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 a variety of 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 write about all of the variations in a single blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the more common 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 operates with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick glance at an air handler, it might closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can run with an air conditioner and houses the indoor coil, used to cool and heat your home depending on which system it’s working with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Exactly like an air handler can work with an air conditioner, an air handler works as a team with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to heat and cool you home 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 can be confusing for some people, but it's not that complicated and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler has 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 component of many.

Here’s what you should 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 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 aren't often found together. If you have a furnace you shouldn't need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the building. Some models also provide extra heating and cooling elements 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 throughout 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 traditionally situated 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 number of components 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 drawn 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 send 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 comprehend.

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

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