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

April 16, 2015

Whether it’s AC repair or total AC system replacement, there are a variety 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 write about all of the variations in one blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine inquiries we see at Pardee 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 runs with both the heating and cooling components of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it may closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can work 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

Just like an air handler works with an AC, an air handler works in tandem 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 helps move all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This puzzles some people, but it's not that complicated and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other components inside. 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 ought 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 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 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 house. Some air handlers also provide secondary heating and cooling elements to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the hot air into your ventilation and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don't need some of the parts you'll find in a modern air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are typically 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 remove heat from inside your home through a number 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 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 intricate than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and comprehend.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling parts for the Charleston 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 experts at Pardee Service Experts a call at 843-410-6103 or set up a free appointment online today.

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