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 baffling 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 write about all of the variations in one blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the more common inquiries we see at Roland J. Down Service Experts : 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 normally located inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it can closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can run with an air conditioner and holds the indoor coil, used to cool and heat your home depending on which system it’s operating with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Exactly like an air handler can work with an AC system, an air handler works as a team with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature by transferring heat, rather than producing it, and the air handler helps move all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This puzzles some of our customers, but it's not too complex and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler has the blower, and several other components inside. 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 ought to 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 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 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 worry 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 a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the warmed air into your ventilation and disperse through your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make heat, they don't require some of the parts you'll find in a new air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually set outside the home. One of the most common mix-ups 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 host 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 brought 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 carry 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 Albany climate is probably a little impractical, 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 pros at Roland J. Down Service Experts a call at 518-417-2938 or set up a free appointment online today.

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