HVAC Packaged Unit vs. Split System: Pros & Cons

Split system HVAC

In modern homes, HVAC systems are everywhere, silently working their magic. These guardians of indoor comfort have become indispensable. Yet, dipping a toe into the HVAC market, even for those somewhat familiar, can feel like navigating a labyrinth. With so many choices out there, it’s easy to get a bit lost. So, let’s focus on the big players, HVAC packaged units vs. split systems, to determine the pros and cons of each. 

In one corner, we have the HVAC packaged unit, an all-encompassing, single-unit solution that is perfect for large homes or commercial buildings. In the other corner, there’s the split system, a two-part setup with its indoor and outdoor components. It’s usually the go-to for residential spaces, offering more flexibility and efficiency.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but which one is the right choice for your home? Let’s dive into the details and see which one would best suit your needs.

What Is an HVAC Packaged Unit?

Graphic of a house with a packaged HVAC system
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez

HVAC packaged units are the all-in-one champions in the heating and cooling world. Rather than splitting functions and components between indoor and outdoor units, everything is neatly wrapped up in one place. Often found on rooftops or designated outdoor spaces, they pack a punch in their performance. Here’s what you need to know:

All-in-One Design

Unlike the split systems, HVAC packaged units contain all components in one single unit. This means less fuss during installation and more space inside your home. Elements housed within the unit include:

  • Compressor
  • Condenser coils
  • Evaporator coils
  • Furnace (in the case of packaged gas-electric systems or dual fuel systems)
  • Fans 
  • Sensors and controls

The only parts not housed inside the unit are the thermostat and the ducts that connect to your home’s ventilation system. 

Size & Strength

HVAC packaged units pack a lot of power. They can handle both large homes and business places with ease. Most of these units can handle spaces from 2 to 20 tons, translating to 60,000 to 240,000 BTU. This makes them great for places as big as 8,000 square feet or even larger. 

If you’ve got a big house with many floors, this might be your best choice. But don’t worry if your space is smaller. There are units ranging from 2 to 4 tons for regular homes. And if you’re thinking bigger, like for a huge factory or office building, massive units go up to 150 tons.


  • BTU stands for British Thermal Units and represents the cooling capacity of the unit.
  • 1 ton is equivalent to 12,000 BTU.
  • A space of about 500 square feet typically requires 12,000 BTU for cooling.

Essential Considerations:

  • The more powerful the unit, the bigger the box, so keep that in mind if you have limited outdoor space.
  • It’s important to consider your climate when determining the appropriate tonnage for your space. Areas with extreme temperatures may require a higher tonnage to effectively cool or heat the space.


Due to their size, HVAC packaged units are typically installed on rooftops or on concrete slabs near the building. This allows for proper ventilation and space for the unit to operate efficiently without disturbing your everyday activities. Sometimes, they can also be installed in crawl spaces, but this requires proper ventilation to expel the extracted heat.

Essential Considerations:

  • Remember, with great power comes great responsibility. If considering an indoor installation, you must ensure ample ventilation.
  • Also, securing permits may be necessary due to the size and placement of these units.

Energy Efficiency

Even though HVAC packaged units are robust and powerful, they may not save as much energy as you might think. They usually have an efficiency rating of 13 to 16 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). On the other hand, some split systems can rate over 20 SEER. In simple terms? You might end up paying more on your electricity bill with a packaged unit.


Depending on your heating and cooling needs, HVAC packaged units offer various types:

  • Packaged air conditioners – a cooling-only unit that uses electrical strip heating.
  • Packaged heat pumps – providing both heating and cooling by using the reverse-cycle technology. 
  • Packaged gas-electric systems – using natural gas or propane for heating and electricity for cooling. 
  • Packaged dual fuel system – a combination of a heat pump and a gas furnace that switches between the two depending on the temperature.

Pros and Cons of an HVAC Packaged Unit 

Before making any decisions, it’s vital to have a clear picture of what you’re diving into. HVAC packaged units have some undeniable perks, but there are also certain drawbacks to consider. Let’s break it down:

Pros of an HVAC Packaged Unit:

  • Factory Made: Being manufactured and assembled in a controlled factory environment means a lower chance of damage or defects.
  • Efficiency from the Get-Go: These units come with motors and refrigerants added during assembly. As a result, they function efficiently right out of the box. Your only concern during installation is potentially the ductwork, especially if it’s pre-existing.
  • Space-Saver: Say goodbye to bulky indoor equipment. The packaged unit is an all-outdoor solution, freeing up space inside your home.
  • Ease of Installation & Maintenance: Simple installation is a key feature. Maintenance is also more straightforward since every component is housed in one unit.
  • Powerful: Perfect for large homes, factories, or commercial spaces.
  • Reduced Indoor Noise: As the entire unit is located outside, the noise typically associated with indoor HVAC units is minimized, ensuring a quieter indoor environment.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: For those concerned with the appearance of their living or work space, packaged units help as there’s no need for an outdoor condenser unit and an indoor air handler. This means there are fewer visible components, making for a cleaner look.
  • Lower Installation Costs: As there’s only one unit to install, the installation costs can be lower compared to split systems.

Cons of an HVAC Packaged Unit:

  • Weather Exposure: These units brave the elements day in and day out, from scorching summers to relentless rainstorms.
  • Shorter Lifespan: Unfortunately, packaged systems may not have the longevity of split systems. Elements like rust or debris can cause significant damage that may be difficult to repair.
  • Limited Efficiency: With such high cooling and heating capacities, HVAC packaged units don’t always measure up in terms of efficiency. This means they could consume more energy than necessary, leading to higher utility bills.
  • Outdoor Space Requirements: Packaged units are quite large and require a considerable amount of space. This can be a problem, especially in urban areas or places with limited space.

What Is a Split System?

Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

A split system cleverly divides its duties between two main components: the outdoor and indoor units. This duo teams up using refrigerant tubes and electrical power lines to provide central heating and cooling for your home. It’s the go-to choice for many homeowners who seek efficient and cost-effective comfort all year long, regardless of the season. 

Here are some of the main features of an HVAC split system

HVAC Split System Components

Outdoor Unit:

  • Houses the condenser coil, compressor, and fan.
  • Positioned on a concrete slab or elevated platform close to the home’s foundation.
  • Its job is to release or collect heat, depending on the season and the chosen mode of operation.

Indoor Unit:

  • Contains an evaporator coil, a fan, and a blower.
  • Often located in the attic, basement, or a designated closet in the home.
  • Connected to the home’s ductwork to distribute the conditioned air.


The HVAC split system works by circulating refrigerant between the indoor and outdoor units, absorbing and releasing heat as it travels. It removes heat from the indoor air during summer, expelling it outside. In winter, it collects heat from the outdoors and uses it to warm the indoor air.

Types of HVAC Split System 

A variety of split systems cater to diverse needs. The most common among them are:

  • Heat Pumps: Able to both heat and cool, this pump extracts heat from the outdoors in winter while it reverses its duty during summer. 
  • Air Conditioning System: When all you need is cooling, an AC split system that cools your entire home can be just the solution. You can find AC systems in various sizes, from single-zone to multi-zone models catering to larger homes.
  • Natural Gas Furnaces: Heats up the home by burning natural gas. This type is often paired with AC units for year-round efficiency. 
  • Ductless Mini Split Systems: An increasingly popular pick for their flexibility. These systems present a cost-effective and practical solution for homes without ducts. Providing zoned climate control, they include individual air handlers installed in each room that are connected to an outdoor unit via refrigerant lines. It is perfectly suitable for smaller homes and apartments alike.
  • Ducted Split Systems: Works by connecting the indoor air handler to a series of pathways designed to seamlessly distribute chilled or heated air.

Energy Efficiency

Split systems often outshine packaged units in energy efficiency. With some boasting SEER ratings over 20, they can help homeowners cut down on their monthly utility bills. These systems are designed to be more adaptive to the needs of the space they’re conditioning, adjusting their output accordingly.

Key Points to Remember:

  • The efficiency of an HVAC split system can depend on a range of factors, including its type (e.g., pump systems or traditional split systems; ducted or ductless ones), proper installation, the quality of ductwork (if used), and regular maintenance.
  • The higher the SEER rating of a system, the more expensive it may be upfront. However, higher ratings also indicate greater savings in the long run due to enhanced energy efficiency.

Pros and Cons of a Split System

Just as with the packaged hvac system, the split one boasts its own set of merits and potential drawbacks. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Pros of a Split System: 

  • High Efficiency: Most split systems range from 13 to 20 SEER, with some models reaching up to 25. This translates to potential savings in monthly utility bills, making it a highly efficient solution.
  • Zonal Control: Especially with ductless mini splits, you can control the temperature of individual rooms. This offers flexibility and can lead to more energy savings.
  • Longer Lifespan: Components inside the house are shielded from the brunt of external conditions.
  • Cost-Effective: In the long run, efficient split systems can save homeowners a considerable amount on utility bills.

Cons of a Split System: 

  • Installation Complexity: Requires a more intricate installation process due to separate indoor and outdoor units.
  • Maintenance: While maintenance is straightforward, having separate units might mean more spots to check.
  • Initial Cost: Some advanced split systems, especially those with higher SEER ratings, can be pricier upfront.
  • Indoor Space: Though typically smaller than a packaged unit’s counterpart, the indoor component still demands some space within the home.

Which One Should You Choose for Your Home?

The decision between selecting an HVAC packaged unit or a split system comes down to various factors, including:

  • Size of your space
  • Energy efficiency desires
  • The climate in which you reside. 

Here’s a comparative table to help you align your needs with the benefits each system offers:

FactorsHVAC Packaged UnitSplit System
Installation EaseSimpler, less time-consumingMore complex, requires more time
Space EfficiencyConsumes outdoor spaceConsumes both indoor and outdoor space
Energy EfficiencyGenerally lower (13-16 SEER)Generally higher (Up to 25 SEER)
Power and CapacityHigher, suitable for large spacesVaried, suitable for small to medium spaces
Maintenance EaseEasier as all components are in one placeMight be more complex due to separate units
HVAC System CostLower upfront costPotentially higher upfront cost, but savings in the long run
LongevityMay have a shorter lifespan due to weather exposureGenerally longer lifespan as indoor components are protected
AestheticLess indoor equipment, cleaner lookIndoor and outdoor equipment might impact aesthetics
NoiseReduced indoor noisePotential for indoor noise depending on unit placement

FAQ About HVAC Packaged Unit vs. Split System

Is a package unit better than a split system?

It’s not about one being “better” universally. It depends on the specific needs of your home or building and the type of system best suited to meet those needs. A package unit is suitable for large spaces such as commercial buildings, while a split system works best for residential spaces.  

However, split systems have the advantage of high efficiency due to their SEER ratings and offer control and flexibility through the various models available. 

What is the difference between split and package HVAC?

The main difference is that a package HVAC unit combines all the components in one box placed outside the home, while a split system divides it into two components, with the outdoor and indoor units each responsible for different duties. 

Is a package unit more expensive than a split system?

On average, an HVAC system installation will cost around $5,000 to $9,000 in total. It depends on the size of your project and the specific needs you want to meet. If you go for a large package unit, the cost will tend to the higher end of the range. 

On the other hand, split systems require more complexity in installation, which can drive up prices. Ultimately, comparing HVAC packages between brands and models is crucial for accurately estimating costs.

How often do HVAC systems need to be cleaned?

Most HVAC systems need to have their filters and ducts cleaned at least once a year, while some require more frequent maintenance. It’s best to check with the manufacturer for their recommendations.

Turn to the Pros

Both HVAC packaged units and split systems have their unique sets of advantages and disadvantages. Your choice between the two will largely depend on your specific needs, the size of the space, and your budget. While HVAC packaged units are more suited for larger spaces and are easier to maintain, split systems offer better energy efficiency and flexibility, making them ideal for smaller, well-insulated homes.

Your journey through the HVAC labyrinth might still have some twists and turns, but with a clearer understanding of these two contenders, you’re one step closer to making an informed decision.

When you’re ready to start your HVAC project, contact a local HVAC expert to help you narrow down the choices and find the perfect HVAC system for your home. They can guide you through the entire process from selecting to installing your choice of HVAC system, ensuring your complete peace of mind.

Main Photo Credit: gmnicholas / Canva Pro / License

Luminita Toma

Luminita Toma is a nature-loving writer who simply adores anything pretty, from colorful flower gardens to chic interior design. After plenty of research on landscaping and home improvement, she’s got a keen eye for what makes a home beautiful. When she’s not sharing what she’s learned, there’s nothing she enjoys more than chilling with her friends, hitting the theatre, or traveling.