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 improve 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 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 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 pieces of your HVAC system. If you take a quick peep at an air handler, it might closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can run 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

Just like an air handler can work with an AC system, an air handler works as a team with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to control your comfort by transferring heat, rather than producing it, and the air handler moves 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 includes the blower, and several other pieces in the unit. You may have dampers, filters, mixing chambers and more in an air handler. The blower is just one piece of the pie.

Here’s what you should know about air handlers: if you’re searching for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll more than likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s possible 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 aren't often found together. If you have a furnace you probably don't need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help manage air flow throughout the house. Some models also provide secondary heating and cooling components to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have their own blowers that move the heated air into your ventilation and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create 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 usually placed outside the home. One of the most common mix-ups with air conditioners is that they cool the existing air in your home. Air conditioners actually pull out heat from inside your home through a host of pieces within 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 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 complex than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and understand.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling pieces for the Gainesville 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 pros at Service Experts a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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