Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re hunting for heating and cooling services, you may come across confusing, sometimes contradictory information about a variety of HVAC systems. One component that causes a lot of confusion is the air handler. Is this another way to describe an air conditioner? We’re here to set the record straight. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor component of some models of HVAC systems. It hooks up to a network of air ducts that circulate conditioned air inside 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 right. An air handler is an entire unit containing a blower and a number of other elements, all of which work together to condition and circulate the air. 

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Typically, an air conditioner utilizes the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is necessary. However, in climates where home heating is not something that is necessary, an air conditioner may be the sole HVAC equipment present. In this case, the indoor air handler runs along with the outdoors 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 to the building using ductwork. Refrigerant lines link 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 commonly found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less reliable, they are at times installed alongside furnaces, creating what’s known as a dual-fuel system. However, advancements in cold-climate heat pumps make dual-fuel systems less prevalent these days. With no 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 transferring it inside through the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to acquire heat before circulating it through the building. A heat pump can also be used for cooling, where it retrieves heat from the indoor air and transfers it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces come with a blower motor to circulate conditioned air. The blower is usually found inside the furnace. It forces air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that transfers heat from a fuel source to the air blowing across it. The fuel source can be natural gas, propane or oil, which is ignited to create heat. Once warmed up, the air circulates back through the ductwork system and back into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The major parts of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that disperses air throughout the ductwork. It drives air across the heating or cooling elements to manage the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: According to the type of HVAC system you have installed in your home, the air handler may contain heating or cooling elements, including an evaporator coil or backup electric heat strip. 
  • Air filter: An HVAC air filter removes dust, dirt and other airborne debris from the air as it flows into the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary according to the system requirements. Remember to replace your air filter on a regular basis to avoid restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in properties with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically controlled to direct air to certain rooms as needed to keep a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers have a humidifier or dehumidifier, which manages the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier puts 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 may include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to keep track of the temperature and humidity in 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 can assist you. Our squad of talented specialists can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, so that it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our excellent work so much that we guarantee every single repair 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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