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 puzzling for homeowners. Not to mention all of the different pieces of heating and air conditioning equipment that can be used to boost your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t speak to all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine 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 normally situated inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick glance at an air handler, it might closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can operate 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 can work with an AC, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to heat and cool you home by transferring heat, rather than producing it, and the air handler assists in moving all that heated or cooled air. 

Air handler vs blower 

Air handlers are not blowers. This can be confusing for some people, but it’s not that complicated and we’re happy to explain the difference. An air handler includes the blower, and several other components in the unit. 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 searching for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll more than likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s feasible that you won’t need one. However, if you’re searching for an electric heat pump, it’s helpful to know that an air handler will 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 probably don’t need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the home. Some air handlers also provide extra heating and cooling components to help out the heat pump. A furnace works a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the heated air into your ventilation and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make heat, they don’t need some of the parts you’ll find in a new air handler. 

Air Conditioners 

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually placed outside the home. One of the most common misunderstandings about 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 pieces within 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 drawn 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 complicated than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and digest. 

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling parts 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 pros at Stevenson Service Experts a call at 614-334-3192 or set up a free appointment online today. 

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