Self Contained Refrigeration Equipment or Split Refrigeration Equipment?

When it comes to refrigeration for your walk-in there are two major formats: Self contained and split systems. They each have pros and cons behind choosing one over the other and they both keep a walk-in box cold so why does it matter? As long as it’s cold should it matter?


Let’s explore the differences between the two so you can make an informed decision.


To start with, what is a self contained refrigeration system?


image of a package refrigeration unit on top of a walk-in freezer.  Unit is made of silver metal and has latches on it for opening
Package refrigeration unit on top of a walk-in freezer in Austin, TX

A self contained system is common on smaller walk-ins where ease of installation is paramount. As its name states, it is self contained. Often called a Capsule Pak, Pro3, or drop-in refrigeration, the unit houses both the evaporator and condenser in a single unit that sits on the top or side wall of the walk-in itself. For comparison, think of a window air conditioning unit as it is very similar in concept. It gets installed and provided power and it is ready to go. Modern package systems utilize digital controls and high efficiency EEVs. These systems are often installed in places where space outside is at a premium, a simpler install is desired, and almost always on smaller boxes.


evaporator coil, eev, fan blades, silver colored metal, evaporator in package refrigeration unit
Evaporator side of package refrigeration unit in Austin, TX.

condensing unit inner workings.  Compressor is visible, fan more and blade are visible, pressure switches, temperature controls
Condensing unit side of package refrigeration unit in Austin, TX.

view from inside of a walk-in looking at the grill where the package refrigeration system is.  It is all silver in color and there are empty shelves all around.
Inside the walk-in on a package refrigeration system in Austin, TX.

What is a split refrigeration system?


silver colored evaporators with black grills over fan blades.  Some drain pipes are visible
Split system evaporators inside a walk-in cooler in Lubbock, TX.

A split refrigeration system is just that. The evaporator is inside of the walk-in and the condenser is outside on the ground or on the roof of the building. The evaporator and condenser are connected by copper piping that transport refrigerant from the condenser to the evaporator and back again so cooling can take place. This system is very much like your main home air conditioning. This is a more involved installation where copper needs to be brazed together at temperatures much higher than soldering used for plumbing due to the high pressures of the refrigerant which can rise to over 300 PSI. Because of the need for the piping, a vacuum needs to be pulled inside of the system to remove non condensables and moisture. It is not something that everyone can do and doing it correctly is often optional with installers who cut corners.




grey condensing unit with silver condensing coil sitting on concrete pad outside a building.
Split system condensing unit on ground outside of building housing walk-in in Lubbock, TX.

Pipes are visible on outside of walk-in cooler.  White Pvc is for the drain line and goes down into a trap.  Copper and insulated pipes are for the refrigerant lines to connect the inside unit to the outside unit.
Drain and refrigerant piping on walk-in cooler split system in Lubbock, TX.

What is the advantage of one over the other?


While there are certainly differences in how these are installed, for the most part they perform the same function. Below are a list of pros and cons for each type of system:


Pros and cons of package refrigeration:


Pros:

-Ease of install

-Simple electrical

-No heater wiring for freezers

-Less intrusive inside of walk-in

-Does not need a drain for condensate. Most of these units have a heater to evaporate condensate.


Cons:

-Heat is created in living/work space. A/C may be pushed beyond its design tolerance unless the system was designed with the extra load in mind.

-Walk-ins larger than 10x10 are typically pushing the limits of what package refrigeration can cool unless you use multiple systems.

-The equipment is expensive. You may think you are saving money by choosing this option but what you save in installation cost is made up by the cost of the unit itself.

-long, long, long lead times on equipment at the time of writing this article


Pros and cons of a split refrigeration system:


Pros:

-Produces no heat in living/work space

-Can refrigerate any size walk-in

-Evaporator can be an form factor to work with your application

-Equipment has a longer expected life than package systems

-Parts for repair are more readily available

-Ease of cleaning evaporator and condenser coils


Cons:

-Requires installation by a technician who is federally licensed to handle refrigerants.

-Requires penetrations in your wall or roof

-Requires electrical at both evaporator and condenser

-Requires a drain from the evaporator


What do we recommend?


No matter the size, 95% of the time we will suggest a split system. It is preferred in almost every application and by every customer that we remove heat from the inside of the building and an external condenser is the best way to do that. Adding heat to an already hot kitchen is not in anyone’s best interest. While there are situations where a package system is a good option, the benefit is often not substantial enough to suggest it as an option.


In most situations where we provide a quote to a customer, a package refrigeration system quote is at their request. Either they have had a good experience with one in the past, assume that it is less expensive than the split option or did not know that there was another option.


In Texas during the long, long summer it is a constant battle to keep heat out of living/work spaces. Having a split system is one of the reasons we suggest it in all possible cases.


Need refrigeration for your existing walk-in cooler or freezer in Austin or Lubbock? Need refrigeration AND a walk-in cooler of freezer, give us a call at:


Austin: (512) 651-4565

Lubbock: (806) 686-0050


Or check out our website at www.tripointrefrigeration.com


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