Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re hunting for heating and cooling services, you may come across confusing, sometimes contradictory information about a variety of HVAC systems. One element that causes plenty of confusion is the air handler. Is this another way to describe an air conditioner? We’re here to set the record straight. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor part of some kinds of HVAC systems. It connects to a network of air ducts that deliver conditioned air all through the building. Air handlers differ in size, type and capacity, based on the application. 

Some consumers use the jargon of “air handler” and “blower” interchangeably, but this is not right. An air handler is an entire unit containing a blower and a number of other parts, all of which function together to condition and circulate the air. 

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

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

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler pushes indoor air along the outside of the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to circulate cooled, dehumidified air back into the building via ductwork. Refrigerant lines attach the air handler to the outdoor condenser, facilitating the heat transfer to the outside. This allows air conditioning to uphold a constant, comfortable indoor temperature and humidity level. 

Does a Heat Pump Use an Air Handler? 

This is where air handlers are most frequently found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less dependable, they are sometimes installed alongside furnaces, creating what’s known as a dual-fuel system. However, advancements in cold-climate heat pumps make dual-fuel systems less common as of late. Because there is no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps require a dedicated air handler to disperse conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by removing heat from the outside air and moving it inside via the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to obtain heat before circulating it all over the building. A heat pump can also be used for cooling, where it pulls heat from the indoor air and moves it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces come with a blower motor to distribute conditioned air. The blower is most likely found inside the furnace. It pushes air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that exchanges heat from a fuel source to the air blowing past 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 basic components of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that moves air within the ductwork. It moves air across the heating or cooling elements to regulate the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: Depending on the type of HVAC system you have installed in your home, the air handler may have heating or cooling elements, including an evaporator coil or backup electric heat strip. 
  • Air filter: An HVAC air filter removes 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 replace your air filter on a regular basis to protect against restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in structures with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically operated to direct air to specific rooms as desired to keep a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers contain a humidifier or dehumidifier, which regulates the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier infuses moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier removes 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 track the temperature and humidity inside 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 is here to help you out. Our team of experienced technicians can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, making sure it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our exceptional work so much that we guarantee every repair with a one-year 100% satisfaction guarantee! For more information or to schedule air conditioning repair in the U.S., please reach out to a Service Experts office in your neighborhood today. 

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