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 variety 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 increase 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: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

What is an Air Handler?

An air handler contains the parts that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is typically set inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick peep at an air handler, it can closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can run with an air conditioner and contains 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 runs with an AC, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature by transferring heat, rather than creating it, and the air handler helps move all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This confuses some folks, 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 parts 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 in the market for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s possible 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 most 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 think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the home. Some units also provide backup heating and cooling elements to help out the heat pump. A furnace works on a different concept. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the heated air into your ductwork and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make heat, they don't need some of the parts you'll find in a modern air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually placed outside the home. One of the most common confusions 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 components in 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 brought 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 complex 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 Longmont 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 experts at Service Experts a call at 303-647-5749 or set up a free appointment online today.

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