Industrial HVAC systems provide heating, cooling and ventilation for large buildings or structures.1 You typically find industrial HVAC systems on the top of buildings, such as hospital complexes or retail businesses.2
If you’re considering enrolling in an HVAC program at a trade school or already a student, industrial HVAC could be a career option for you.
Learn more about the field of industrial HVAC in this article.
How Does an Industrial HVAC System Work?
An industrial HVAC system operates in a similar way to a residential HVAC unit—but on a much larger scale and with more complex elements. “It’s the exact same thing with just more wires, essentially,” says Minnesota-based operations and service manager Kyle Buscher.
Let’s look at how an air conditioning unit works to give you a general idea:
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- Warm air from the home is sucked in and flows over cooling coils, which absorb the heat through the liquid refrigerant that is circulating through the coils.
- The incoming air is being cooled down and dehumidified and then blown into the building.
- Meanwhile, the refrigerant has picked up the heat from the incoming air and has evaporated.
- The vaporized refrigerant passes into a compressor, which is located outside. It squeezes the gas into a state of higher pressure and higher temperature.
- The hot, pressurized gas flows over the condenser—also located outside—which converts the gas back into its liquid form as heat is radiated away.3
Industrial HVAC Equipment
A large-scale HVAC system, like those often found in commercial buildings, may include the following equipment:
- Chillers: Chillers cool the water that is distributed through the unit’s cooling coils.
- Heat Pumps: A heat pump functions like a refrigerator but in reverse, extracting heat from the water or air to warm the building.
- Heaters: There are two types of industrial heaters:
- 1) Radiant heaters that use infrared radiation to provide direct heat to objects
- 2) Hot air furnaces that heat the air by burning fuel.
- Rooftop Units: Rooftop units are mounted on the roof of a building to avoid noise pollution. Sometimes industrial HVAC units are also located on the ground. They send conditioned air into the building via ductwork.4
Industrial HVAC systems differ from residential ones in several ways:
- They are generally much larger.
- Units are usually located on the rooftop.
- Systems tend to include more complex mechanisms.
- They often contain multiple drainage pipes and pans.
- Equipment typically allows for modular installation.
- Systems often require more customized equipment.1
The Role of an Industrial HVAC Technician
As an industrial HVAC technician, your job is usually to service the HVAC systems of large businesses and industrial operations. Since industrial HVAC units are typically located on rooftops, you spend a lot of time in all kinds of weather—regardless of whether you are on the second or tenth floor.
Given the larger size and increased complexity of these HVAC systems, hiring standards are often higher, and employers demand that technicians are familiar with the latest HVAC trends. Having completed HVAC training and pursuing continuing education can be helpful in this field.2
Compared to working in residential HVAC, industrial HVAC can mean more stability in terms of work hours. Industrial and commercial operations generally are less likely to require after-hours service, so you tend to work within regular business hours.2
Moreover, pay scales tend to be higher than for residential HVAC technicians. Due to the complex nature of industrial HVAC systems, industrial HVAC technicians often have more experience and training than their residential counterparts—which can translate to higher pay.2
Becoming an Industrial HVAC Technician
Working in industrial HVAC can mean more money, regular hours and more time spent outdoors—in other words, a rewarding skilled trades career.
Most technicians start out working in residential HVAC before they have gained the experience that is often required for industrial or commercial positions. You are generally expected to have completed an HVAC training program and to have at least five years of experience in residential HVAC before entering the industrial or commercial HVAC sectors.5
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