Difference Between a Split System and a Package Unit

An HVAC system controls the temperature of your living space all year long. While there are several types of HVAC units available for residential use, two of the most popular are split systems and package units. What is the difference between a split system and a package unit?

A package system includes all its heating and cooling parts in one box, while split systems have two separate components inside and outside a house. Even though one system isn't empirically better than the other, one of these options would be more efficient and convenient to use in your house. Discover the pros and cons of a split system and a package unit to make an informed decision about which one to buy.

Split System HVAC

What Is a Split System HVAC?

A split system HVAC includes an indoor and outdoor component, each working to provide a comfortable temperature. You could either have a central split system or a ductless split system.

Central Split Systems

A central heating and cooling system features two components that control the indoor air temperature, along with vents that distribute the regulated air throughout your house. The cooling portion has an evaporator and furnace inside, and a compressor and condenser outside. The evaporator coil collects hot air from inside a living area. When the air travels through the unit, the refrigerant cools it and brings the heat outside through the condenser. The vents bring the cooled air into the room.

The other component in a central HVAC system is the heating portion, which features an indoor furnace powered by gas or electricity with a blower, an exhaust flue and a heat exchanger. The blower sends cold air through the exchanger, which heats the air before the ducts carry it throughout the home. As a result, a central split system will provide an even airflow, maximizing your living space's comfort and efficiency.

Ductless Split Systems

A ductless split air conditioner includes an indoor evaporator unit and an outdoor condenser. Ductless split systems feature a single-zone or multi-zone heat pump condenser unit, which transfers heat throughout the house. Instead of using vents, a ductless split air system HVAC moves the temperature-controlled air through an area of the house with a wall unit.

Mini-split air conditioners are energy-efficient, and they can complement a home's existing baseboard heating system. Compared to a central split system, a ductless split system provides more energy savings. By eliminating the need for vents and registers, a ductless split system HVAC can reduce your property's energy expenditure by 20%.

Package Unit

What Is a Package Unit?

A package unit is a heating and cooling system that includes all the components in one package. It typically goes in an inconspicuous part of the house, like the attic or crawl space. You can choose from one of four types of package systems:

  • Package air conditioner: This all-in-one cooling configuration features an air conditioner and air handler, and it runs on electricity. Even though this system only produces cold air, you could also install heat strips in your unit if you need an additional source of warmth in the winter.
  • Package heat pump: A package heat pump runs entirely on electricity, and it offers both heating and cooling capabilities. This system can be efficient for southern regions where temperatures stay above freezing, as heat pumps could lose their energy-efficiency in colder temperatures.
  • Package air conditioner and gas furnace: A package air conditioner and gas furnace provide both hot and cold air for your home, and the system can fit into a small indoor space. While the air conditioner runs on electricity, the furnace runs on gas. This system is ideal for colder regions that need an energy-efficient gas furnace to heat their house in the winter.
  • Package heat pump and gas furnace: If you live in an area that frequently experiences below-freezing temperatures, you should consider a package heat pump and gas furnace. This dual-fuel system uses an electric heat pump to cool the air throughout the summer and a gas furnace to heat your home efficiently in the winter.

Which HVAC System Is Easier to Install?

Proper installation of your HVAC system will ensure a reliable, efficient source of heat and air conditioning for decades. Make sure that you hire a trustworthy expert in the HVAC industry to set up your unit. A package unit is the most convenient type of HVAC system to install because of its compact configuration.

Compare the following options below:

  • Package air conditioner: This system is easy to install because it's compact, and all the parts are in one location. When it arrives at your house, it's already pre-charged with refrigerant, so an HVAC technician only needs to connect it to your ductwork. You can set up a unit anywhere, even on a pitched roof, but most homeowners put them on a concrete slab. Keep in mind that installing it on the roof can cause leaks inside the home, and roof installation is more common in commercial buildings.
  • Central split system: The split system is a little more complicated than a package system because it features more than one component. Since a split system has multiple parts, you would need to set aside two locations for setting it up. An HVAC technician would also need to install the refrigerant lines before your system can work.
  • Ductless split system: While package air conditioners offer the most convenient setup for a home, ductless split systems are easier to install than central split systems because you don't need to install vents. Ductwork can complicate the installation because the technician would have to connect the split system to vents in several different places. Instead, with a ductless mini-split system, you could simply attach the wall unit inside your house and connect it to the condenser unit outside through a hole in the wall.

Which HVAC System Can Fit Better in My House?

To determine which HVAC system fits best, you need to consider the size of your house. A package system is ideal for houses with limited space, as it can go in a discreet area of the house, such as the roof. If you have a larger home, a crawl space or a basement, you could likely install a split system.

Consider these features of each type of HVAC unit:

  • Package system: A package system is efficient in a home with limited space because it's more compact. It can go on your roof and be out of sight, instead of taking up space in the house. Package air conditioners are better for properties with limited space because they are much more compact than split systems, so you can have extra storage in your home instead of having the split system take up space inside. Instead of putting it in a closet or the attic, HVAC technicians can install your package unit on your roof. This unit is often out of sight from you and your guests.
  • Split system: The split system may take up more space on your property because it has two components. The outdoor compressor and condenser usually need to be installed on a concrete platform outdoors, while the indoor air handler goes in the attic, basement or crawl space. Ductless split systems also require a wall unit that goes on the wall in a living area. If you don't want your outdoor condenser to be as noticeable, you can decorate the surrounding area, so you don't see it.

Which HVAC System Is Quieter?

Air conditioners are known for making noise, but package units and split systems are relatively quiet. Both the package unit and the split system make noise as they provide cold air for your house, but the loud components are often out of the house.

  • Package air conditioner: A package unit is quiet because the noisy component is outside of the house. Occasionally, you may hear air blowing through the ductwork, but any loud noises coming from the indoor unit could indicate a problem with one of the parts. Regularly cleaning and inspecting it ensures that it won't make excessive noise over the years.
  • Split air conditioner: You might be able to hear air transferring from the internal parts of a split system, but the noise is barely noticeable. The indoor unit of a split system will only make loud sounds if it's not functioning correctly.

Which HVAC System Is Easier to Maintain?

The split system is cheaper to maintain and lasts longer, but a package unit tends to break less frequently. Here are some of the other differences when it some to maintenance:

  • Split system HVAC: An HVAC industry expert may take longer to inspect a split system than a package unit because of the two different components. However, a split system is easier to maintain than a package system because it's less likely to be damaged by wear and tear from rainstorms, harsh weather conditions and debris from the outside. Ductless split systems are the easiest to maintain because you don't have to clean the ductwork.
  • Package HVAC system: A package unit contains all the major components, so the HVAC technician can easily access them at once. The motors and refrigerants are ready when the system comes from the factory, so these components are more reliable. Even though the elements of a package unit are accessible, they may be challenging to maintain. If you installed this system on the roof, the technician would have to go on your roof each time you need to have it repaired.

How Long Does Each of These Systems Last?

A split system tends to last longer than a package unit. Since a package HVAC is vulnerable to rust and pests, it's more likely to break or get damaged over the years.

  • Split air conditioner: The indoor evaporator coil will have a longer lifespan because they are in a safe part of the house, like the attic or basement. They aren't prone to weather damage like a package unit. Even though the compressor is outdoors, if this part of the system develops rust or wear and tear, you only have to fix that one component instead of the whole system.
  • Package air conditioner: Since package units go outside, especially on the roof or on a concrete slab next to the house, the whole system is vulnerable to harsh weather conditions, excess humidity and impact from falling trees. Wildlife could also build nests in a package unit or chew through the wiring, especially during the cold winter months.
Energy Efficient HVAC System

Which HVAC System Is More Energy-Efficient?

A split system is more energy-efficient than a package unit. Because homeowners prioritize high energy-efficiency, installing a split system can increase the resale value of your home. On the other hand, a package unit has an average energy-efficiency. While it won't hurt your house to invest in a package unit, you'll save more money in energy costs if you choose a split system.

The energy-efficiency of split systems, especially ductless systems, could benefit your home in the following ways:

  • Improved indoor air quality: Besides cooling the atmosphere in your home, an air conditioner also reduces the level of humidity and filters allergens and other harmful contaminants in the air. When you have a reliable, energy-efficiency air conditioner, it can reduce your home's energy consumption and improve the indoor air quality (IAQ) of your property.
  • Money savings: Some HVAC units have a seasonal energy-efficiency ratio (SEER) that is at least double the energy-efficiency of a package unit. Since it uses less energy, it can last for a long time in your home without any major problems, so you won't have to replace it as often. Split systems may be more expensive because of this energy-efficiency, but you'll save money on your monthly utility bills for a few decades.
  • Easy to control: A split system HVAC is compatible with a control panel and a programmable thermostat. Since this control panel is easier to use, you'll experience energy savings from setting the temperature on your split system instead of playing around with the buttons.

Dual-fuel package units, which contain a package heat pump and gas furnace, tend to be more energy-efficient than other package HVAC systems. They're more energy-efficient because they use two sources of energy, so when one runs out, they could use the other power source. In the summertime, it runs entirely on electricity, and in the winter, it runs on gas.

Contact IWAE for your next HVAC System

Which HVAC Unit Should I Choose for My Home?

Ultimately, the choice of the better HVAC unit for your home is yours, but you should consider the size of your home and the regulations for energy-efficiency in your region. While both a package air conditioner or a split system would benefit your living space, a package air conditioner would be better for a small home. On the other hand, a split system is an excellent choice if you need an energy-efficient cooling system.

Browse through our inventory of central air conditioners, ductless mini-split systems and package air conditioning units. For more information about our cooling and heating products, you can speak with our HVAC professionals at Ingram's Water & Air today. We offer lifetime tech phone support on all our products to walk you through how to fix your unit.

6 comments (view/add)
  • Alicia
    Posted on 3/30/2022

    Our 2003 Trane heat pump compressor gave out about 2 years ago. We had a brand new compressor installed but it gave out after 13 months and the warranty was only for a year. The cost to replace just the compressor is 3,000 plus 275 per pound of r22 and he thinks it's going to take 2-3 pounds but could be up to 8. The company is eager to finance but only if we go with a new one. The cost to get a new heat pump is $12,000. What the heck?! I live in an area where they really seem to be doing what the cereal companies did years ago. Moving isn't an option. Any suggestions or insight would be much appreciated.

  • Rebekah Muller
    Rebekah Muller from Ingrams
    Posted on 3/31/2022

    It may be time to get a new system, which may be initially expensive, but you might start seeing savings extremely soon after installation, especially if you're switching from a system that still uses R22. You may want to search on our site for heat pump systems, at https://iwae.com/shop/heating-air-conditioning/full-systems/central-split-systems/heat-pumps/, which can be shipped to you.

  • Chris Angell
    Chris Angell
    Posted on 9/13/2020

    I am in a 1500 SF condo unit that has a large open living room, with a log and two bedrooms. what would be a suggested unit for this? i have ducts but my HVAC system is breaking constantly and i'm open to ideas to replace it.

  • Dan Danowski
    Dan Danowski from Ingrams
    Posted on 9/14/2020

    The simplest suggestion would be to simply replace your current HVAC system with a better, more efficient version of that system. So, if you are using a package heat pump that's always breaking down, just replace it with a newer and better package heat pump.

  • Jeff Eiford
    Jeff Eiford
    Posted on 8/17/2020

    Hey Dan ,, I think that’s ur name ? Lol I’m J.A. Eiford ( said - eye Ford ) does MrCool have a mini split with a dual head unit ? I have a garage - 500 sq ft and a family room on the other side of the garage wall 400 sq ft , what size unit do you offer for this application ?

  • Kyle
    Kyle from Ingrams
    Posted on 8/18/2020

    Yes, they do now have multi-zone DIY units. Check out this dual-zone 24k unit with two 12k air handlers: https://iwae.com/shop/24k-btu-22-seer-mrcool-diy-2-zone-ductless-heat-pump-split-system-12k-12k-ha21024.html

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