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

Whether it’s AC repair or total AC system replacement, there are various 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 a single 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 typically located inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling pieces of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look 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 

Just like an air handler works with an air conditioner, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to heat and cool you home 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 confuses some folks, but it’s not too hard to understand and we’re happy to explain the difference. An air handler has the blower, and several other parts 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 need to 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 in the market 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 aren’t often found together. If you have a furnace you won’t need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the building. Some air handlers 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 ductwork and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make heat, they don’t have 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 variety of parts 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 go over 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 complex than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and comprehend. 

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

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