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 various 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 talk about all of the variations in one blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine inquiries we see at Midway Services: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

Air Handlers

An air handler contains the equipment that moves the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is normally 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 might closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can operate with an air conditioner and holds the indoor coil, used to cool and heat your home depending on which system it’s running with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Similar to how an air handler runs with an air conditioner, an air handler works in tandem with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature by transferring heat, rather than creating it, and the air handler moves all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This can be confusing for some of our customers, but it's not that complicated and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler has the blower, and several other components within. 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 feasible that 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 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 shouldn't need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help manage air flow throughout the house. Some units also provide backup heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the warmed air into your ventilation and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don't require some of the parts you'll find in a modern air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are typically situated 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 take heat from inside your home through a host 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 pulled 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 send 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 understand.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling pieces for the Clearwater climate is probably a little idealistic, but there are a few 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 Midway Services a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

Contact Us