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 variety of terms within the HVAC industry that can get baffling 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 talk about all of the variations in a short blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine inquiries we see at Jack Nelson Service Experts: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

What is an Air Handler?

An air handler contains the parts that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually set inside the home and works with both the heating and cooling pieces of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it can closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can operate with an air conditioner and houses the indoor coil, used to cool and heat your home depending on which system it’s working with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Just like an air handler can work with an AC system, an air handler works in tandem with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature by transferring heat, rather than generating 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 folks, but it's not too hard to understand and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler has the blower, and several other pieces in the unit. 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 ought to know about air handlers: if you’re looking 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 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 probably don't need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the house. Some units also provide backup heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works on a different concept. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the warmed air into your ducts and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create 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 usually set outside the home. One of the most common misunderstandings about air conditioners is that they cool the existing air in your home. Air conditioners actually pull out heat from inside your home through a variety of pieces in 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 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 complicated than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and comprehend.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling pieces for the Tulsa climate is probably a little impractical, but there are a couple 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 Jack Nelson Service Experts a call at 918-212-8927 or set up a free appointment online today.

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