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 confusing 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 more common inquiries we see at Air Engineers 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 usually located inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it may closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can operate with an air conditioner and contains the indoor coil, used to cool and heat your home depending on which system it’s working with. 

Air handler vs Heat Pump 

Similar to how an air handler works with an AC, an air handler works as a team with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to heat and cool you home by transferring heat, rather than generating 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 people, but it’s not that complicated and we’re happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other parts in the unit. 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 searching 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 searching 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 don’t normally pair together. If you have a furnace you won’t need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the home. Some models also provide extra heating and cooling elements to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the warmed air into your ventilation and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make 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 traditionally 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 parts 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 brought 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 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 complex 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 Jacksonville 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 Air Engineers Service Experts a call at 904-450-5672 or set up a free appointment online today. 

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