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Air Conditioner vs. Air Handler

If you’re looking for heating and cooling services, you may encounter confusing, sometimes contradictory information about a variety of HVAC systems. One element that creates a lot of confusion is the air handler. Is this the same as an air conditioner? We’re here to help sort this out. 

What Is an Air Handler? 

An air handler is the indoor component of some types of HVAC systems. It links to a network of air ducts that deliver conditioned air inside the building. Air handlers range in size, type and capacity, dependent on the application. 

Some consumers use the words “air handler” and “blower” interchangeably, but this is not right. An air handler is an entire unit containing a blower and several other parts, all of which work 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 needed. However, in climates where home heating is not needed in a home or commercial property, an air conditioner may be the lone HVAC equipment present. In this case, the indoor air handler runs in conjunction with the outside unit, referred to as the condenser.  

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

Does a Heat Pump Use an Air Handler? 

This is where air handlers are most commonly found. In cold climates where heat pumps are less dependable, they are occasionally installed alongside furnaces, creating what’s called a dual-fuel system. However, advancements in cold-climate heat pumps make dual-fuel systems less typical these days. With no furnace to lend its blower motor, heat pumps need a dedicated air handler to move conditioned air. 

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

Does a Furnace Use an Air Handler? 

No. Furnaces come with a blower motor to distribute conditioned air. The blower is usually housed 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 up, the air is dispersed back through the ductwork system and into the building. 

What Are the Parts of an Air Handler? 

The major components of an air handler include: 

  • Blower: The blower is a motor-driven fan that circulates air within the ductwork. It forces 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, the air handler may have heating or cooling elements, including an evaporator coil or backup electric heat strip. 
  • Air filter: An HVAC air filter takes dust, dirt and other airborne debris from the air as it enters the air handler to be heated or cooled. Air filter types and efficiency ratings vary according to the system requirements. Remember to replace your air filter on a regular basis to protect against restricting airflow through the system. 
  • Dampers: Dampers are used to control airflow in properties with zoned heating and cooling. They can be manually or automatically powered to direct air to specific rooms as desired to maintain a comfortable temperature. 
  • Humidifier or dehumidifier: Some air handlers have a humidifier or dehumidifier, which regulates the indoor relative humidity level. A humidifier adds moisture into the air in the winter, while a dehumidifier gets rid of moisture in the summer. 
  • Control system: The control system is tasked with regulating the air handler. It might include a thermostat, humidistat or other sensors to track the temperature and humidity in the building. 

Schedule Air Conditioner or Air Handler Repair 

If you’re having issues with your air conditioner, air handler or other HVAC components, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing is here to assist you. Our crew of talented 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 each and every repair with a one-year 100% satisfaction guarantee! For more information or to request air conditioning repair in the U.S., please phone a Service Experts office near you today. 

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