Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re searching for heating and cooling services, you may come across confusing, sometimes contradictory information about different HVAC systems. One element that garners plenty of confusion is the air handler. Is this another way to describe an air conditioner? We’re here to help sort this out. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor part of some kinds of HVAC systems. It attaches to a network of air ducts that circulate conditioned air through the building. Air handlers vary in size, type and capacity, depending on the application. 

Some people use the terms “air handler” and “blower” interchangeably, but this is not correct. An air handler is an entire unit containing a blower and several other parts, all of which work together to condition and circulate the air. 

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Generally, an air conditioner shares the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is needed. However, in environments where home heating is not required, an air conditioner may be the lone HVAC equipment present. In this situation, the indoor air handler runs along with the outside unit, referred to as the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler pushes indoor air across the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to distribute cooled, dehumidified air back into the building through ductwork. Refrigerant lines connect the air handler to the outdoor condenser, facilitating the heat transfer to the outside. This makes it possible for the air conditioning to uphold a constant, cozy indoor temperature and humidity level. 

Does a Heat Pump Use an Air Handler? 

This is where air handlers are most frequently found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less effective, they are sometimes installed alongside furnaces, creating what’s referred to as a dual-fuel system. However, advancements in cold-climate heat pumps make dual-fuel systems less typical these days. Because there is no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps need a dedicated air handler to move conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by pulling heat from the outside air and moving it inside via the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to obtain heat before circulating it all over the building. A heat pump can additionally be used for cooling, where it pulls heat from the indoor air and transmits it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces are made with a blower motor to circulate conditioned air. The blower is usually located in the interior of the furnace. It pushes air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that transfers heat from a fuel source to the air blowing past it. The fuel source can be natural gas, propane or oil, which is ignited to produce heat. Once heated, the air is dispersed back through the ductwork system and inside the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The basic parts of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that disperses air within the ductwork. It drives air across the heating or cooling elements to manage the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: Based on the type of HVAC system you have installed in your home, the air handler may include heating or cooling elements, including an evaporator coil or backup electric heat strip. 
  • Air filter: An HVAC air filter takes dust, dirt and other impurities from the air as it enters the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary depending on system requirements. Remember to switch out your air filter routinely to protect against restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in structures with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically powered to direct air to specific rooms as necessary to uphold a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers contain a humidifier or dehumidifier, which regulates the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier adds moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier removes moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is responsible for regulating the air handler. It might include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to gauge the temperature and humidity inside the building. 

Schedule Air Conditioner or Air Handler Repair 

If you’re having issues with your air conditioner, air handler or other HVAC components, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help. Our squad of experienced techs can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, making sure it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our exemplary work so much that we guarantee all repairs with a one-year 100% satisfaction guarantee! For more information or to schedule air conditioning repair in the U.S., please contact a Service Experts office near you today. 

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