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 components that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is typically set inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick glance at an air handler, it may closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can operate 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

Exactly like an air handler runs with an air conditioner, an air handler works in tandem with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to heat and cool you home by transferring heat, rather than producing it, and the air handler assists in moving all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This can be confusing for some people, but it's not too complex and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other components 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 ought to know about air handlers: if you’re searching for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll 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 are usually mutually exclusive. If you have a furnace you probably don't need to be concerned about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the building. Some air handlers also provide backup heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works a little differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the hot air into your ducts and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don't require some of the parts you'll find in a modern air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are usually set outside the home. One of the most common misunderstandings about 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 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 pulled 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 understand.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling components for the Raleigh 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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