PVC products have been used for decades in a wide range of applications and systems, including HVAC (Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning). When you typically think of HVAC you think of your home air conditioning or heating system. But, HVAC systems are just as popular in business settings which are typically where you see more PVC products used.
Used less in residential systems, PVC is still needed. The most common PVC product used in a home / residential HVAC system is the condensate lines. These are white (typically schedule 40) PVC pipe lines that run from the air handler to the exterior of the house or to a drain. These lines are used on almost all types of handlers and take care of the condensation that builds up within the air handler. While this line is easy to install, its job is serious. Condensation build up can cause quick failure because of rust and possible flooding.
With the main condensate line, schedule 40 piping is also used for the overflow pan that sits under the HVAC unit. Again, a simple job that can have serious issues if a failure happens.
When looking at your unit, you will typically see these 2 lines running side by side and terminating close to each other. When these lines remove the water from the unit, they typically exit outside the house near the foundation or near the roof line. Occasionally these lines can direct the water to an interior drain line. Sometimes these can be seen in washer / dryer rooms.
90% of PVC products used in HVAC systems are seen in the business / commercial industry. These can typically be seen as ventilation or exhaust piping. PVC duct work can be used in typical HVAC runs as well, but this is less common.
PVC duct products are commonly used in environments like restaurants. Touring a restaurant kitchen there are all kinds of exhaust systems that pull air away from stoves, fryers, etc. These hoods will sometimes use PVC products to move the air & gases up through the roof and out of the building.
The Benefits of PVC Products in HVAC Applications:
For starters, PVC acts as a great insulator, meaning the temperature of the liquid or gases inside the piping holds the initial temperature longer. This can be extremely beneficial in certain systems and applications where maintaining temperature is important. Perfect examples would be commercial HVAC runs. Again, this is not very common because of cost, but in certain situations yo,u will see this.
PVC products are extremely durable. They resist corrosion which is a huge advantage in commercial settings that deal with different types of elements on a daily basis. Whether a warehouse application that deals with dirt, equipment, and extreme forces to restaurant / food preparation where oils and gasses and constantly breakdown products.
Costs vs. Function
PVC products are known to cost more than your typical sheet metal products when it comes to exhaust systems and HVAC duct. This is why residential systems have not fully adopted PVC duct piping quite yet.
PVC duct material is a good quality product that can support these types of uses and will make its way into residential as costs come down.
On the commercial side costs are still higher, but the benefit outweighs the costs. The long run benefit is very good, thus seeing more use. Also as mentioned above, in applications where breakdown is heavily considered, a slightly more expensive product is well worth it. This can be seen in exhaust applications in commercial settings.
Taking a Closer Look at Your Project
So which product should you use? It all depends on the application and your budget. You first need to analyze your application. Is it residential or commercial? Will you be moving air, gas or liquid that can breakdown the piping material?
Once you sort out the application, figure out your product costs for each of the products. Assuming PVC could be more expensive than metal, what are the overall price differences? If your overall product cost is only 0 – 25% higher, the long-term benefits might outweigh the initial cost savings. If your product costs run closer to double, the more affordable product may make sense.
PVC duct and piping is definitely used in HVAC & ventilation systems and we see more adoption in certain situations, applications, and industries. Technology continues to advance and there’s no doubt we’ll continue to see more adoption in the future, especially if metal resources become harder to come by.
Amanda Hill is the Marketing Director for PVC Fittings Online, a leader in PVC products; from pipe and valves to fittings and accessories. Since 2011 PVC Fittings Online has provided contractors, industry specialists, and residence with online plumbing supply.