What is a PTAC Unit? Best Types & Solutions

Run-of-the-mill AC units and heaters raise New York energy bills to almost unaffordable heights – nearly 60% higher than the national average. 

What’s the solution? 

Solar panels might help, but who has $25,000 to $40,000 just for installation? Plus, New York only sees an average of 224 days of sunshine…so what do you do for the rest of the year?  

Not to mention, solar panels only average six hours of energy production per day. So unless we’re planning to no do anything for the other 18 hours, this won’t work.

What about PTACs?

PTAC Units – or packaged terminal air conditioners – are often thought of as a heating or cooling system. But in reality, A PTAC is a cooling device with a supplemental heat source for heating.  

It’s actually similar to a window AC unit but installed through an exterior wall. And it’s more efficient if you have the right one. 

PTACs use external air to cool their condensers (the part that does the real work), while the heat source is usually steam or hot water. But, that heat is always provided by gas – whether directly piped into the unit or whether the gas is used for large boilers that produce steam or hot water. 

The bottom line is gas is used for the supplemental heat source…but that’s what we’re out here to change.  

Here at Alternative Sustainability, we provide heating and cooling solutions that conserve energy, don’t break the bank, and save you thousands in energy costs on your residential, commercial, factory, and any other properties. 

Most importantly, we’re getting rid of gas.

We’re actually the only company that produces energy-producing devices that change the energy production picture, reduce CO2 gas, and help buildings & homeowners save money. And we can do this with an ROI of 3-5 years. 

But first, let’s give you the ultimate guide to PTACs. We’ll cover: 

  • What is a PTAC?
  • How do they work?
  • Why Alternative Sustainability’s Low Carbon PTAC is the best solution for your property.

What is a PTAC?


PTAC stands for Package Terminal Air Conditioner. The large unit fits into a sleeve and is installed through an exterior wall. Alone, it’s just an air conditioning unit. Combine it with an external heat source like steam or hot water coil or a gas/furnace connection and it can both cool and heat your properties.

PTACs are similar to window units because they’re also air-cooled packaged units. But, PTACs are: 

  • Bigger
  • Not as common in single-family units
  • Commercial-grade units without ducts
  • Commonly found in hotels, larger residential buildings, and nursing or assisted living facilities 

PTAC Units vs…

Now, what do PTAC installation, performance, usage, and costs look like compared to other solutions? Let’s find out.

Mini Splits

Single-family homes often use a split system — an air handler circulates air indoors from an outdoor condenser. That condenser uses a compressor to concentrate heat from gas, producing a chilled liquid. The liquid shoots through the evaporator coil and cools the home. 

Splits are relatively small units, but here’s how they differ from PTACs: 

  • Mini-splits are common in single-family homes and some garden-style, two- or three-story apartments. They’re technically more energy efficient, though they don’t work best for large buildings. 
  • PTACs are more common in larger residential buildings. Maintenance is less fussy, and up-front costs are less per unit. Most PTACs use more energy than split systems unless we’re talking about Low Carbon PTACs (more on that later). 

Window Units

Window units and PTACs cool rooms. But, PTACs are much bigger and at a commercial grade. Another key difference is the location. Window units are installed on windowsills, whereas PTACs sit in a sleeve that goes through the exterior wall. 

Other differences include: 

  • PTACs are bigger, more efficient, and less bulky than window AC units. However, our low-carbon varieties have built-in heat sources, unlike window units. 
  • Window units tend to use up more energy overall, but they’re easy to move and more likely to be found in individual apartments rather than large buildings. 

HVAC Systems

HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning, and refers to the heating, cooling, and ventilation of spaces.  While there are many types of HVAC systems, their core functions are to temper air or to move air in and out for better air quality and to provide a comfortable temperature. 

PTACs are a type of HVAC system. Some PTACs (like Alternative Sustainability’s Low Carbon PTAC) can be used as a replacement for your entire HVAC system as we are presently doing in several NYC public sites.

Water-Cooled Heat Pumps

PTACs can only provide cool air unless connected to a supplemental heat source, most often provided from within the building. Heat pumps can provide both heating and cooling through two types of heat pumps: air-cooled and water-cooled. 

Here’s how it works for hot air: all heat pumps have a reversing valve that activates and reverses the flow of hot gas to the coil. Its condenser extracts heat from external air and blows it into an area. 

Water is a great heat conductor, making water-cooled heat pumps much more energy efficient than ground-source heat pumps.

  • Water-cooled heat pumps can heat or cool spaces with significantly less power than a ground-source heat pump. However, colder temperatures make compressors in heat pumps less effective, requiring dependence on an electric coil — a real energy waster. 
  • A PTAC can only cool spaces unless connected to a supplemental heat source (gas line, steam, or hot water coil).

Air Cooled Heat Pumps 

Air-cooled heat pumps have the same, reversing valve as water-cooled heat pumps. But the air-cooled variety transfers heat from external air to water being circulated in the units and through the whole building. 

They’re basically heat absorbers – sort of like refrigerators. They just transfer it to another source. 

Fan Coil Units

Fan coil units (FCUs) are also known as “central systems” (similar to water-cooled heat pumps) because they depend on the water from a building plant. In the warmer months, they use chilled water, and then hot water for the colder months. 

The unit has two parts within a cabinet: a fan and a coil.

A fan coil is quite similar to the air handler we mentioned for split systems — the FCU transports air over a heating or cooling coil, then blows it into a room. But fan coils are typically cheaper and quieter. Why? Because there’s no compressor humming loudly over the television. 

  • Fan coil units are often mounted on the floor like a PTAC, but they’re more versatile because they can be placed anywhere in a room or apartment.  They can also be mounted in a ceiling, making them quite flexible for different layouts. They’re ducted to a particular room or two. These units operate in large buildings, but instead of one, many units are working to cool different areas. 
  • PTACs are installed through a wall and can heat or cool a single room, not multiple rooms. They might be louder, but they’re more energy-efficient in the long run. 

Low Carbon PTACs

Alternative Sustainability’s Low Carbon PTAC offers the following advantages over regular PTACs: 

  • Built-in, very efficient heating elements. Not the typical Calrod or heating wire that most other manufacturers use.
  • Self-limiting heating coil conserves energy
  • Hydronic option for colder areas that need extra heat
  • Additional thermal and sound insulation (quiet – no hums, ticking, banging, or knocking from the typical steam heating coil.)
  • Self-lubricating motors mean they operate more efficiently and don’t burn out nearly as often as conventional fan motors.
  • Built-in heat source — no need for external steam, hot water, or gas
  • Built-in UV-C sterilization — later, 99% of bacteria and viruses!

Bottom line? We enhance the traditional PTAC in every way possible, creating less dependence on building plants, fewer energy costs, and better customization. 

Common Problems with PTAC Units

Most PTAC units for sale aren’t all they’re cracked up to be — that’s why Alternative Sustainability spends so much time improving them. But why were we up to the task in the first place?

Let’s explore common issues with PTAC units. 


Whether it’s a loose fan blade or poor installation and construction, this is one of the main complaints of PTAC units. 

Alternative Sustainability’s Low Carbon PTACs have additional thermal and sound insulation so you can eat, watch TV, and entertain in peace. 

No Heating Capabilities

PTACs are primarily for cooling a space unless attached to a supplemental heat source. That’s why you can’t use them to heat your home in the colder months. But, Low Carbon PTACs have their own built-in heat source, making them a comprehensive HVAC solution. 

Blocked Vents

Most PTACs (and FCUs, for that matter) use vented motors. They suck in return air, soaking up dirt, dust, and debris with it. Over time, the dirt accumulates (gross!), blocking the vents and causing them to work harder. 

Now, AS doesn’t mind working harder to bring you better heating and cooling solutions. But a PTAC working harder means higher energy bills — no thanks! Plus, that extra work eventually causes motor failure, forcing you to replace the unit. 

Our Low Carbon PTACs have self-lubricating fan motors to avoid the issue. This reduces dirt build-up and keeps your unit flowing seamlessly. 

Usage of Fossil Fuels 

Every air handler, fan coil, PTAC, and heat pump relies on one thing for heating: fossil fuels. The steam running through the PTAC coil or hot water for FCU and air handlers come from gas boilers from a building’s heating plant. 

Steam, oil, whatever they use — it’s fossil fuels at the end of the day. Bad for the environment and bad for your wallet. Of course, you could go electric, but who has the budget for that? 

The solution is simple: pick clean energy over fossil fuels. Now, what if I told you there’s a way to do that without investing thousands in electrical or solar-powered solutions? 

Our dual-stage Low Carbon PTAC units have a built-in heat source. No fossil fuels, no extravagant energy bills – and you’re helping to create a more sustainable future. 

Choosing the Most Efficient & Affordable PTAC

PTAC units need a revamp — let’s lose the fossil fuels, energy-draining heat coils, dirt build-up, and ridiculous energy costs. Low Carbon PTACs are the answer, especially for areas with colder temperatures.

We put our money where our mouths are, too. Other companies get away with a one-year warranty because they know that’s how long it’ll take before the things start rusting and falling apart. 

But with Alternative Sustainability, you’ll get two years for parts and labor, plus an additional four years for the compressor part. 

Our Low Carbon PTAC units are the only ones on the market with: 

  • Galvanized steel enclosures with electrostatic paint
  • Sealed, self-lubricating fan motors 
  • Built-in heat sources

So, what does all that do for you?

  • Up to 80% in gas reduction in buildings
  • Overall energy reduction
  • An ROI of 3-5 years when figuring in building gas consumption reduction

There are no other products that will help residential buildings or any other multi-unit building reduce their gas usage enough to reduce costs, help protect the environment, and meet the upcoming building energy requirements. 

And Alternative Sustainability doesn’t just provide products: we’re also energy consultants and building experts who can review your building and tell you exactly what changes you need to make to improve your energy consumption and lower your carbon footprint. We’re also working with developers to design near carbon-neutral buildings.

Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself — we’ll come to your building and give you a full survey so you can see exactly how and where you’ll save money. 

Schedule your free building survey today.