Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re searching for heating and cooling services, you may come across confusing, sometimes contradictory information about different HVAC systems. One component that causes plenty of confusion is the air handler. Is this the same as an air conditioner? We’re here to help sort this out. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor part of some types of HVAC systems. It hooks up to a network of air ducts that deliver conditioned air inside the building. Air handlers range in size, type and capacity, based on the application. 

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

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Usually, an air conditioner uses the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is necessary. However, in weather where home heating is not required, an air conditioner may be the sole HVAC equipment present. In this case, the indoor air handler works in conjunction with the outside unit, known as the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler blows indoor air across the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to deliver cooled, dehumidified air back inside the building through ductwork. Refrigerant lines attach the air handler to the outdoor condenser, enabling the heat transfer to the outside. This will permit the air conditioning to uphold a constant, cozy 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 dependable, 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 in recent times. Because there is no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps require a dedicated air handler to circulate conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by pulling heat from the outside air and shifting it inside using the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to obtain heat before circulating it inside the building. A heat pump can additionally 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 are equipped with a blower motor to circulate conditioned air. The blower is commonly found within the furnace. It pushes air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that moves 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 produce heat. Once warmed, the air is dispersed back through the ductwork system and into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The basic pieces of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that moves air through the ductwork. It drives air across the heating or cooling elements to regulate the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: Based on the type of HVAC system you have, the air handler may include heating or cooling elements, including an evaporator coil or backup electric heat strip. 
  • Air filter: An HVAC air filter eliminates dust, dirt and other contamination from the air as it goes into the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary based on system requirements. Remember to switch out your air filter regularly to prevent restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in buildings with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically powered to direct air to specific rooms as needed to keep a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers have a humidifier or dehumidifier, which regulates the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier puts moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier removes moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is responsible for regulating the air handler. It may include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to track the temperature and humidity in 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 can help. Our staff of knowledgeable technicians can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, ensuring it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our excellent work so much that we back all repairs with a one-year 100% satisfaction guarantee! For more information or to schedule air conditioning repair in the U.S., please phone a Service Experts office in your neighborhood today. 

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