Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re looking for heating and cooling services, you may find confusing, sometimes contradictory information about different HVAC systems. One thing that garners 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 portion of some types of HVAC systems. It links to a network of air ducts that circulate conditioned air all through the building. Air handlers range in size, type and capacity, based on the application. 

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

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Normally, an air conditioner utilizes the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is necessary. However, in climates where home heating is not needed in a home or commercial property, an air conditioner may be the lone HVAC equipment present. In this case, the indoor air handler works in tandem with the outside unit, called the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler pushes indoor air over the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to distribute cooled, dehumidified air back into the building via ductwork. Refrigerant lines connect the air handler to the outdoor condenser, enabling the heat transfer to the outside. This will permit the air conditioning to maintain a constant, comfortable 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 occasionally 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 as of late. Without a furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps need a dedicated air handler to move conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by removing 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 inside the building. A heat pump can additionally be used for cooling, where it retrieves 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 move conditioned air. The blower is commonly found inside the furnace. It forces air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that moves heat from a fuel source to the air blowing across it. The fuel source can be natural gas, propane or oil, which is ignited to create heat. Once warmed up, the air is distributed back through the ductwork system and inside 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 disperses air by way of the ductwork. It forces air across the heating or cooling elements to manage the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: Depending on the type of HVAC system you have, the air handler may contain 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 depending on system requirements. Remember to change your air filter regularly to protect against restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in structures with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically controlled to direct air to specific rooms as needed to maintain a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers have a humidifier or dehumidifier, which manages the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier puts moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier removes moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is responsible for regulating the air handler. It sometimes will include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to monitor the temperature and humidity in the building. 

Schedule Air Conditioner or Air Handler Repair 

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

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