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 various 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 improve your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t speak to all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the more common inquiries we see at Church Services: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

What is an Air Handler?

An air handler contains the equipment that moves the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually set inside the home and works 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 work 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 control your comfort by transferring heat, rather than creating 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 that complicated and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler has the blower, and several other pieces inside. 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 need to know about air handlers: if you’re in the market for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll more than likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s feasible that 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 shouldn't need to be concerned about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the home. Some units also provide extra heating and cooling elements to help out the heat pump. A furnace works a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the warmed air into your ductwork and disperse through your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make heat, they don't require some of the parts you'll find in a new air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are traditionally set 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 variety of pieces 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 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 intricate 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 Houston climate is probably a little unrealistic, 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 Church Services a call at 713-396-3760 or set up a free appointment online today.

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