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

Whether it’s AC repair or total AC system replacement, there are a number of 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 speak to all of the variations in a short 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 set inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling pieces of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it may closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can run with an air conditioner and houses 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 works with an AC system, an air handler works in tandem with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to control your comfort 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 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 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 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 probable 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 are usually mutually exclusive. If you have a furnace you shouldn’t need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the building. Some air handlers also provide extra heating and cooling elements to help out the heat pump. A furnace works on a different concept. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the hot air into your ducts and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make heat, they don’t need some of the parts you’ll find in a typical air handler. 

Air Conditioners 

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are traditionally placed 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 number of pieces 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 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 comprehend. 

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

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