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Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re searching for heating and cooling services, you may come across confusing, sometimes contradictory information about different HVAC systems. One element that creates plenty of confusion is the air handler. Is this another way to describe an air conditioner? We’re here to clear things up. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor component of some kinds of HVAC systems. It hooks up to a network of air ducts that distribute conditioned air through the building. Air handlers vary in size, type and capacity, based on the application. 

Some consumers use the jargon of “air handler” and “blower” interchangeably, but this is not correct. An air handler is an entire unit containing a blower and numerous other components, all of which work together to condition and circulate the air. 

Does an Air Conditioner Use an Air Handler? 

Usually, an air conditioner shares the furnace’s blower motor, so no air handler is needed. However, in climates where home heating is not required, an air conditioner may be the sole HVAC equipment present. In this instance, the indoor air handler runs in conjunction with the outdoor unit, referred to as the condenser.  

In this setup, the AC unit’s air handler blows indoor air across the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat and collects moisture, leaving the air handler to deliver cooled, dehumidified air back into the building via ductwork. Refrigerant lines attach the air handler to the outdoor condenser, enabling the heat transfer to the outside. This allows air conditioning to preserve a constant, comfortable 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 reliable, they are sometimes installed alongside furnaces, creating what’s referred to as a dual-fuel system. However, advancements in cold-climate heat pumps make dual-fuel systems less common as of late. With no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps will need a dedicated air handler to circulate conditioned air. 

Heat pumps work by removing heat from the outside air and shifting it inside via the indoor coil. The air handler blows air across the coil to obtain heat before circulating it all over the building. A heat pump can also be used for cooling, where it pulls heat from the indoor air and transmits it outside, just like an air conditioner. 

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces are equipped with a blower motor to circulate conditioned air. The blower is commonly housed in the interior of the furnace. It blows air across the heat exchanger, a metal component that moves heat from a fuel source to the air blowing over it. The fuel source can be natural gas, propane or oil, which is ignited to generate heat. Once warmed, the air is distributed back through the ductwork system and into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The major pieces of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that moves air through the ductwork. It forces air across the heating or cooling elements to manage 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 takes dust, dirt and other contaminants from the air as it flows 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 routinely to prevent restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in structures with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically controlled to direct air to certain rooms as necessary to keep a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers have a humidifier or dehumidifier, which manages the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier adds moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier takes out moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is responsible for regulating the air handler. It may 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 suffering from issues with your air conditioner, air handler or other HVAC components, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing can assist you. Our team of knowledgeable professionals can diagnose and repair any problems with your climate control system, ensuring it runs safely and efficiently. We believe in our exceptional work so much that we stand behind every single repair 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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