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 a number of 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 improve your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t talk about all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the normal inquiries we see at Norrell Service Experts: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

What is an Air Handler?

An air handler contains the components that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually situated inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick glance at an air handler, it might closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can operate 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

Just like an air handler can work with an AC system, 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 assists in moving all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This can be confusing for some people, but it's not too hard to understand 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 component of many.

Here’s what you ought to know about air handlers: if you’re in the market for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll likely 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 aren't often found together. If you have a furnace you shouldn't need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the house. Some models also provide extra heating and cooling elements to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the warmed air into your ductwork and disperse through your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don't have some of the parts you'll find in a modern air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually situated outside the home. One of the most common confusions with air conditioners is that they cool the existing air in your home. Air conditioners actually pull out heat from inside your home through a variety of components within 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 intricate than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and understand.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling components for the Birmingham 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 Norrell Service Experts a call at 205-267-0023 or set up a free appointment online today.

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