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 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 improve your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t talk about all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine inquiries we see at Knochelmann 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 located inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick peep at an air handler, it may 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 running with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Similar to how an air handler runs with an air conditioner, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature by transferring heat, rather than producing 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 folks, 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 part of a greater whole.

Here’s what you should know about air handlers: if you’re in the market for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll more than likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s feasible that 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 probably 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 setup with heat pumps and help manage air flow throughout the building. Some air handlers also provide extra heating and cooling components to help out the heat pump. A furnace works on a different concept. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have their own blowers that move the hot air into your ductwork and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make heat, they don't need some of the parts you'll find in a typical air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually placed 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 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 pulled into the system through return ducts and then pass 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 intricate than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and digest.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling parts for the Sharonville 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 professionals at Knochelmann Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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