What's the Difference Between an Air Conditioner and Air Handler?

April 16, 2015

Whether it’s AC repair or total AC system replacement, there are various terms within the HVAC industry that can get baffling for homeowners. Not to mention all of the different pieces of heating and air conditioning equipment that can be used to increase your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t speak to all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine inquiries we see at A-PLUS Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

Air Handlers

An air handler contains the components that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually situated inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick glance at an air handler, it may closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can operate with an air conditioner and holds the indoor coil, used to cool and heat your home depending on which system it’s working with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Just like an air handler runs with an air conditioner, an air handler works as a team with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to heat and cool you home by transferring heat, rather than generating it, and the air handler moves all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This puzzles some of our customers, but it's not too complex and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other pieces within. You may have dampers, filters, mixing chambers and more in an air handler. The blower is just one component of many.

Here’s what you should know about air handlers: if you’re in the market for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll probably never need to know what an air handler is because it’s probable you won’t need one. However, if you’re looking for an electric heat pump, it’s helpful to know that an air handler will most likely be a part of your home’s HVAC system.

Air Handler vs. Furnace

Air handlers and furnaces don't normally pair together. If you have a furnace you won't need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the building. Some units also provide extra heating and cooling elements to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the hot air into your ventilation and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make heat, they don't require some of the parts you'll find in a typical air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are traditionally situated outside the home. One of the most common misunderstandings about air conditioners is that they cool the existing air in your home. Air conditioners actually remove heat from inside your home through a host of components within your system and expel it outside. The removal of heat is what makes the air feel cool, not the addition of cold air.

The warm air inside your home is brought into the system through return ducts and then go over a refrigerant coil. As the warm air is blown across the cooled coil, heat is removed. Refrigerant lines then send the heat outside. Now you’re left with cool, comfortable indoor air that you can enjoy on the hottest of days. And that’s pretty much it. Sure, the equipment is more intricate than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and digest.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling components for the Waldorf climate is probably a little unrealistic, but there are a couple things that can be helpful to you as a homeowner. If you’d like more information about your current system and whether an air handler or air conditioner is right for your home, give the experts at A-PLUS Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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