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The options for heating and cooling your home are vast: from window AC units to ductless systems to traditional central air, which can both heat and cool if you’ve got a heat pump. Though many people are familiar with the comforts and conveniences associated with central air, you may not know that your central air HVAC system could be packaged in one unit or split into two. For a Columbia, Maryland, home, consider advantages and disadvantages like space, damage, and installation when choosing packaged AC systems vs. split AC systems.

In a packaged air conditioning unit, every part that cools and blows your air is together. The coils, fan, and motor live together in a single HVAC unit. On the other hand, a split AC system has two parts: an indoor air handler, which includes the fan and the evaporator coils, and the outdoor unit, consisting of the compressor. At Griffith Energy Services, we install and service both. Which do we recommend? That depends on your home, your heating and cooling needs, and your budget.

Packaged Air Advantage: It’s a Space Saver

Homes with space concerns, like small yards or little interior space for an accessible air handler, do well with packaged systems. When your indoor space doesn’t have room for a big air handler, the package unit can go outside. If your home doesn’t have much yard space, and you don’t want to donate any to an HVAC system, the package unit can go on the roof. It’s not the most attractive place to stick an HVAC system, but it’s better than using up your outdoor living space. After all, wouldn’t you rather have as much yard space as you can?

Packaged Air Advantage: Maintenance Is All in One Place

With a packaged system, all major HVAC components are easy for your technician to reach when it comes to maintenance. The tech has to visit one spot to service almost everything. The only aspect of the system not included in the package is the ducts, which run through your whole house. When you have space issues, the packaged system’s one location makes completing maintenance simpler. That way, the technician only has to reach one location, not two, to visit the important parts of the HVAC system.

It might seem obvious to put HVAC components where people can access them. Unfortunately, some older homes have air handlers boxed in the walls with only small hatches or outdoor units squeezed behind sheds or near bushes, making them difficult (or impossible) to service. The more access we have, the better, and a packaged unit gives us a look at everything at once.

Packaged Air Advantage: Low Indoor Noise

No indoor component means a quieter home, too. If the packaged unit remains in good condition, it shouldn’t make enough noise to disturb you inside. The same should be true of split units, but sometimes older air handlers develop annoying noises that homeowners can’t stand. Noise shouldn’t be the major factor influencing your package or split HVAC decision, but it’s always something to think about.

Packaged Air Disadvantage: More Opportunities for Damage

With every control, electrical wire, and coil located outside, the packaged system endures harsher conditions than an indoor air handler does. Though packaged systems have protection built around them, harsh weather conditions can still do damage. One good hail storm, downpour, or snowfall can harm or dislodge some of the interior components. If your unit is installed on the ground, you’ve got to keep it free of leaves, debris and standing water.

The same is true if it’s on your roof, so think about whether or not you want to climb on your roof to remove any branches or leaves that blow into your system after a windstorm. Some homeowners have no problem with DIY tasks like this, while others would rather not hop up on a ladder.

Animals, too, are very crafty and might think your HVAC system is a warm place to curl up during winter. Small rodents are fantastic at slipping into places they don’t belong, where they chew on anything their mouths can reach. While rodents inside the packaged unit isn’t the most common way these HVAC systems sustain damage, it’s something you should keep in mind.

Packaged Air Disadvantage: Roof Location

Roof installation is tricky. A packaged system on a flat roof is easier to install, but we won’t lie, it looks a bit odd. You’re more likely to see a packaged system on top of a business than a house. On a pitched roof, installation becomes more complicated. If there’s space, we construct a level platform to hold the AC. If the roof is too pitched, installing the AC up there is inadvisable.

Split AC Advantage: Indoor Air Handler Location

Unlike the package unit, half of your AC in a split system lives inside your house. The mild indoor conditions mean that your evaporator coils and your fan have a longer life because they don’t deal with weather. As long as you get regular maintenance and change your AC filter regularly, the air handler indoor component will have a long, healthy life providing you with cool air.

Speaking of the filter: The air filter in your HVAC system protects your indoor air from particulates and protects your air handler from getting dirty. That extra layer of protection for your air handler can only help it operate better, and changing the filter is one of the simplest things you can do to preserve the life of your HVAC system. We recommend putting it on your calendar every month or every other month. Stock up on filters so you have them readily available when the change date arrives.

The outdoor component, the compressor, faces the same issues a package unit will: namely, weather, plant, and animal damage. Because only half of your system is outside, however, if the compressor gets damaged, there’s less to fix than if the entire thing sustains harm. Plus, some of the most delicate parts of your HVAC system, like a UV lamp (if you have one), will be indoors and protected.

Split AC Advantage: Energy Savings

Because some of the components are indoors, split systems offer higher energy efficiency than package units. Some Energy Star split systems offer SEER ratings higher than 20, which indicates superior efficiency. Pair one of these with a smart thermostat, and you’ll see major improvements in energy consumption and indoor air quality.

Split AC Disadvantage: Complex Installation

Split systems are definitely more complicated to install. Both a packaged AC and a split AC connect with your ducts, and if your ducts are incorrectly installed, then you’ll lose efficiency and air quality. But a split system needs to have correct installation in two places instead of just one, creating double the amount of chances for something to be incorrect.

Pipes connect the outdoor unit with the indoor unit, so the cooled air from the compressor reaches the air handler. Any issue in these pipes harms your system’s health and efficiency. Though we recommend a split system by the same manufacturer, some people try to save costs by getting two different models, which may not work as harmoniously as an outdoor and an indoor unit designed to go together. Sometimes, people replace one half of the split system and leave the other, which causes further mismatches and installation issues.

Refrigerant lines also run between the two components. Because so many parts have to communicate from outdoor to indoor, correct installation is a must. If you’re inheriting an HVAC system when you buy a new property, you have no idea how it was installed or if it was done correctly. You can always call us to examine it and repair any problems, but a good installation is always the best way to ensure efficiency.

Griffith Energy Services is here to answer your packaged vs. split questions. Come to us with your space issues, your maintenance concerns, and your energy goals. We’ll help you find a good model from a reputable brand like Trane or Carrier. Then, we’ll be sure to install it correctly. Reach us at 888-474-3391.

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