Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re hunting for heating and cooling services, you may encounter confusing, sometimes contradictory information about different HVAC systems. One element that creates a lot of confusion is the air handler. Is this the same as an air conditioner? We’re here to clear things up. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor portion of some kinds of HVAC systems. It attaches to a network of air ducts that deliver conditioned air throughout the building. Air handlers range in size, type and capacity, based on the application. 

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

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Usually, an air conditioner shares the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is necessary. However, in weather where home heating is not needed in a home or commercial property, an air conditioner may be the sole HVAC equipment present. In this situation, the indoor air handler operates in conjunction with the outdoor 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 inside the building via ductwork. Refrigerant lines attach the air handler to the outdoor condenser, enabling 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 typically found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less effective, they are occasionally 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 these days. Because there is no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps require a dedicated air handler to move conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by removing heat from the outside air and transferring it inside using 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 even be used for cooling, where it extracts heat from the indoor air and moves it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces are equipped with a blower motor to circulate conditioned air. The blower is typically found within the furnace. It blows air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that transfers 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 create heat. Once warmed up, the air circulates back through the ductwork system and 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 disperses air by way of the ductwork. It drives air across the heating or cooling elements to regulate the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: According to the type of HVAC system you have, 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 impurities from the air as it goes into the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary depending on system requirements. Remember to replace your air filter on a regular basis 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 certain rooms as needed to keep a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers include a humidifier or dehumidifier, which regulates the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier adds moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier gets rid of moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is tasked with regulating the air handler. It may include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to track the temperature and humidity throughout the building. 

Schedule Air Conditioner or Air Handler Repair 

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

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