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 various 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 increase your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t write about all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the more common inquiries we see at Donelson Air Service Experts: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

Air Handlers

An air handler contains the components that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is normally set inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick peep at an air handler, it may closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can work with an air conditioner and contains the indoor coil, used to cool and heat your home depending on which system it’s operating with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Similar to how an air handler works with an AC system, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to heat and cool you home by transferring heat, rather than generating it, and the air handler assists in moving all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This can be confusing for some of our customers, but it's not that complicated and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler includes the blower, and several other components within. 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 searching for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll probably never need to know what an air handler is because it’s feasible that you won’t need one. However, if you’re looking for an electric heat pump, it’s helpful to know that an air handler will probably be a part of your home’s HVAC system.

Air Handler vs. Furnace

Air handlers and furnaces don't normally pair together. If you have a furnace you shouldn't need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the building. Some units also provide backup heating and cooling components 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 ducts and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don't have some of the parts you'll find in a typical air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are traditionally set outside the home. One of the most common mix-ups with air conditioners is that they cool the existing air in your home. Air conditioners actually take heat from inside your home through a host of parts 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 pulled into the system through return ducts and then pass over a refrigerant coil. As the warm air is blown across the cooled coil, heat is removed. Refrigerant lines then send 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 components for the Nashville 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 experts at Donelson Air Service Experts a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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