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 various 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 increase 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 Boehmers/Cronin Emery Service Experts: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

What is an Air Handler?

An air handler contains the equipment that moves the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually situated 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 running with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Similar to how an air handler works with an air conditioner, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature by transferring heat, rather than creating it, and the air handler assists in moving all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This puzzles some people, but it's not too complex and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler includes the blower, and several other pieces 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 searching for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll more than 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 don't normally pair together. If you have a furnace you won't need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the house. Some units also provide extra heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the hot air into your ducts and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make heat, they don't have some of the parts you'll find in a typical air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are typically placed 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 remove heat from inside your home through a host 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 carry 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 complex 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 Kitchener climate is probably a little unrealistic, 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 experts at Boehmers/Cronin Emery Service Experts a call at 519-804-1617 or set up a free appointment online today.

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