Gas pack information that is accurate and actionable in terms of deciding on the right unit for your purposes is hard to find – until now. This gas pack buyers guide covers five tips for selecting a model.
Now, we understand that gas packs are used residentially in the South more than anywhere else due to the scarcity of basements. However, they are also used in:
- Local areas in all climates where high water tables prevent basements
- Businesses everywhere without basements
- Mobile homes everywhere
Therefore, this gas/electric package unit guide covers the country.
We are going to make one assumption – that you need a package unit due to your home's or commercial building's structure OR that you live in a very temperate climate, and your home doesn’t require much heating and cooling. We assume this because, otherwise, a standard split system with a gas furnace and AC or heat pump and air handler or gas furnace and heat pump combination can deliver much lower operating costs. Which unit is right for you would depend on your climate. We’ve covered all those systems in our other 2017 buyers guides such as Gas Furnaces, Central Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps.
What is a Gas Pack?
In case you dropped by out of curiosity rather than intent to do research, here’s a brief overview.
A gas pack:
- Is a packaged HVAC unit containing the heating and cooling components and the blower motor/fan in one steel cabinet
- Always contains a gas furnace
- Typically contains a central air conditioner
- May contain a heat pump instead of an AC, in which case it is known as a dual fuel gas pack
- Is usually installed outside on the ground, on the roof or in a crawl space
- Connects to the home’s ductwork, just as a standard furnace would, though it might be through the foundation or the roof
- Is also called a gas/electric package unit because the furnace is fueled by gas and the AC or heat pump is powered by electricity
Gas Pack Buying Tips
OK, let’s sort out this buying decision, and we’ll start by giving you an alternative to a gas pack – a heat pump package unit and why it’s worth a look.
Consider a Heat Pump Package Unit
Sometimes called an all-electric unit or heat pump package unit or heat pump system, it contains a heat pump that provides both heating and air conditioning along with an air handler to circulate air through the ductwork, just as a furnace’s blower would do in both heat and AC modes.
Why? A heat pump produces +/- three times the heat that would be created by equivalent amount of natural gas or propane. Three times the heat; one-third the environmental impact. The most efficient gas furnaces transfer 98% of the heat into your home. That’s impressive.
But a heat pump takes the electricity generated by burning coal, typically, and triples the output. This happens because refrigerant is an amazing liquid. The electricity in a heat pump is used to power the compressor that circulates refrigerant. The refrigerant captures heat indoors in the summer and transfers it outside. The physics are reversed in the winter through built-in technology.
The exception to the superiority of heat pumps is in climates where freezing temperatures are common in winter. There, either go with a gas pack (less expensive/less efficient) or a dual fuel gas pack (more expensive/more efficient). A dual fuel unit heats with a heat pump whenever temperatures permit (above about 35F) and a furnace when temps are below that. The unit switches automatically, so you can forget about it.
Heat pump packs like this one from Bryant are made by all the top manufacturers.
If you decide that a gas pack still makes sense for you because of the lower cost than a heat pump package unit, then let’s proceed.
Choose a Gas Pack with the Efficiency for Your Purposes
Gas packs don’t vary in efficiency as much as split system components do, especially in furnaces. Most gas packs are equipped with furnaces that achieve 80% or 81% efficiency. That fact exposes their relative unsuitability for cold climates compared with 95%-98% furnaces that deliver 14%-18% lower heating costs.
Gas pack air conditioners range from 13 SEER to 20 SEER efficiency as found in the Maytag PPG2GI iQ Drive M1200.
What gas pack air conditioner efficiency is right for you? Homeowners make their decision on one or more of these criteria:
- Their environmental values
- Their plans to stay or move
Let’s explore these:
HVAC with less environmental impact: If this is your goal, then purchasing a heat pump package unit (hot, warm, moderate and cool climates) or a dual fuel package unit (cold climates) are top choices. If you choose a gas pack, buying the most efficient model you can afford will give you peace of mind.
Staying or going: The longer you plan to live in your current home or use your current commercial space, the more buying an efficient unit is a cost-effective choice because you’ll enjoy lower monthly energy bills. If you’re moving shortly, then a less efficient unit is cost-effective. However, in warm-to-hot climates, an efficient unit will be appealing to many homebuyers.
Basing your choice on climate: The rule is that the hotter and more humid your warm months are, the higher the SEER rating of the gas pack should be. It’s worth spending more for efficiency in warm climates because you’ll be paid back through lower energy bills in 5-12 years, depending on your climate and what unit you buy. If you install an inefficient gas pack in a hot climate, your monthly AC bills might become a nuisance. Our Top Rated Gas Packs 2017 post details units with the best quality but includes very efficient units too.
Upgrade if You Prefer Better Performance
Many gas packs produce single-stage heating and air conditioning. This means the unit runs at full capacity whenever on and heats and cools in short bursts of loud activity. While these units are more affordable, they produce greater temperature swings than two-stage models do. When in AC mode, they don’t remove as much humidity, so the unit has to run more to make your home or commercial space comfortable. Two-stage heating and air conditioning runs at low capacity most of the time. Cycles are longer, quieter and produce more a more comfortable indoor climate. Are you willing to pay the extra 15% to 20% for better climate control? Consumers usually do for residential space. They often do for office space, and they rarely do for retail space.
Get the Gas Pack Size Right
Gas pack air conditioning units come in BTU capacities of 18K, 24K, 30K, 36K, 42K, 48K and 60K (aka 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0 and 5.0 tons). Furnaces come in corresponding capacities from about 40,000 to 140,000 BTUs of heating. Some HVAC technicians will “eyeball” your home and ask you its square footage before recommending a size. A more precise means of sizing the unit to your space is a Manual J load calculation. It’s important to have a unit of the proper heating and cooling capacity to do the job, do it efficiently and avoid mechanical issues from short cycling. If you’re replacing a gas pack and you’ve upgraded your home’s insulation, windows, doors and/or roofing, then it is possible that your new gas pack unit should be smaller than the old one.
Hire a Gas Pack Installer with Proven Experience
A gas pack or heat pump package unit is an investment of $5,000 to $10,000 installed. To make the most of the money spent, hire a qualified contractor with package unit installation experience. Improper installation can rob the system of efficiency and durability.
Most certified installers do a good job, but to eliminate those who don’t, do your due diligence when getting estimates and reviewing contractors. A quick and convenient way to do this is to use the Free Estimates service we partner with that features top installers in your area. We know this because they are prescreened for experience, good ratings and being licensed and insured. Filling out one quick form about your HVAC project brings several written estimates in a matter of days. The service is free, you can take your time researching the companies that supply estimates, and you’re not obligated to accept any of the estimates.
Thank you for researching your HVAC system with our Gas Pack Buyers Guide for 2017. Hopefully you’ve sorted out the decision making about a package unit. If this has been of help, perhaps your friends and followers on social media would appreciate it if you passed it on to them. Thanks for doing so!