What’s the Difference Between an Air Conditioner and Air Handler?

Whether it’s AC repair or total AC system replacement, there are a variety 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 talk 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 Stevenson Service Experts: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler? 

What is an Air Handler? 

An air handler contains the equipment that moves the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually located inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it might 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 running with. 

Air handler vs Heat Pump 

Similar to how an air handler runs with an AC, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature by transferring heat, rather than generating 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 that complicated and we’re happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other pieces in the unit. You may have dampers, filters, mixing chambers and more in an air handler. The blower is just one component of many. 

Here’s what you should know about air handlers: if you’re in the market for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s possible you won’t need one. However, if you’re looking 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 don’t normally pair together. If you have a furnace you won’t need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the house. Some models also provide extra heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have their own blowers that move the warmed air into your ducts and disperse through your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don’t have 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 components in 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 pass 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 digest. 

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling components for the Columbus climate is probably a little impractical, 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 Stevenson Service Experts a call at 614-334-3192 or set up a free appointment online today. 

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