Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re hunting for heating and cooling services, you may come across confusing, sometimes contradictory information about various kinds of HVAC systems. One element that creates a lot of confusion is the air handler. Is this another way to describe an air conditioner? We’re here to set the record straight. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

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

Some individuals use the terms “air handler” and “blower” interchangeably, but this is not right. An air handler is an entire unit containing a blower and numerous 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 utilizes the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is necessary. However, in weather where home heating is not required, an air conditioner may be the only HVAC equipment present. In this case, the indoor air handler runs in conjunction with the outdoors unit, known as the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler blows indoor air over the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to circulate cooled, dehumidified air back into the building through ductwork. Refrigerant lines attach the air handler to the outdoor condenser, enabling 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 commonly found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less effective, they are sometimes 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 in recent times. Because there is no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps require a dedicated air handler to circulate conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by extracting heat from the outside air and transferring it inside using the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to collect heat before circulating it all over the building. A heat pump can additionally 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 are made with a blower motor to circulate conditioned air. The blower is usually located within the furnace. It blows air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that exchanges heat from a fuel source to the air blowing past it. The fuel source can be natural gas, propane or oil, which is ignited to create heat. Once warmed, the air spreads back through the ductwork system and back into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The major components of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that circulates air throughout the ductwork. It moves air across the heating or cooling elements to regulate the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: Based on the type of HVAC system you own, the air handler may include heating or cooling elements, including an evaporator coil or backup electric heat strip. 
  • Air filter: An HVAC air filter eliminates dust, dirt and other contaminants 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 switch out your air filter routinely to avoid restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in buildings with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically powered to direct air to certain 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 adds moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier gets rid of moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is a way to regulate the air handler. It sometimes will include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to monitor the temperature and humidity throughout the building. 

Schedule Air Conditioner or Air Handler Repair 

If you’re experiencing issues with your air conditioner, air handler or other HVAC components, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing is here to help out. Our crew of talented technicians can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, ensuring it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our exceptional work so much that we guarantee each and every repair with a one-year 100% satisfaction guarantee! For more information or to set your home up air conditioning repair in the U.S., please reach out to a Service Experts office in your neighborhood today. 

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