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 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 talk about 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 Peachtree 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 usually located inside the home and operates with both the heating and cooling pieces of your HVAC system. If you take a quick peep at an air handler, it might 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 running with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Exactly like an air handler works with an air conditioner, 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 helps move all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This can be confusing for some folks, but it's not too complex 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 ought to know about air handlers: if you’re looking for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s feasible that 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 aren't often found together. If you have a furnace you won't need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the building. Some units also provide extra heating and cooling elements to help out the heat pump. A furnace works a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the warmed air into your ductwork 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 modern air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually set 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 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 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 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 complicated than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and comprehend.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling components for the Atlanta 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 Peachtree Service Experts a call at 678-235-9699 or set up a free appointment online today.

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