What's Inside Packaged HVAC Units?

Packaged HVAC units are HVAC systems where all the components are housed in one cabinet, or "package." In this guide, we'll talk about how packaged heating and cooling systems work, where they're installed and how they compare to split systems. Plus, we'll discuss the benefits that heating and cooling package units offer to help you figure out whether a packaged AC unit is right for your home.

What Is a Packaged Air Conditioner and How Does It Work?

Packaged air conditioners can be thought of as larger versions of window air conditioners. However, unlike window air conditioners, their cooling or heating capacity is much higher, so they can generally cool a whole home or commercial building. These units are assembled in a factory and professional technicians are required for installing them.

There are many protection devices built into packaged HVAC units, including a high/low pressure switch, air flow switches, water flow switches and overload relays for all motors. The compressor has a winding protection thermostat built into it, which will disconnect the circuit if overheating occurs. There's also an interlocking circuit in the evaporator fan motor starter, which will ensure that the compressor only starts if the fan motor is in operation.

What does the compressor in a packaged HVAC unit do? The compressor is the part of the unit that pumps refrigerated air to keep your home cool. It turns the warm, low-pressure refrigerant gas from the evaporator coil into a high-pressure gas that then cools down using outside air. As a result, you get air conditioning.

This self-contained unit is put together in a casing where all of the parts are housed. These parts include:

  • Compressor
  • Air-cooled or water-cooled condenser
  • Electrical panel
  • Air filter
  • Thermostatic expansion valve
  • Evaporator coil
  • Front panel and return air grill
  • Evaporator fan and housing
  • Humidifying and heating components

Where Are Packaged HVAC Units Installed?

Packaged units are generally installed outside the home, either on the roof or the ground. You can also install them indoors, but they must be vented to push the heat they've removed from your home.

These units are connected to ductwork, which includes the supply and return ducts. To start the process, warm air comes into the system, at which point humidity and heat are removed from it. Then, dry, cool air is pushed into the living space.

HVAC Split System vs. Packaged Unit

A new HVAC system is often an expensive investment, so it's important to choose the best system for your home from the start. To make the best decision possible, consider the following factors:

  • The type of construction
  • Your property's square footage
  • Installation costs
  • A replacement system, in which it's recommended to add new ductwork
  • The SEER rating of the system
  • Sealing your home before the installation
  • Budget

With these considerations in mind, we'll compare and contrast the two most common types of HVAC systems — split and packaged.

Split AC Systems

These air conditioners are popular among homeowners. The split AC system consists of two components:

  • An outside cabinet: This metal cabinet is located outside, generally on a raised concrete slab. It houses the condenser and compressor components.
  • An inside cabinet: This is usually located in a basement, closet, crawlspace or attic. In this cabinet, there's an evaporator and either a heat pump or furnace that has to be housed inside. The inside and outside cabinets are connected using a refrigerant.

One of the greatest benefits of split systems is their ability to improve the energy efficiency of your home. This helps lower your utility bills and can be a major marketing point if you ever sell your home. A split AC system comes with a Seasonal Energy Efficient Rating (SEER) of 14 or higher. A higher SEER rating means higher energy efficiency.

While units with higher SEER ratings cost more, they can actually save you money over your system's lifetime. However, how well your system operates will depend on your home's security in terms of air leakage. Cracks in the walls or roof, faulty ductwork and open gaps around windows and doors can decrease the efficiency of your unit. Identifying any points where air may escape in your home will help boost your system's efficiency.

It's smart to upgrade or replace your ductwork whenever a new system is installed in your home. One consideration to remember regarding split systems is that the labor costs more than it does for a packaged system, which is the result of two points. For one, split systems require two parts to be installed — the outdoor and the indoor — which is more time-consuming. Secondly, the system needs to be installed before the refrigerant can charge the system, which can increase overall installation costs.

Packaged HVAC Systems

An air conditioner package unit consists of a single unit. In this system type, all the primary components — evaporator, compressor and condenser — come packaged in one cabinet outside. There's no need to install a second cabinet indoors.

Many packaged systems include electric heating coils or a natural gas furnace, meaning you won't have to install a separate indoor heating source, which can save you money. Like split systems, the cabinet can be located outside the home, either on the roof or on a concrete slab.

Packaged systems offer several advantages over split systems, which include:

  • Space efficiency: Because all of the components are located in a single cabinet, you don't have to lose any space, like an attic or closet. If you have limited indoor space, a packaged system is worth considering.
  • Factory assembly: A packaged air conditioning unit is built in a controlled factory setting, ensuring each unit will perform its best.
  • Lower installation cost: Unlike split systems, package systems already come pre-charged with refrigerant and are only installed outside, making the installation cost lower.

Package systems are associated with several downsides, however. These include:

  • Less energy efficient: Package units are less energy-efficient than split systems, with SEER ratings no higher than 18.
  • More vulnerable to the elements: As all of the components and electrical controls are located outside, weather is more likely to negatively affect your system. Animals may also find their way inside, potentially disrupting the system's operations. Additionally, as the outdoor unit is exposed to rain, snow and hail, your system may show signs of premature rusting.

What Are the Benefits of Packaged HVAC Systems?

The benefits of packaged HVAC systems are:

  • Higher efficiency: While packaged units are generally less energy-efficient than their split counterparts, many energy-saving models are available. An energy-efficient model will likely save you money in the form of lower utility bills.
  • Easier maintenance: If maintenance is required, service technicians will be able to easily access your packaged HVAC system, as its components are all located in one place. Because of this, labor and service costs may decrease.
  • Easy installation: Installing packaged systems generally costs less than installing standard systems, as all the components are located in one place. The installation also requires less labor, so things can get up and running much faster.
  • Quieter operation: With a packaged system, all of the air processing occurs outside your house, allowing you to enjoy a quieter life indoors.
  • Improved air quality: HVAC packaged systems are often compatible with products that enhance indoor air quality. Some of these products are ventilators, air purifiers and humidifiers, which can easily improve your quality of life.
  • Occupies less space: If you're short on space or want to free up some square footage, you'll want to consider installing a packaged system.

Should You Protect Your Packaged AC System Outdoors?

The elements can negatively affect the functionality of your outdoor unit. Even though most outdoor units are built to easily withstand rain, snow, hail and wind, many unexpected factors can have an impact on your packaged AC system, including blockage, humidity, heavy wind and tornadoes. During storms, flying debris can do damage to your system.

To minimize the chance of damage to your packaged AC system, do the following:

  • Keep poorly secured objects away from the outdoor unit: These include objects like toys and decorations, which could be easily tossed around by strong winds.
  • Install hail guards before storms: A hail guard is made of thick metal mesh, so you can keep several there all year while still allowing for efficient cooling and heating.
  • Trim trees: Be sure to inspect damaged branches on trees nearby your outdoor unit. Keep them trimmed down they won't fall off onto your system.
  • Plant shrubs around your system: Keeping a "wall" of shrubs around your system will help protect the unit from blowing snow and wind.
  • Ensure there are no downspouts near the system: For extra protection, you can install a concrete or stone wall, which will provide the system with shade and also protect it from strong winds.
  • Protect the wires: Ensure wires running between your outdoor unit and your home are covered and secured.

In the wintertime, we recommend that you cover your outdoor unit with a breathable material that will keep your unit protected without trapping moisture inside. For this reason, it's critical to never cover your unit in plastic. Failing to properly protect your packaged AC system could lead to costly breakdowns and drastically shorten the life of your system.

Is a Packaged AC Unit Right for You?

To figure out whether a packaged AC unit is the right choice for your home, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What's the size of your home? If you live in a smaller home that's short on space — or don't want to give up any of the space you have — consider getting a package AC unit. These components are located entirely outside your home.
  • What's the size of the unit? If there are no areas of your home that can accommodate the size of the unit you require, you'll have to install a packaged unit.
  • What's your budget: Because a packaged AC unit is less costly to install, it can be easier on your wallet.

What Other Types of Packaged Systems Are There?

There are four kinds of packaged HVAC systems:

  1. Gas/electric packaged units: Gas/electric packaged units provide cooling and heating from a gas furnace. In spring and summer, this type of system runs as an all-electric and highly efficient AC system. In the fall and winter, it provides heat using propane or natural gas.
  2. Heat pump packaged units: A packaged heat pump system combines three functions — AC, heating and air handling — into a single system. For instance, heat pump packaged units allow you to stay comfortable, no matter what the season. Although these systems work well in all home types, they tend to work the best in regions with milder winters.
  3. Dual-fuel package units: These units have everything needed to keep your home comfortable. When running as a heat pump, this unit dehumidifies and cools your home during the summer months. When it gets colder during the winter, the unit can provide gas heat, ensuring your keep warm. If you're in a place where natural gas isn't available, propane can be used as a substitute.
  4. Air conditioner packaged units: Air conditioner packaged units are also great choices for milder climates and are especially worth considering if your home doesn't have a split system. These units also offer great humidity control options.

Where Can I Find a Package AC Unit?

Right here, at Ingrams Water and Air Equipment! We'll help you find the perfect unit to meet all your needs! You can give us a call at 270-575-9595, or start your search on our website. Let us help you find the right unit to create comfort.

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