Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re looking for heating and cooling services, you may encounter confusing, sometimes contradictory information about a variety of HVAC systems. One component that creates quite a bit 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 circulate conditioned air all through the building. Air handlers differ in size, type and capacity, dependent on the application. 

Some individuals use the jargon of “air handler” and “blower” interchangeably, but this is not right. 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 required, an air conditioner may be the only HVAC equipment present. In this instance, the indoor air handler works in tandem with the outdoors unit, referred to as the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler forces indoor air over the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to deliver cooled, dehumidified air back to the building using ductwork. Refrigerant lines connect the air handler to the outdoor condenser, assisting with the heat transfer to the outside. This makes it possible for the air conditioning to preserve a constant, cozy 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 referred to as a dual-fuel system. However, advancements in cold-climate heat pumps make dual-fuel systems less prevalent in recent times. 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 moving it inside through the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to acquire heat before circulating it inside the building. A heat pump can also be used for cooling, where it extracts 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 move conditioned air. The blower is most likely located inside the furnace. It blows air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that exchanges 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 heated, the air circulates back through the ductwork system and into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The main pieces of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that circulates air throughout the ductwork. It moves air across the heating or cooling elements to control the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: Depending on the type of HVAC system you own, the air handler may contain heating or cooling elements, including an evaporator coil or backup electric heat strip. 
  • Air filter: An HVAC air filter removes dust, dirt and other contaminants from the air as it enters the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary based on system requirements. Remember to replace your air filter on a regular basis to avoid 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 powered to direct air to certain rooms as necessary to uphold a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers include a humidifier or dehumidifier, which controls the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier adds moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier gets rid of moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is responsible for regulating the air handler. It might include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to gauge the temperature and humidity throughout the building. 

Schedule Air Conditioner or Air Handler Repair 

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

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