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 boost your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t speak to all of the variations in a short blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the more common inquiries we see at 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 typically located inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick glance at an air handler, it can closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can operate with an air conditioner and contains 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 control your comfort by transferring heat, rather than generating it, and the air handler assists in moving all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This confuses some of our customers, but it's not too complex and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other components 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 ought to 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 looking 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 worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help manage air flow throughout the building. Some units also provide backup heating and cooling elements 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 heated air into your ducts and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make heat, they don't have some of the parts you'll find in a new air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are typically placed 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 number of components 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 transfer 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 comprehend.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling parts for the Fort Lauderdale 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 professionals at Service Experts a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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