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 baffling for homeowners. Not to mention all of the different pieces of heating and air conditioning equipment that can be used to boost your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t write about all of the variations in a short blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine inquiries we see at Stallion Heating and Air Conditioning: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler? 

What is an Air Handler? 

An air handler contains the parts that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is normally set inside the home and operates with both the heating and cooling pieces of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it might 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 running with. 

Air handler vs Heat Pump 

Just like an air handler works with an air conditioner, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature 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 puzzles some of our customers, but it’s not too hard to understand and we’re happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other parts inside. 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 in the market for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll more than likely 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 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 think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help manage air flow throughout the building. Some models 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 ventilation and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make heat, they don’t have some of the parts you’ll find in a new 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 remove heat from inside your home through a number of pieces in 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 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 digest. 

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling parts for the Philadelphia climate is probably a little idealistic, but there are a couple 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 professionals at Stallion Heating and Air Conditioning a call at 215-259-5850 or set up a free appointment online today. 

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