Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re looking for heating and cooling services, you may come across confusing, sometimes contradictory information about a variety of HVAC systems. One element that causes plenty of confusion is the air handler. Is this the same as an air conditioner? We’re here to set the record straight. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

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

Some individuals 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 parts, all of which function 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 required, an air conditioner may be the only HVAC equipment present. In this instance, the indoor air handler runs along with the outdoors unit, called the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler forces indoor air along the outside of 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 connect the air handler to the outdoor condenser, assisting with the heat transfer to the outside. This makes it possible for the air conditioning to preserve a constant, cozy indoor temperature and humidity level. 

Does a Heat Pump Use an Air Handler? 

This is where air handlers are most frequently found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less reliable, they are at times installed alongside furnaces, creating what’s called a dual-fuel system. However, advancements in cold-climate heat pumps make dual-fuel systems less prevalent these days. Without a furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps need a dedicated air handler to move conditioned air. 

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

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces come with a blower motor to move conditioned air. The blower is most likely housed within 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 warmed, the air is dispersed back through the ductwork system and inside the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The main parts of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that moves air by way of the ductwork. It drives air across the heating or cooling elements to manage the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: Based on 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 eliminates dust, dirt and other contamination from the air as it flows into the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary based on system requirements. Remember to replace your air filter routinely to protect against restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in structures with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically controlled to direct air to certain rooms as needed to uphold a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers include a humidifier or dehumidifier, which controls the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier puts 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 inside 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 squad of talented techs can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, making sure it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our exceptional work so much that we guarantee every 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 near you today. 

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