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 increase your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t write about all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine inquiries we see at Levy & Son 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 normally situated inside the home and operates with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it can 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 working with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Similar to how an air handler works with an AC, an air handler works in tandem with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to heat and cool you home 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 folks, but it's not too complex and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other pieces within. 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 probably 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 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 probably don't need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help manage air flow throughout the home. Some models also provide extra heating and cooling components to help out the heat pump. A furnace works a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have their own blowers that move the warmed air into your ventilation and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make heat, they don't require some of the parts you'll find in a typical air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually 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 remove heat from inside your home through a host of parts inside 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 pass 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 pieces for the Dallas climate is probably a little idealistic, 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 Levy & Son Service Experts a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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