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 increase your home’s energy efficiency and air quality. Of course we can’t write about all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the normal 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 parts that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually set inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling components of your HVAC system. If you take a quick glance at an air handler, it can closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can work with an air conditioner and houses the indoor coil, used to cool and heat your home depending on which system it’s operating with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Just like an air handler works with an AC, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature by transferring heat, rather than creating 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 has the blower, and several other components in the unit. You may have dampers, filters, mixing chambers and more in an air handler. The blower is just one component of many.

Here’s what you need to 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 searching 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 aren't often found together. If you have a furnace you probably don't need to be concerned about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help manage air flow throughout the building. Some models also provide extra heating and cooling components to help out the heat pump. A furnace works a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the warmed air into your ducts and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make heat, they don't need some of the parts you'll find in a modern air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are traditionally situated 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 take heat from inside your home through a variety of parts 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 brought into the system through return ducts and then go 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 complicated than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and digest.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling components for the Roanoke climate is probably a little unrealistic, but there are a number of 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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