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 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 speak to all of the variations in a short blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the normal 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 components that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually situated 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 can closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can run with an air conditioner and contains 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 can work with an AC, an air handler works in tandem with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature by transferring heat, rather than producing 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 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 pieces within. 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 need to know about air handlers: if you’re looking for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll probably 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 worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help manage air flow throughout the house. Some units also provide backup 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 ventilation and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create 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 typically set outside the home. One of the most common confusions 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 host 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 pulled 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 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 experts at Stevenson Service Experts a call at 614-334-3192 or set up a free appointment online today. 

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