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 puzzling for homeowners. Not to mention all of the different pieces of heating and air conditioning equipment that can be used to boost your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t speak to all of the variations in one blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the more common inquiries we see at Bryant Heating & Cooling Service Experts: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

What is an Air Handler?

An air handler contains the parts that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is typically situated inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling pieces of your HVAC system. If you take a quick glance at an air handler, it may closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can operate with an air conditioner and houses 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 works with an AC, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to control your comfort 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 puzzles 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 pieces in the unit. You may have dampers, filters, mixing chambers and more in an air handler. The blower is just one part of a greater whole.

Here’s what you should 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 possible you won’t need one. However, if you’re in the market for an electric heat pump, it’s helpful to know that an air handler will most likely be a part of your home’s HVAC system.

Air Handler vs. Furnace

Air handlers and furnaces are usually mutually exclusive. 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 home. Some air handlers also provide backup heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works on a different concept. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the heated air into your ducts and disperse throughout 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 mix-ups 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 parts 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 brought 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 digest.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling components for the Windsor climate is probably a little unrealistic, but there are a couple 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 Bryant Heating & Cooling Service Experts a call at 226-773-3357 or set up a free appointment online today.

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