Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re hunting for heating and cooling services, you may come across confusing, sometimes contradictory information about different 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 help sort this out. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor component of some types of HVAC systems. It connects to a network of air ducts that distribute conditioned air through 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 a number of other components, all of which work together to condition and circulate the air. 

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Typically, an air conditioner shares the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is required. However, in weather where home heating is not required, an air conditioner may be the only HVAC equipment present. In this situation, the indoor air handler works in tandem with the outdoor unit, referred to as the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler blows indoor air over the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to distribute cooled, dehumidified air back into the building through ductwork. Refrigerant lines connect the air handler to the outdoor condenser, enabling the heat transfer to the outside. This makes it possible for the air conditioning to maintain a constant, cozy indoor temperature and humidity level. 

Does a Heat Pump Use an Air Handler? 

This is where air handlers are most commonly found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less effective, they are occasionally installed alongside furnaces, creating what’s called a dual-fuel system. However, advancements in cold-climate heat pumps make dual-fuel systems less popular these days. With no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps require a dedicated air handler to move conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by extracting heat from the outside air and transferring it inside via the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to obtain heat before circulating it through the building. A heat pump can even be used for cooling, where it extracts heat from the indoor air and transfers it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces are made with a blower motor to move conditioned air. The blower is commonly found in the interior of the furnace. It forces air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that moves 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 warmed, the air circulates back through the ductwork system and back into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The main parts of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that circulates air through the ductwork. It forces air across the heating or cooling elements to regulate the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: Based on the type of HVAC system you own, the air handler may include heating or cooling elements, including an evaporator coil or backup electric heat strip. 
  • Air filter: An HVAC air filter takes 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 based on system requirements. Remember to switch out your air filter routinely to prevent restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in properties with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically operated to direct air to particular rooms as desired to maintain a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers include a humidifier or dehumidifier, which regulates the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier infuses moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier gets rid of moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is a way to regulate the air handler. It may include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to keep track of the temperature and humidity throughout the building. 

Schedule Air Conditioner or Air Handler Repair 

If you’re experiencing issues with your air conditioner, air handler or other HVAC components, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can help. Our crew of Expert professionals can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, so that it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our excellent work so much that we back every single repair with a one-year 100% satisfaction guarantee! For more information or to schedule air conditioning repair in the U.S., please contact a Service Experts office in your neighborhood today. 

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