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 puzzling 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 talk about all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the routine 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 normally situated inside the home and operates with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick peep 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 runs with an AC system, 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 helps move all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This confuses some folks, but it's not that complicated and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other parts within. 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 need to know about air handlers: if you’re in the market for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll probably 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 probably 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 probably don't need to worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the house. Some air handlers also provide backup 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 warmed air into your ductwork and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make heat, they don't need some of the parts you'll find in a new air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are typically set 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 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 brought 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 intricate than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and understand.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling components for the Cleveland climate is probably a little impractical, but there are a couple 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 pros at Service Experts a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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