PTAC units help save on energy costs and are more sustainable

DENTON, TX—Energy management continues to be one of the major battle cries of the green movement. Given this, the latest generation of package terminal air conditioner (PTAC) units is one of the most cost-efficient ways a hotel owner has to keep energy expenditures under control, according to Charles Helm, president of the Helm Hotel Group in this Dallas suburb.
Using his 74-room Best Western Premier Crown Chase Inn & Suites in Denton as an example, Helm pointed out that guests want to be able to control the temperature in their room and the digital wall thermostat that now comes connected to the unit makes this possible.
“Previously, PTAC units had this little knob that you turned, but it was hard to guess what that temperature was going to be. Now guests are better able to accurately determine the temperature they prefer in the room and, consequently, have much greater control over their comfort level,” Helm said.
Guests can set the temperature of the unit, but the thermostat will be pre-set to prevent the temperature from dropping below a certain level, conserving energy in the process.
There are two things that owners and operators want to be careful about here, Helm cautioned. “First, if guests get carried away and set the thermostat too low, they’re going to find it gets colder than they bargained for. Second, if it’s a really hot day and the thermostat is set too low, the unit has a tendency to freeze up,” he said, describing it as “just air conditioning operations 101,” a rule that applies even with home air conditioning systems.
One environment friendly element that Helm and his team chose not to include in the system was a motion sensor, viewing it as somewhat unnecessary. A motion sensor will shut the unit off, if it doesn’t sense any movement in the room for a certain period.
“On the one hand, we want to be able to monitor the temperature in the room—with an eye the environment and our utility costs—and not let it get out of control,” Helm said. “But at the same time, we don’t want guests to come back to a room that’s extremely hot because they’re not going to be happy, having to sit there, waiting for the room to cool down.”
The environment and energy costs aside, installing a state-of-the-art PTAC system made sense in terms of ease-of-maintenance. The current generation of PTACs feature an additional fan motor that keep condensation levels in the unit down, so excess moisture is no longer a problem. “Consequently, we no longer have units leaking in the room or down the outside wall of the building. In a worse case scenario, the drains would then stop up. Now the secondary fan pretty well keeps them dry,” he noted.
In terms of preventive maintenance, if the PTAC unit in a room should go down, it doesn’t mean shutting down more than that one room. In hotels with an entirely central air system, by contrast, a malfunction can typically entail shutting down an entire floor or wing of the building.
Because they’re installed in a sleeve under the guestroom window, PTAC units are known for being easy to switch out. “The unit fits in a case, so you just slide out the malfunctioning one and slide in one in good working order,” explained Helm, whose portfolio includes three other Best Western hotels in the Greater Dallas area, Best Western Plus properties in Lufkin, Forney, and Greenville, TX.
Like other owners, he maintains spare PTAC units for just this purpose, storing them on property. “Even though we have other hotels, it’s more efficient time-wise to keep a couple of extra units at each property,” he said.
The exact number of spares kept as replacements depends on the age of the PTACs. “At a new property like Crown Chase, you’re not going to need more than two extras. If it’s an older property with older PTAC units, you’ll need more,” he added.
Much depends on the weather. “Especially in the summer when you hit one of those really hot days, the PTACs’ compressors are working hard and sometimes they’ll pop. The newer units are more efficient,” he said.
Unlike the hotel’s standard guestrooms, its two-room suites, which are situated in the corners of the building, have individual heating and air systems similar to the systems used in apartment houses, rather than PTACs. Air handlers are installed above the tub in the suites’ bathroom, while the compressor is located on the roof of the building.
He wanted it to be consistently cool throughout the two-room suite because it was so big. “A PTAC unit installed in one room wouldn’t have been able to cool the second room efficiently, especially if you shut the door,” Helm explained.