Commercial vs. Residential HVAC: Key Differences You Need to Understand

commercial HVAC Condenser

HVAC is HVAC, right? When it’s summer you turn on your air conditioner at work and at home. When winter comes, you switch to heat at home and work.

How different could the two systems really be?

Very different, as it turns out—although this isn’t something you would know unless your background includes HVAC training!

Some contractors specialize in residential HVAC systems installation, maintenance and repair. Other contractors choose to specialize in commercial HVAC only.

There are also a handful of contracting firms, among them the good folks here at Shipton’s Heating & Cooling, that maintain specializations in both residential and commercial HVAC systems.

In this post, we talk about important differences between the two types of systems so you know what each system needs and what to ask for when replacing or repairing the type of system you have at home or at work.

Key Features of Residential HVACs

The residential HVAC unit is what most people are most familiar with because nearly all of us have one at home. These are some of the features that separate residential HVAC systems from their commercial counterparts.


The typical residential A/C and heating system is smaller. Central (ducted) systems are typically split, with the evaporator inside the home and the compressor outside, which further reduces the footprint.


Most residential units are placed on one side of the home. Occasionally, in flood-prone areas, components may be placed on platforms higher up or near the roof of the home.

Less powerful

Residential HVAC units are designed to move air through a smaller and simpler layout. In most cases, a residential heating and cooling unit may be tasked with serving one to three floors with minimal layout complexities in terms of room size, number of rooms and number of individuals occupying the space.

Simpler design

A central (ducted) residential HVAC unit is generally not designed to accommodate expansion or modification. The exception is ductless zoned mini-split systems, which can be expanded to serve additional floors or rooms as needed.


Residential heating and cooling units will have a single drainage collection point, often a pan, that is relatively easy to access.


It definitely takes a skilled professional to effectively install, maintain and repair the great diversity of residential HVAC units on the market and already in homes today.

Key Features of Commercial HVACs

These are some of the most important differences you will see in a commercial heating and cooling system as compared to the typical residential HVAC unit.


The typical commercial A/C and heating system is larger. Rather than housing the evaporator inside and the compressor outside, generally, both components are in a single unit.


For ease of access as well as protection from vandalism and traffic, commercial HVAC units are typically placed on the roof of the building inside a secure housing.

More powerful

Commercial HVAC units are designed to move more air through a larger and more complex space, often one with multiple floors and many rooms to achieve even and equal air flow for temperature balancing and worker comfort for a greater number of individuals.

Modular design

Because commercial workspaces are often changeable, with options for redesigning interior layout or adding onto the main structure, most commercial heating and cooling systems are built with options to accommodate expansion as needed.


Commercial HVAC systems by necessity often have a more complicated system for collecting drainage and routing it to a safe dispersal location.


Comparing residential with commercial HVAC maintenance needs is like comparing apples to oranges. The two systems may do essentially the same thing—heat and cool spaces—but how they do it is quite different! Commercial HVAC technicians are trained to install, maintain and repair systems of greater complexity, often with multiple housings in multiple locations.

What to Look for When Selecting a Residential or Commercial HVAC Contractor

Despite the detailed differences between residential HVAC and commercial HVAC systems, there is some uniformity between the two in terms of what you should look for when choosing your HVAC contractor.

  • Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating and membership
  • Local affiliations (Chamber of Commerce, other associations)
  • Written customer service guarantee
  • Independent, verifiable customer testimonials
  • Free estimates
  • Verified expertise on specific make/model of HVAC unit

For commercial HVAC maintenance and repair service, you also want to verify that the contractor has the appropriate education, training and industry expertise to service these powerful and complex units.

Preventative Maintenance Deals

Many of our clients initially contact us for our popular 24/7 emergency HVAC repair service. Weekends, nights, holidays and any time, if you need us, we will be there.

But once the crisis passes, it is our money- and time-saving preventative maintenance packages that keep the calls coming. Here, it just makes sense to nip small issues in the bud before they become big outages!

We offer three savings packages with a level of savings and service tailored to the needs of new, mid-life and older HVAC units. It is particularly important to schedule annual preventative service to avoid voiding the manufacturer warranty.

Seasonal Special Deals

Right now and through December 31, 2018, save $25 on any furnace, boiler or fireplace repair when you donate to Shipton’s canned goods drive.

All month long, when you purchase a new HVAC combo unit, receive a FREE whole-home air purifier or FREE whole-home humidifier.

Get in Touch

Here at Shipton’s Heating & Cooling, we have nearly a full century of HVAC industry expertise installing, maintaining and repairing both residential HVAC and commercial HVAC systems.

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-549-4616.

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