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 thing that garners plenty of confusion is the air handler. Is this the equivalent of an air conditioner? We’re here to clear things up. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor component of some types of HVAC systems. It links to a network of air ducts that deliver conditioned air throughout the building. Air handlers range in size, type and capacity, dependent on the application. 

Some consumers use the jargon of “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 operate together to condition and circulate the air. 

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Typically, an air conditioner shares the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is necessary. However, in climates where home heating is not required, an air conditioner may be the lone HVAC equipment present. In this instance, the indoor air handler works in tandem with the outside unit, called the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler pushes indoor air over the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to circulate cooled, dehumidified air back to the building via ductwork. Refrigerant lines attach 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, comfortable indoor temperature and humidity level. 

Does a Heat Pump Use an Air Handler? 

This is where air handlers are most typically found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less reliable, they are occasionally 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 popular as of late. Without a furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps require a dedicated air handler to circulate 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 acquire heat before circulating it all over the building. A heat pump can even be used for cooling, where it extracts heat from the indoor air and transmits it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces are equipped with a blower motor to move conditioned air. The blower is commonly housed in the interior of the furnace. It forces 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 generate heat. Once warmed, the air is distributed back through the ductwork system and inside the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The basic components of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that circulates air within the ductwork. It forces air across the heating or cooling elements to regulate the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: Depending on the type of HVAC system you have, the air handler may have heating or cooling elements, including an evaporator coil or backup electric heat strip. 
  • Air filter: An HVAC air filter removes dust, dirt and other contamination from the air as it goes into the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary depending on system requirements. Remember to swap out your air filter routinely to avoid restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in buildings with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically operated to direct air to specific rooms as needed to maintain a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers have a humidifier or dehumidifier, which regulates the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier infuses moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier takes out moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is a way to regulate 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 suffering from issues with your air conditioner, air handler or other HVAC components, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing is here to help you out. Our staff of talented technicians can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, ensuring 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 request air conditioning repair in the U.S., please reach out to a Service Experts office in your area today. 

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