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 baffling 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 routine inquiries we see at Teays Valley Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

Air Handlers

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

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Similar to how an air handler works with an air conditioner, an air handler works as a team with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature 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 of our customers, 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 piece of the pie.

Here’s what you should know about air handlers: if you’re looking for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll probably never need to know what an air handler is because it’s possible you won’t need one. However, if you’re looking for an electric heat pump, it’s helpful to know that an air handler will probably be a part of your home’s HVAC system.

Air Handler vs. Furnace

Air handlers and furnaces aren't often found together. If you have a furnace you won't need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the house. Some models also provide secondary heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works on a different concept. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have their own blowers that move the heated air into your ventilation and disperse into 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 modern air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually 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 take 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 drawn into the system through return ducts and then pass 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 comprehend.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling pieces for the Hurricane climate is probably a little impractical, 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 Teays Valley Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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