Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re looking for heating and cooling services, you may encounter confusing, sometimes contradictory information about various kinds of HVAC systems. One thing that causes plenty of confusion is the air handler. Is this the same as an air conditioner? We’re here to clear things up. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor portion of some models of HVAC systems. It connects to a network of air ducts that deliver conditioned air throughout the building. Air handlers range in size, type and capacity, dependent on the application. 

Some consumers use the jargon of “air handler” and “blower” interchangeably, but this is not accurate. An air handler is an entire unit containing a blower and numerous other elements, all of which work together to condition and circulate the air. 

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Generally, an air conditioner uses the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is needed. However, in weather where home heating is not needed in a home or commercial property, an air conditioner may be the sole HVAC equipment present. In this situation, the indoor air handler runs along with the outside unit, called the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler forces indoor air along the outside of the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to deliver cooled, dehumidified air back inside the building through ductwork. Refrigerant lines link the air handler to the outdoor condenser, facilitating the heat transfer to the outside. This makes it possible for the air conditioning to preserve a constant, cozy indoor temperature and humidity level. 

Does a Heat Pump Use an Air Handler? 

This is where air handlers are most typically found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less dependable, they are sometimes installed alongside furnaces, creating what’s called a dual-fuel system. However, advancements in cold-climate heat pumps make dual-fuel systems less typical as of late. Without a furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps will need a dedicated air handler to circulate conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by pulling heat from the outside air and shifting it inside using the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to acquire heat before circulating it inside the building. A heat pump can also be used for cooling, where it pulls heat from the indoor air and moves it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces come with a blower motor to move conditioned air. The blower is most likely housed in the interior of the furnace. It pushes air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that transfers heat from a fuel source to the air blowing over it. The fuel source can be natural gas, propane or oil, which is ignited to generate heat. Once heated, the air circulates back through the ductwork system and back into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The main pieces of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that moves air throughout the ductwork. It drives air across the heating or cooling elements to manage the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: According to the type of HVAC system you have installed in your home, the air handler may have heating or cooling elements, including an evaporator coil or backup electric heat strip. 
  • Air filter: An HVAC air filter eliminates dust, dirt and other airborne debris from the air as it enters the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary according to the system requirements. Remember to replace your air filter on a regular basis to protect against restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in structures with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically controlled to direct air to particular rooms as necessary to uphold a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers contain a humidifier or dehumidifier, which controls the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier infuses moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier removes moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is responsible for regulating the air handler. It may include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to gauge the temperature and humidity throughout the building. 

Schedule Air Conditioner or Air Handler Repair 

If you’re suffering from issues with your air conditioner, air handler or other HVAC components, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing is here to help. Our team of knowledgeable technicians can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, ensuring it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our exemplary work so much that we stand behind each and every repair with a one-year 100% satisfaction guarantee! For more information or to set your home up air conditioning repair in the U.S., please contact a Service Experts office in your area today. 

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