Packaged units and split AC systems are two common configurations for cooling and heating in residential and commercial settings, and they differ in how their components are distributed and installed. Here are the key differences between these two types of AC systems:
- Single Unit: Packaged units are self-contained systems where all components, including the compressor, condenser, evaporator, and often the air handler or furnace, are housed in a single outdoor unit.
- Installation: They are typically installed either on the rooftop, on the ground adjacent to the building, or sometimes mounted on an exterior wall. This installation method is relatively straightforward and requires less indoor space.
- Zoning: Packaged units are generally designed to condition the entire space they serve. Zoning for specific areas within the building is limited, making it challenging to provide individual temperature control.
- Aesthetics: Some people find the presence of an outdoor packaged unit less aesthetically pleasing, especially when it’s on the roof or wall.
- Noise: Packaged units tend to be quieter indoors because the noisy components are located outside. This can contribute to a more peaceful indoor environment.
Split AC Systems
- Two Units: Split AC systems consist of two main components: an indoor unit (evaporator and blower) and an outdoor unit (compressor and condenser). These units are connected by refrigerant lines.
- Installation: The indoor unit is typically installed inside the conditioned space, mounted on a wall, ceiling, or floor, while the outdoor unit is placed outside the building. Installing split systems requires more labor and expertise to connect the indoor and outdoor components.
- Zoning: Split systems offer the ability to create multiple zones within a building. Each indoor unit can be independently controlled, providing precise temperature control for different areas. This zoning capability can lead to energy savings and customized comfort.
- Aesthetics: Indoor units of split systems are often designed to be less obtrusive and more aesthetically pleasing, blending better with interior decor.
- Noise: The indoor unit of a split system can generate some noise, primarily from the blower and fan, which may be audible indoors. However, modern systems are designed to be relatively quiet.
Packaged vs Split AC Systems
Before going on further, I would also like to say that there are 2 types of split AC systems. These are central air conditioners and ductless air conditioners.
The confusion comes in since ductless ACs are also known as mini-splits. Ductless mini-splits have one outdoor unit and a single or several evaporator coils inside the house, essentially one for each room that is being air conditioned.
On the other hand, central air conditioners have only one evaporator coil inside the house. Check out this post for more information about the 2 systems.
With that out of the way, let us look at the main differences between packaged and split air conditioners.
As I have already mentioned, the packaged AC unit comes as one already assembled unit. The only thing you will need to do is connect it to the ductwork and power source and you are ready to go.
On the other hand, split systems are made up of 2 parts. As such, you need to install the outside and inside units separately then connect them together using copper tubes (to loop the refrigerant).
Installation of packaged units is there easier and faster compared to that of split systems. Needless to say, the longer it takes to install a system the more expensive it is going to be.
You could also add that packaged units are less invasive. Unlike in split systems where you need to install additional lines for cycling the refrigerant, packaged units have all components in one cabinet hence no need for lines.
All HVAC systems will need to be regularly maintained otherwise they will not as long as you may want them to. Nonetheless, some systems are easier to maintain than others.
The fact that all the parts of the AC are in the same unit in packaged systems makes maintenance fast. In case there is a problem with the system it is therefore easy to find the source since everything is in the same place.
With split systems where you have an outdoor and indoor unit, maintenance can take time since you need to inspect the components inside the house, the refrigerant lines and the components outside.
Sometimes having separate components in an AC system is a good thing. You can easily spot the source of the problem unlike in packaged units where parts are compacted together.
As long as you have your HVAC inspected and maintained by a licensed technician regularly, this point should not greatly influence you on which system to install.
Split systems will generally last longer than packaged units. The weather plays a big part in this and sadly it is out of your control.
Unlike in split systems whose parts are protected from the elements, packaged unit’s parts are exposed to different weather conditions (extreme winters and summers) and are therefore prone to rusting, wear and tear among other weather damage issues.
As some homeowners have also found out, many animals are also fond of sheltering inside packaged units, some of which end up damaging them.
A tree branch can also crash on your unit and damage it instantly. That can leave your house very hot or worse very cold if you were using the unit to heat your house.
4. Space Requirements
As I mentioned earlier, the availability of space indoor is a major (I would say main) consideration on whether to install a split system or a packaged unit.
For most people, split systems are their HVAC systems of choice. That can however change if you do not have a crawlspace or basically a mechanical space in your house where you can install an evaporator coil and furnace.
And that is where a packaged AC unit comes in. As a matter of fact, these units are so versatile that you could install them on a slab outside or even on the roof.
If just like your indoors you don’t have space on your outdoors (or if you really want to conceal the unit for aesthetic reasons) the roof is a good place to hide it. That works very well especially if you have a flat-roofed house.
Sometimes you may have a crawlspace but still opt for a packaged unit instead of split systems. That usually happens when you have experienced moisture problems in your crawlspace in the past and you don’t want to take the chance.
While the noise from a split system’s indoor unit is not that high, it is enough to irritate some people especially when trying to concentrate on a book or catch some sleep.
Note: If noise from any HVAC system is louder than usual, there is usually a problem that would need fixing immediately.
Since packaged units are located outside, their noise should not be of any concern when you are inside the house. I would therefore advise you to consider a packaged unit if you would be bothered by the noise from a split AC system.
If you are looking for an energy-efficient HVAC system then a split system would be the obvious choice. As you already know, energy-efficient appliances directly affects your utility bills so this is important.
Split systems offer a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER rating) of between 13 and 23 (some as high as 25) while packaged units have a SEER rating of between 10 and 18.
Split AC systems also offer inverter technology which uses microprocessors to control the speed of the compressor motor to match the required output. Once the room is cooled or heated sufficiently, the motor will slow down to save energy.
These systems therefore tend to be very energy-efficient. For one reason or another, there are no packaged units using this technology. Since packaged unit sales are a small percentage of the total, I reckon most manufacturers are not motivated to invest more in them.
7. The Actual Cost
Although it varies from one area to another and from brand to brand, Home Advisor reports that it costs between $1900 and $4200 to install a split system while it costs between $2300 and $5500 to install a packaged unit.
Note: Although I said that packaged units are cheaper to install than split systems, their actual cost is higher than that of split systems.
Pros and Cons of Packaged Units vs Split Systems
Here’s a table summarizing the pros and cons of packaged units and split AC systems for easy comparison:
|Aspect||Packaged Units||Split AC Systems|
|Installation||Easier installation as a single unit||More complex installation with separate indoor and outdoor units|
|Space Requirements||Require less indoor space||Require indoor wall or ceiling space for the indoor unit|
|Zoning Capability||Limited zoning; typically condition the entire space||Excellent zoning capability with individual control for multiple zones|
|Aesthetics||May be less aesthetically pleasing outdoors||Indoor units are designed to be less obtrusive and blend with interior decor|
|Noise Levels||Quieter indoors due to outdoor location||Indoor unit noise may be noticeable but can be minimized with quieter models|
|Maintenance||Maintenance and servicing can be simpler||Maintenance may be more complex due to separate components|
|Energy Efficiency||Energy-efficient models available||Energy-efficient models available with advanced features|
|Flexibility||Less flexible for customized comfort||More flexible for customized comfort and energy savings|
|Cooling/Heating Capacity||Suitable for smaller to medium-sized spaces||Suitable for various space sizes and configurations|
|Cost||Generally cost-effective for smaller systems||Cost varies depending on the number of indoor units and complexity of installation|
|Location Options||Can be installed on the rooftop, on the ground, or on exterior walls||Requires indoor and outdoor units, with outdoor unit typically placed outside|
|Aesthetic Considerations||May not be visually appealing on rooftops or walls||Indoor units can be discreet and visually appealing|
As we have seen, both packaged units and split systems have their advantages and disadvantages. Let us start with the pros and cons of packaged units.
- Packaged units are assembled in factories and are therefore less likely to get damaged during installation and transportation since they are shipped as one compact ready-to-go metal cabinet.
- Easy and fast installation – All you have to do is connect the unit to the ductwork and power source.
- Non-invasive installation. No need for refrigerant and power lines from the indoor to the outdoor.
- Quiet – Having the entire unit outside ensures that the inside of your house is very quiet.
- Easy maintenance.
- Good choice if you don’t have indoor space/crawlspace.
- Less efficient – They have lower SEER rating (although not terrible) than the most efficient split systems. They also do not have inverter technology.
- They do not last as long as split systems due to exposure to the elements.
- Packaged units if not properly installed can leak and damage your ceiling when installed on the roof.
Split Systems – Pros
- High efficiency – Split systems have a very high SEER rating especially those using inverter technology.
- Cheaper maintenance especially for ductless mini-splits
- Thanks to their high efficiency, split systems can increase the value of your home.
- They last longer than packaged units since indoor parts are sheltered from the elements.
- Can leak refrigerant when they are not properly installed.
- Maintenance takes time.
- They are labor-intensive hence high installation costs.
As you can see, both packaged units and split systems have their benefits as well as shortcomings. It all comes down to what would work well for you.
If I was installing an HVAC system and I had enough space indoors, I would without a doubt settle for a split system. A packaged unit would be the option if I didn’t have a space big enough for a split system.