Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re looking for heating and cooling services, you may encounter confusing, sometimes contradictory information about various kinds of HVAC systems. One thing that causes quite a bit of confusion is the air handler. Is this the same as an air conditioner? We’re here to set the record straight. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor part of some models of HVAC systems. It attaches to a network of air ducts that deliver conditioned air all through the building. Air handlers range in size, type and capacity, dependent on the application. 

Some consumers use the terms “air handler” and “blower” interchangeably, but this is not accurate. An air handler is an entire unit containing a blower and a number of other parts, all of which operate together to condition and circulate the air. 

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Generally, an air conditioner shares the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is required. However, in climates where home heating is not something that is necessary, an air conditioner may be the sole HVAC equipment present. In this case, the indoor air handler operates along with the outdoors unit, known as the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler forces indoor air along the outside of the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to deliver cooled, dehumidified air back inside the building through ductwork. Refrigerant lines attach the air handler to the outdoor condenser, facilitating the heat transfer to the outside. This will permit the air conditioning to uphold a constant, comfy indoor temperature and humidity level. 

Does a Heat Pump Use an Air Handler? 

This is where air handlers are most typically found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less effective, they are sometimes installed alongside furnaces, creating what’s called a dual-fuel system. However, advancements in cold-climate heat pumps make dual-fuel systems less popular in recent times. Because there is no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps will need a dedicated air handler to disperse conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by pulling 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 even be used for cooling, where it pulls heat from the indoor air and moves it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces are made with a blower motor to circulate conditioned air. The blower is commonly located in the interior of the furnace. It forces air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that exchanges heat from a fuel source to the air blowing past it. The fuel source can be natural gas, propane or oil, which is ignited to produce heat. Once warmed, the air is dispersed back through the ductwork system and back into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The main parts of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that disperses air within the ductwork. It moves air across the heating or cooling elements to control the indoor temperature. 
  • Heating or cooling elements: According to the type of HVAC system you have installed in your home, the air handler may include 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 goes into the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary according to the system requirements. Remember to switch out your air filter on a regular basis to protect against restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in buildings with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically controlled to direct air to particular rooms as necessary to keep a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers contain a humidifier or dehumidifier, which controls the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier adds 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 might include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to gauge the temperature and humidity inside 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 is here to help. Our crew of knowledgeable professionals can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, so that it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our excellent work so much that we guarantee 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 phone a Service Experts office in your neighborhood today. 

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