Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

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

What Is an Air Handler? 

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

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

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Typically, an air conditioner shares the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is needed. However, in climates where home heating is not needed in a home or commercial property, an air conditioner may be the sole HVAC equipment present. In this instance, the indoor air handler operates in tandem with the outdoor unit, known as the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler pushes indoor air across the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to distribute 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 commonly found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less reliable, 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 prevalent as of late. With no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps will need a dedicated air handler to circulate conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by pulling heat from the outside air and transferring it inside using the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to acquire heat before circulating it through the building. A heat pump can additionally be used for cooling, where it pulls heat from the indoor air and transfers it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces come with a blower motor to circulate conditioned air. The blower is commonly housed in the interior of the furnace. It blows air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that exchanges 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 generate heat. Once heated, the air spreads back through the ductwork system and into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The main components of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that circulates air within the ductwork. It forces air across the heating or cooling elements to manage the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: According to 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 removes dust, dirt and other contamination from the air as it enters the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary depending on system requirements. Remember to switch out your air filter on a regular basis to protect against 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 specific rooms as desired to keep a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers contain a humidifier or dehumidifier, which manages the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier puts moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier takes out moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is responsible for regulating the air handler. It sometimes will include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to monitor the temperature and humidity in 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 assist you. Our staff of talented specialists can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, making sure it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our exemplary work so much that we back every repair with a one-year 100% satisfaction guarantee! For more information or to schedule air conditioning repair in the U.S., please reach out to a Service Experts office near you today. 

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