Whether it’s AC repair or total AC system replacement, there are a variety of 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 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 Fras-Air/General Service Experts: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?
What is an Air Handler?
An air handler contains the parts that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually situated inside the home and operates with both the heating and cooling pieces of your HVAC system. If you take a quick peep at an air handler, it may closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can operate 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
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 control your comfort by transferring heat, rather than generating 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 of our customers, but it's not too hard to understand and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains 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 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 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 won't need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the house. Some air handlers also provide secondary heating and cooling components to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the heated air into your ductwork and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make heat, they don't need some of the parts you'll find in a modern air handler.
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 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 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 complex than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and digest.
Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling pieces for the Hillsborough climate is probably a little idealistic, 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 Fras-Air/General Service Experts a call at 908-448-2154 or set up a free appointment online today.