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

Whether it’s AC repair or total AC system replacement, there are various 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 speak to all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the more common 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 typically set inside the home and operates with both the heating and cooling components of your HVAC system. If you take a quick glance at an air handler, it can 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 running with. 

Air handler vs Heat Pump 

Exactly like an air handler works with an AC system, 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 includes the blower, and several other components 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 searching 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 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 aren’t often found together. If you have a furnace you probably don’t need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the home. Some units also provide backup heating and cooling components to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the warmed air into your ductwork and disperse through your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make 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 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 variety of pieces 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 intricate than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and comprehend. 

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 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 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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