Packaged AC Unit Buying Guide- Top 5 Brands and 2018 Prices

Packaged AC units are used when only air conditioning is needed due to climate or an inadequate main source of central air conditioning.

This guide contains research for cost, features to consider, top AC packaged unit brands, pros and cons and other useful information.

What is a Packaged AC Unit?

As the name implies, the system is a single unit in contrast to a split AC system. An AC packaged system contains the air conditioner condensing unit (the AC) and an air handler. The units are combined in one large steel cabinet.

The packaged unit is typically installed outside, either on the ground or the roof. They can be installed indoors, but they must then be vented to push the heat they have removed out of your home.

Packaged units are connected to the ductwork, both the return and supply ducts. Warm air is drawn into the system where heat and humidity are removed from it. Cool, dry air is then pushed into the occupied space.

If you need a unit that heats too, packaged heat pumps that heat and cool and gas packs with a furnace and AC are also available.

Is a Packaged AC Right for You?

An AC packaged unit is rarely a first choice. The reasons are found in the pros and cons. The situations that make sense for a packaged AC are:

  • Retrofits when an existing package unit is being replaced.
  • When split system air conditioning isn’t suitable to the construction of the building.
  • The above scenarios when only air conditioning is required because the climate is warm or the existing central AC isn’t adequate.

Pros and Cons of Packaged Air Conditioner Systems

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of packaged ACs.

Pros:

  • Lower equipment cost than split systems
  • Multiple installation location options
  • Quieter operation indoors when the unit is installed outside
  • There is less need for technician expertise since the entire system is charged with the proper level of refrigerant at the factory

Cons:

  • Not as efficient as split air conditioners
  • Systems can’t be expected to last as long when installed outdoors, especially in climates with harsh weather

Packaged AC Options

Packaged ACs don’t offer as many options as split system air conditioners. Here’s what to consider before choosing a unit.

  • Efficiency: SEER ratings range from 13 to 16 from most brands.
  • Staged cooling: Single-stage and two-stage models are available. A single-stage AC unit costs less, but might create slight temperature fluctuations. Two-stage models run on low capacity, which is about 65% to 70% capacity, to maintain indoor temperature. High, 100% capacity, is used to boost cooling or to keep up on very warm days.
  • Fan speeds: Your options are single-speed, multispeed and variable-speed. The more speeds the blower has, the more comfortable the cooling will be. At the extremes, single-speed blowers run at full capacity and send a blast of warm air at the beginning of the cycle before the AC is fully cooling the air. A variable-speed fan ramps up and down. It starts slow, so still-warm air isn’t dispersed. The blower hits full speed when the AC is running at full capacity, and then it ramps down to match the slowing down of the AC.
  • Size: Packaged ACs start at about 1.5 ton/18,000 BTU and range to 5.0 ton/60,000 BTU. Sizing your AC is critical to performance, efficiency and comfort.

This section of our split system AC guide discusses the very important issue of sizing your central air conditioner.

Five Best Packaged Air Conditioner Brands and Cost

These brands and the recommended AC packaged units are known for durable, reliable performance. Expect 15-18 years of service from them when they are properly maintained.

BrandTop ModelSEERCompressorBlower
Speed
Installed Cost
Armstrong AirPRPAC 16162-stageVariable$4,200-$7,750
Maytag*M1200 PPA3RF162-stageVariable$4,050-$7,400
Heil**QuietComfort Deluxe 16162-stageMulti$3,875-$7,175
CarrierPerformance 15162-stageMulti$3,950-$7,300
TraneXL15c152-stageVariable$3,795-$6,225
*Maytag is a Nortek Global brand. Nortek Global makes other brands that are identical to Maytag except in name. These include Westinghouse, Tappan and others.
**Heil is an International Comfort Products (ICP) brand. ICP is the manufacturer of multiple brands with identical products. Its brands include Heil, Arcoaire, Comfortmaker, Day & Night, KeepRite and Tempstar.

Learn More and Get Free Estimates

If you’d like to explore packaged ACs and your options, consider requesting free estimates. We’ll put you in touch with several of the top companies in your area. Free written estimates can be provided. There is no cost or obligation for using the service. Click the Free Local Estimates tab or call today.

If you live in the northern part of U.S. and need furnace as heating system, you can read our Gas Pack (Packaged AC + Furnace Unit) Buying Guide for more information.

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