Which One? HVAC Package Unit Or A Split System

Rooftop package unit

A very loaded question. I’ve got some really good answers to consider before you decide, buy or just want to know.

Package units are bundled together into a single unit that sets outside and duct work extends from that unit through an exterior wall into the building. Split systems have an outdoor compressor unit with a furnace and coil inside the home that connect to duct work to distribute the air.

Package Units, Kind Of My Negative Feelings

You can have package unit in a few different configurations.

  1. Package Heat Pump
  2. Gas Pack
  3. Dual Fuel (gas with a heat pump)

New stuff is popping up all the time, but these are the major combinations as far as I’m aware.

Package HVAC units can set on the ground next to the house or on the roof. If you’ve ever been to areas like Phoenix you can’t miss all the ugly rooftops with package unit sticking up like gophers in the desert.

The unit in the image below is a gas pack or a combination gas heat and electric air conditioning unit.

I clean this package unit every year. It accumulates a lot of bugs and dirt every single year. Of course it’s older and it’s set in sort of a dirty place.

These folks covered the duct work that goes into the crawl space with shrubbery.

That white lattice work going up the side of the house is the return duct. Return means the duct that brings air from the ceiling in the home into the package unit to be heated or cooled.

This return duct is in the attic. Attic duct work is exposed to weather extremes. 120 degrees plus in the summer and freezing temps in the winter.

A new customer called me and asked questions about where his filter was in his package unit. I explained that it could either be in the ceiling return, like a filter grill or in the duct near the package unit outside.

He said he took the doors off the unit and could find no filter and the grill in the hallway ceiling was not a filter grill. I told him I’d have to come and look.

When I got there I couldn’t find the filter either. Finally after quite some time I located the filter in the duct, well hidden and quite hard to see the access. Filters need to be easy to access.

The reason I drifted off and started explaining about filter location is primarily about dust and dirt that these units seem to collect. Duct sealing is critical. Everywhere a section of sheet metal is connected is a crack that sucks or blows.

It’s a small amount if done correctly, but when you add up all those small amounts the encompass into a good sized hole.

You’d have to love this on your roof, right? When the snow hits here in Central Oregon you don’t even have access to make repairs.

This guy has a wood stove just in case.

Nearly every year something goes on with this gas pack. Mostly it’s bee’s.

Have made some efforts to seal up the access, but you can’t seal up some places.

Last year the bee’s built so many nests they plugged the inducer motor. Inducer motors help pull the flue gasses from the heat exchanger. They also really love to nest in the fan compartment. Does that tell you anything about how tight these units are?

This image down below is one of my nightmares. What’s a rooftop unit weight? My search led me to a Goodman 3 ton package heat pump, shipping weight 380 pounds.

This house has a stick built roof with no support structure for the gas pack. See what a few years will do to sheet metal out in the elements.

One little addendum. Installing or replacing a package unit involves the expense and availability of a crane. Only a couple hundred bucks, and maybe more depending on how far the crane has to travel and how ready the installer is when the crane arrives.

Why Is It Called A Split System?

Simple answer. That’s why you’re here, right. You take a package unit with all the operating parts and pieces that make a heating and cooling unit all in one package, then you split it up, and put some in the house and some outside.


Ahí tienes (there you have it) in a nut shell. A compressor unit is comfortably setting on the outside of the house and a gas, oil or electric furnace in the basement, closet or wherever.

All the duct work would be similar to what a package unit would connect to, but none of that duct work would be in the weather.

The beauty of having a split system with so much of the operating equipment indoors is how much easier it is to keep clean and away from the darn bee’s.

It’s true you can still get bee’s and bugs in a split system’s outdoor unit, but they aren’t drawn to it as much as those package units that are warm and comfy inside.

And the outdoor unit on a split system doesn’t have an indoor fan sucking on the unconditioned outside air. And the sun isn’t pounding down on the cabinet that conditions your indoor space.

air to air heat pump

With a split up unit adding accessories is a much more sanitary process. Whether it’s high efficiency filters or any other desirable add on, they are just easier to adapt into the system and they will last longer being closer to the conditioned space.

Another Sort Of Package Heat Pump

About in 2005 I installed two water source heat pumps in my own home. I’m on city water but I also have a well that we irrigate with and provide water for my heat pumps.

You could say this is a package unit. The compressor and the indoor fan and the water coil are all inside this unit.

The neat thing about water source heat pumps is they don’t have to go through a defrost cycle.
Defrost cycles are abusive to heat pump and shorten their life span. That’s why heat pumps only have an average life span of about 15 years.

My water temperature is a constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

There is no outdoor unit being abused by the sun and the snow.

Because of this lack of abuse, water source stuff lasts about twice as long. They have been an absolute dream as far as repairs and maintenance goes.

So What Will It Be, To Split Or Not To Split?

I hope I answered some of your questions. This is a complicated field and full of surprises. Finding the right contractor. Why you could have 30 questions. Getting the right system for your area and your house.

Chad Peterson

Chad Peterson is a veteran of the HVAC industry since 1977. "I like to explain heating and air conditioning problems in a way the average home owner can understand. "

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