What Is It?

What is a PTAC?

A packaged terminal air conditioner, or PTAC, is a ductless, self-contained air conditioning unit that heats and cools contained areas. PTACs are used as a way to cut costs and increase energy efficiency in places like hotels, hospitals, senior residential facilities, apartments and residential add-ons like sunrooms. They are most commonly seen under the windows of many of the hotels and motels across the country. 

PTACs are available as electric heat or reverse cycle heat pumps. While PTAC dimensions are standardized at 42×16 inches, 36×15 inches, and 40×15 inches, they come in different cooling capacities ranging from 7,000 BTUs to 17,000 BTUs. They are made by many different manufacturers, including Amana, GE, Train, Friedrich and LG. 

How it works

PTACs can both heat and cool. To cool the air, PTACs use either traditional refrigerant or fresh air intake. PTACs use an evaporator coil that faces the room to be cooled and a condensing coil, which faces the outside. 

Using fresh air intake is comparable to opening a window. The PTAC pulls air directly from outside through the unit via a vent in the back. Some models also have a dehumidifier built in that removes moisture from the outside air. 

The most common method, however, is recirculating inside air through a refrigerant, which is also the most efficient method. The refrigerant cools the coil, which removes the heat and humidity of the air. The air is then released through the unit through fans and a vent. 

To control the air temperature on a PTAC unit, you have the option of using either controls on the PTAC itself or installing a wall thermostat. A wall thermostat opens up the possibility of installing a programmable controller with an energy management system and even WiFi compatible options. 

Energy management systems can be as simple as “smart” thermostats like Nest or as complicated as an integrated smart home system that can control lights, climate, appliances and electronics. These systems are designed to optimize energy use and interact with the power grid.  

All PTAC units have resistive electric heat. That involves wires that get hot and a fan that blows air across them — like a blow dryer. Many PTACs use only  resistive electric heat, but some also have a reverse cycle heat pump. 

A heat pump works similarly to a window unit air conditioner, except in reverse. It blows hot air into the building and cold air out the back by using a valve that changes the flow of the freon in the unit. Heat pumps draw 25-75% less wattage than other electric heat units. 

How a PTAC differs from a window unit

A PTAC differs from a window unit in efficiency and commercial components. A window unit hangs outside of a wall and has vents on the side of the casing. It cools the outside coil by drawing in air from the side vents, while a PTAC has solid sides. A PTAC is also mounted flush to the wall, so from the outside you can only see the grill. 

Most window units also don’t have heating capabilities. 

Cost savings

PTACs save money on power bills by only climate controlling the rooms you need to have heated or cooled. In a commercial application like a hotel or hospital, a giant heating and cooling system that controls the climate of the whole building is very expensive because it has to be on the entire time. 

With a PTAC unit, each unit is cooling only one room at a time. Additionally, each room can be set to a unique temperature, allowing occupants to stay comfortable based on their personal preference.

It’s not just commercial buildings that benefit. Homeowners often add PTAC units in areas of the house that are hard to cool, like lofts and attic spaces. Additions to houses, like sunrooms, are also great places for a PTAC. Using a PTAC in these spaces prevents homeowners from having to add new ductwork that’s connected to the existing HVAC system.

How to Get The Right Size PTAC for Your Room

A British Thermal Unit is a way to measure energy. The technical definition describes it as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. For air conditioners, the BTUs tell how much energy it takes to remove the heat using the compressor system. 

The number of BTUs tells you how powerful your unit is and describes how much energy can be produced per hour. If a PTAC unit is labeled as 5,000 BTUs, it can produce 5,000 BTUs of energy per hour. 

If the BTU capacity of your PTAC is too small, your room won’t get adequately cooled. Inversely, if the BTU capacity is too large for the space, it will leave the room feeling damp and can lead to issues with mold. In addition, an oversized PTAC unit actually wastes energy.

Energy Star recommends a 5,000 BTU PTAC for a room between 100-150 square feet. For each 50 square foot increment, add 1,000 BTUs. 

  • If the room is heavily shaded, reduce capacity by 10 percent
  • If the room is very sunny, increase capacity by 10 percent
  • If more than two people regularly occupy the room, add 600 BTUs for each additional person
  • If it’s used in a kitchen, increase capacity by 4,000 BTUs
  • A second story room may need a 10 percent increase

Using a PTAC with a BTU level higher than what you need can cause the unit to cycle on and off too frequently. That can shorten the unit’s lifespan. If you get one that is too small, the unit will run almost continuously but never get the room to your desired temperature. 

Basic maintenance of a PTAC

Like HVAC units, PTACs should be cleaned once a year, typically before temperatures start to warm up. Unplug your PTAC prior to cleaning if you are working on anything inside the unit. Air filters should be cleaned with a vacuum or running water every 30 days to prevent them from getting clogged and restricting air flow. 

Preventative maintenance goes a long way in preserving the lifespan of your PTAC. Most units are designed to last 15 years, but many hotels swap them out every six to seven years because they aren’t maintaining them properly. 

The indoor coil, condenser coil and base pan can all be washed under low pressure, but this should be done by a professional, who will ensure that all debris and dust are cleaned out. A vacuum can also be used to suck up any dust or debris. 

The front cabinet can be cleaned with a mild cleaning agent to keep it clean and dust-free. 

About The Author

Author Name: Crystal Huskey
Bio: Crystal Huskey is a content writer at PTACUnits.com, an online distributor for PTAC units, along with a full range of parts and accessories.
Website Link: https://www.ptacunits.com/

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