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 write about all of the variations in one blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the more common inquiries we see at Aramendia Plumbing, Heating and Air: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

What is an Air Handler?

An air handler contains the components that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is normally 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 might closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can run 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

Exactly like an air handler can work with an air conditioner, an air handler works as a team with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to control your comfort by transferring heat, rather than creating it, and the air handler moves 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 that complicated and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler has the blower, and several other parts within. 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 likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s probable 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 shouldn'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 secondary heating and cooling elements to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the hot air into your ducts and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make heat, they don't need some of the parts you'll find in a typical air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are traditionally situated outside the home. One of the most common confusions 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 components 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 passes across a refrigerant coil. As the warm air is blown across the cooled coil, heat is removed. Refrigerant lines then send 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 parts for the San Antonio climate is probably a little impractical, but there are a number of 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 professionals at Aramendia Plumbing, Heating and Air a call at 210-404-4233 or set up a free appointment online today.

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