Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re hunting for heating and cooling services, you may come across confusing, sometimes contradictory information about a variety of HVAC systems. One element that creates a lot of confusion is the air handler. Is this the same as an air conditioner? We’re here to clear things up. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor part of some kinds of HVAC systems. It attaches to a network of air ducts that distribute conditioned air throughout the building. Air handlers range in size, type and capacity, depending on the application. 

Some individuals use the words “air handler” and “blower” interchangeably, but this is not right. An air handler is an entire unit containing a blower and numerous other components, all of which function together to condition and circulate the air. 

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Usually, an air conditioner utilizes 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 lone HVAC equipment present. In this situation, the indoor air handler runs in tandem with the outdoors unit, called the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler pushes indoor air across the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to distribute cooled, dehumidified air back into the building using ductwork. Refrigerant lines connect the air handler to the outdoor condenser, assisting with the heat transfer to the outside. This enables air conditioning to maintain a constant, comfy 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 reliable, 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 common these days. Because there is no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps need a dedicated air handler to move conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by extracting heat from the outside air and shifting it inside via the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to acquire heat before circulating it all over the building. A heat pump can also be used for cooling, where it retrieves heat from the indoor air and transfers it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces come with a blower motor to circulate conditioned air. The blower is typically housed inside the furnace. It blows air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that transfers 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 heated, the air is distributed back through the ductwork system and into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The main components of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that disperses air within the ductwork. It forces air across the heating or cooling elements to control the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: Based on the type of HVAC system you have installed in your home, 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 impurities 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 change your air filter routinely to prevent restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in properties with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically operated to direct air to particular rooms as needed to maintain a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers include a humidifier or dehumidifier, which regulates the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier adds moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier takes out moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is a way to regulate the air handler. It may include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to gauge the temperature and humidity in the building. 

Schedule Air Conditioner or Air Handler Repair 

If you’re having issues with your air conditioner, air handler or other HVAC components, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can assist you. Our squad of talented professionals can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, ensuring it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our exemplary work so much that we stand behind every single repair with a one-year 100% satisfaction guarantee! For more information or to request air conditioning repair in the U.S., please reach out to a Service Experts office in your area today. 

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