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 improve your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t speak to all of the variations in one blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the more common inquiries we see at Midway Services: 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 set inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick peep at an air handler, it may 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 heat and cool you home by transferring heat, rather than generating 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 too complex and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other parts inside. 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 ought to know about air handlers: if you’re searching 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 probably 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 think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help manage air flow throughout the house. Some models also provide secondary heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the hot air into your ventilation and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don't need some of the parts you'll find in a new 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 drawn 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 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 number of 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 Midway Services a call at 727-219-2471 or set up a free appointment online today.

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