. The cool air travels to a series of indoor fan coil units within the apartment. The advantage of this system over the other is that it is much more energy efficient. This will appeal to homeowner cutting costs. However, developers dislike it because it is expensive to install.

4. Central water cooled systems are efficient, but carry health warnings.

Finally, there are the central water-cooled-systems. This involves a series of central cooling towers and boilers and individual heat pumps in the home. This is a problematic alternative to more typical HVAC solutions.

There is no help with the issues of noise and space.  This is where that problem of dangerous water pipes comes into play. Many developers may not feel that this option is worth the risk anymore.  The other problem here is that this is one HVAC for multiple tenants – who all have different preferences.

Each tenant in a high rise block has their preferences and concerns when it comes to the heating and cooling of their apartment. This is understandable. Some like it hot and don’t like too much air pumping through the vents.

Others would have the air conditioning on all the time if they could. There are different preferences on temperatures, time of use and the rooms cooled. This is where those ideas of a personal system for each apartment make a lot more sense.

This isn’t just about personal preferences; there are also the environmental influences between the floor. Builders can’t assume that each unit has the same needs and running costs. For example, there are higher wind speeds and lower air temperature outside the highest stories. This can affect equipment and ambient temperatures. However, heat also rises so some higher floors may have a higher starting ambient heat. Therefore, every home has different needs, regardless of personal preference.

Personalization helps apartment owners, but this doesn’t mean they need a portable device.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution here with these traditional systems. This is where many apartment owners might go back to that idea of the portable, personal machine. The portable air conditioners are an expense for the tenant, but they are portable and can be moved to the next apartment.  They are better than the out-dated building HVAC.

Thankfully, developers are working on new, appealing solutions. They find a mid-way point between those unappealing old systems and personal portable air conditioners. New builds that install this option could help to improve the living conditions of their tenants.

Variable Refrigerant Flow


Variable Refrigerant Flow Systems Answers The Problems

Many building developers and contractors now turn to modern solutions, like VRF systems, for high rise building. The good news for those in the Asia Pacific region is that this option has caught on quite quickly here.

Developers in Japan, as well as parts of Europe, now favor this option. Therefore, new build projects should see it replace out-dated systems. This Variable Refrigerant Flow system uses a series of smaller air handlers across the building. This allows for an air-cooled system that is much more beneficial and effective.

These VRF systems eliminate many of the problems seen in old HVAC models.

The great thing about this modern VRF system is that it finds solutions for the key problems mentioned above. They are much smaller, with space-saving air handlers. This eliminates that problem of wasted space in high rise buildings.

They are energy-efficient, with many reusing heat and using less. This can then provide extra heat to different spaces in the apartment. There is also less noise generated from these installations. This is down to the lack of ducts. Overall, this is a much more pleasing solution that should suit contractors and tenants alike.

As for the risk of damage and illness, this air-cooled option removes any risk that once came with those contaminated water pipes. The problem can come down to costs and installation issues. It could be expensive to install a whole new system like this. It is also possible that there will be restrictions on some older buildings.

Small, personalized systems are essential when combining convenience with efficiency.

These solutions should help millions dealing with poor heating and cooling in high rise settings. Tenants will not have to buy their own portable air conditioning units. There is no need when contractors can provide building-wide options that work.

Where possible, high rise owners should ditch the old, large, inefficient models. They can bring in these Variable Refrigerant Flow alternatives instead. It will save on space, costs and may even improve living standards beyond temperature control.

One Thought to “Central Air Conditioning May Not Be The Best Choice for New Urban Development

  1. Rohit Patel

    The points covered in the article are incredibly insightful. I’m pretty much clear now as to why central air-conditioners shouldn’t have opted for urban areas. Thank you for the information.

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