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

Whether it’s AC repair or total AC system replacement, there are a number of terms within the HVAC industry that can get puzzling 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 write about all of the variations in a short blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine 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 components that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually set inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling pieces of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it can closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can run with an air conditioner and houses 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 works with an air conditioner, an air handler works in tandem with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to heat and cool you home by transferring heat, rather than creating it, and the air handler moves all that heated or cooled air. 

Air handler vs blower 

Air handlers are not blowers. This puzzles some people, but it’s not too hard to understand and we’re happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other components in the unit. You may have dampers, filters, mixing chambers and more in an air handler. The blower is just one piece of the pie. 

Here’s what you need to know about air handlers: if you’re searching for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll probably never need to know what an air handler is because it’s feasible that you won’t need one. However, if you’re in the market 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 probably don’t need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the home. Some models also provide secondary heating and cooling components to help out the heat pump. A furnace works a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have their own blowers that move the warmed air into your ductwork and disperse through your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don’t need some of the parts you’ll find in a new air handler. 

Air Conditioners 

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually situated 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 pull out heat from inside your home through a variety of parts 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 pulled 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 complicated than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and understand. 

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling parts for the the U.S. climate is probably a little impractical, but there are a few 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 professionals 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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