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 confusing 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 a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the normal inquiries we see at Stallion Heating and 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 usually located inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick glance at an air handler, it may closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can work 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 

Similar to how an air handler runs with an AC, an air handler works as a team with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to control your comfort by transferring heat, rather than creating it, and the air handler assists in moving all that heated or cooled air. 

Air handler vs blower 

Air handlers are not blowers. This confuses some people, but it’s not too complex and we’re happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains 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 part of a greater whole. 

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 probably never need to know what an air handler is because it’s possible 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 most likely be a part of your home’s HVAC system. 

Air Handler vs. Furnace 

Air handlers and furnaces are usually mutually exclusive. 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 building. Some units also provide secondary heating and cooling components to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the heated air into your ductwork 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 typical air handler. 

Air Conditioners 

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually set 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 remove heat from inside your home through a number of pieces inside 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 passes across 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 complicated than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and digest. 

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling pieces for the Philadelphia 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 pros at Stallion Heating and Air Conditioning a call at 215-259-5850 or set up a free appointment online today. 

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