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 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 improve your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t speak to 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?

Air Handlers

An air handler contains the components that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually situated inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling components of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it may 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

Similar to how an air handler can work with an AC system, an air handler works in tandem with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature by transferring heat, rather than producing it, and the air handler helps move 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 parts 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 ought to know about air handlers: if you’re searching for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s probable 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 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 think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the home. Some units also provide extra 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 ductwork and disperse through your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make 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 number 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 pulled 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 parts for the Birmingham climate is probably a little idealistic, but there are a number of 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 Norrell Service Experts a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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