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

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

What is an Air Handler? 

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

Air handler vs Heat Pump 

Similar to how an air handler can work with an AC system, 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 assists in moving all that heated or cooled air. 

Air handler vs blower 

Air handlers are not blowers. This can be confusing for some of our customers, but it’s not that complicated and we’re happy to explain the difference. An air handler includes the blower, and several other pieces in the unit. You may have dampers, filters, mixing chambers and more in an air handler. The blower is just one part of a greater whole. 

Here’s what you should know about air handlers: if you’re looking for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll more than likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s possible you won’t need one. However, if you’re searching for an electric heat pump, it’s helpful to know that an air handler will 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 be concerned about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the home. Some models also provide secondary heating and cooling elements to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the heated air into your ducts and disperse through your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make heat, they don’t have some of the parts you’ll find in a modern air handler. 

Air Conditioners 

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are typically placed outside the home. One of the most common mix-ups with air conditioners is that they cool the existing air in your home. Air conditioners actually take heat from inside your home through a number 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 drawn 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 transfer 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 complex than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and digest. 

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling pieces for the the U.S. climate is probably a little impractical, but there are a number of 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 pros at Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing a call at 866-397-3787 or set up a free appointment online today. 

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