What’s the Difference Between an Air Conditioner and Air Handler?

Whether it’s AC repair or total AC system replacement, there are a variety of terms within the HVAC industry that can get confusing 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 speak to all of the variations in a short blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the normal 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 usually located inside the home and operates 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 run with an air conditioner and houses 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, 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 moves all that heated or cooled air. 

Air handler vs blower 

Air handlers are not blowers. This can be confusing for some folks, but it’s not that complicated and we’re happy to explain the difference. An air handler includes the blower, and several other components inside. You may have dampers, filters, mixing chambers and more in an air handler. The blower is just one component of many. 

Here’s what you need to know about air handlers: if you’re in the market for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll probably never need to know what an air handler is because it’s possible 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 are usually mutually exclusive. If you have a furnace you shouldn’t need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the home. Some units also provide secondary heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the hot air into your ducts and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don’t need some of the parts you’ll find in a new air handler. 

Air Conditioners 

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are typically 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 pull out heat from inside your home through a number of pieces inside 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 drawn 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 complicated 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 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 pros at Stallion Heating and Air Conditioning a call at 215-259-5850 or set up a free appointment online today. 

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