What is a Packaged Unit Air Conditioner or Heat Pump?

What is a Packaged Unit?

Packaged Units, also known as Packaged Systems, are self-contained systems that house both heating and cooling components in one unit. Whereas a split system contains both an outdoor and an indoor unit, packaged units are enclosed in a single cabinet and typically installed outdoors on flat rooftops or on concrete slabs next to a home or business. Ductwork to distribute the air to and from a packaged unit is routed through the roof or wall.

Packaged unit components include an evaporator or cooling coil, evaporator fan, compressor, and condenser combination and can also include a heating element, eliminating the need for a separate furnace inside the building. Packaged systems use two types of condensers: air-cooled condensers, which are cooled by the surrounding air, are most often used with residential units; and water-cooled condensers, which require a cooling tower, are typically used for commercial applications.

The types of packaged systems available include packaged air conditioners, packaged gas/electric systems and packaged heat pumps:

  • Packaged air conditioners are solely electric and typically contain a cooling-only system, although electrical strip heat can be added. These units are generally found in warmer areas.
  • Packaged gas/electric systems are designed with a gas heating system combined with an electric air conditioner. These units are for homes or businesses without available space for an indoor furnace and are the best choice for colder climates. Gas/electric systems normally use natural gas but can be converted to propane.
  • Packaged heat pump systems contain both a heat pump and an air handler and provide electric heating and cooling. These units use the same technology as a standard or 2-stage heat pump and are usually found in areas where the temperature does not drop below freezing.

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to installing a packaged unit:

Advantages: Packaged units are space-efficient, with all components of the heating and cooling system located in one place; they are well-suited to homes without an attic or basement. The entire unit is assembled in a controlled environment, and most units come charged with refrigerant. And because it is a single unit and pre-charged with refrigerant, installation of a packaged unit can be less expensive than a split system.

Disadvantages: Electronic controls and motors are located outside and exposed to the environment. This exposure can also cause the unit to rust and corrode faster than an inside or split system unit. And efficiency ratings of packaged units tend to be lower than those of split system units, ranging on average between 14 and 18 SEER.

According to the Department of Energy’s 2015 Federal Regional Standards, packaged air conditioning units sold in the north and south must have a minimum efficiency of 14 SEER, while those sold in the southwest must have a minimum efficiency of 14 SEER and 11 EER.

Packaged heat pumps sold in the north, south and southwest are allowed a minimum efficiency of 14 SEER and 8.0 HSPF.

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