Split System or HVAC Packaged Unit: What’s the Difference?

June 18, 2020

If you have never bought a new air conditioning system, you might be mystified by all the terms. If you don’t understand the differences between a split system and an HVAC packaged unit, you’ll have a harder time knowing how to choose. Factor in the cost of a new system, which is generally at least a few thousand dollars, and you’re making a big investment.

You want to make the right choice for your home, so you’ll need to decide between the two. The good news is that either one can provide excellent heating and cooling. The best option depends mostly on your home and your HVAC needs. Here is what you need to know.

How Does HVAC Work?

If you think about your cooling and heating as a complicated system with lots of steps, you can see how it all works together. For cooling, the exterior unit, usually called a condenser, sends the refrigerant to the evaporator coil. This coil allows the refrigerant to absorb heat from inside and also humidity, which is really important in places like Texas or Florida. The refrigerant releases the heat and condensation outside, while the air handler circulates the conditioned air back into the home.

The way heating works depends on the system you have. A furnace uses some kind of energy, usually natural gas, to produce heat. The air handler moves heated air through the ductwork, to increase the temperature of the home. A heat pump, which is ideal for places with mild winters, works like an AC unit but it goes both ways. This means that it can pull heat out of the home and drop it outside during the summer. In winter, the heat pump can extract heat from the outside air and push it indoors.

What Is a Split System?

When you split the system, you end up with part of the HVAC process outdoors and part of it indoors. As you turn on the air conditioning, the exterior unit moves the refrigerant indoors to the evaporator coil. This is a fairly sizeable part, which sits near your air handling unit. The interior part of the system circulates the cooled air into the vents and then sends the refrigerant back outside.

In this system, you might use the furnace as an air handler when you need cooling. During the winter, a system with a furnace operates independently of the outside unit. If you use a heat pump or something like baseboard heaters instead of a furnace, the system may have a separate air handler.  

What Is an HVAC Packaged Unit?

If that sounds too complicated with things moving in and out several times an hour, an HVAC packaged unit is meant to simplify it all. In this type of system, you have one box for the whole system. Instead of having to create a lot of space for a furnace or air handler inside the home, everything except the ductwork fits inside the exterior unit. To have access to the home, the unit must sit next to the home on the ground, or on the roof. These systems are perfect for people with limited heating needs, but you can also fit a furnace in there, too.

How Does a Packaged Unit Provide Heat?

Splitting the system in half may make more sense if you think of the cooling tools operating mostly outside, while the heating works mostly on the inside. Yet, you can still get effective heating from a packaged system. In most cases, you’ll rely on a heat pump, which can move heat in either direction. Heat pumps are popular because they are highly efficient and can save a lot of money, particularly on heating. If you live in an area that’s too cold for most air-source heat pumps, which is any place with temperatures that drop below freezing, you can add a furnace for backup. This allows you to maximize your efficiency while the weather is relatively mild, but be able to use a fuel-burning furnace to fight colder temperatures. At newACunit.com, we can help you figure out which one is best for your home.

Understanding the Differences Between Systems

In order to determine how to choose, you’ll want to compare the differences between the two approaches. A packaged system has the following advantages:

  • Easier to access for maintenance or repair
  • Quicker installation, with less time spent choosing individual components
  • Less space is taken up inside the home, which is better for small spaces
  • Optional installation on the roof

The major disadvantage of this setup is that everything is outside. This means that if the unit takes damage, you might lose both systems at the same time or have to pay a higher repair cost.

By comparison, a split system is designed to maintain a clear separation between indoors and outdoors. When it’s time to replace, you’ve got lots of options. As a result, you get:

  • Higher efficiency
  • Longer lifespan for the air handler and evaporator coil
  • Ability to customize the components for ideal cooling and heating
  • Lower maintenance responsibilities, depending on the system

The big concern with this type is installation. It’s more complicated to perform, which means there’s a higher likelihood of error. When you hire experts like the contractors who partner with us at newACunit.com, you can count on a professional installation, no matter what type of system you buy.

How to Choose the Right System for Your Home

Making a choice requires some research and an expert opinion. You should consider a packaged system if your home is:

  • Smaller or unable to accommodate an indoor air handler
  • Located on a small property where an exterior unit wouldn’t fit on the ground
  • Older, especially houses that have never had central air

If you want better efficiency or you have a home with plenty of room and existing ductwork, a split system may be your best bet.

Getting new air conditioning is a big decision and a fair cost, but it can be really exciting. Just think about all the cool air you’ll get to feel once installation is complete. With help from us at newACunit.com, you can select an efficient, easy to use HVAC system that will work perfectly with your home.

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