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 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 speak to 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 Parker Pearce 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 typically situated inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling components of your HVAC system. If you take a quick peep at an air handler, it can 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 runs with an AC system, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to heat and cool you home by transferring heat, rather than generating it, and the air handler moves all that heated or cooled air.

Air handler vs blower

Air handlers are not blowers. This puzzles some of our customers, but it's not that complicated and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler has the blower, and several other pieces within. 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 looking for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll probably never need to know what an air handler is because it’s feasible that 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 don't normally pair together. If you have a furnace you won't need to be concerned about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the building. Some units also provide extra 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 heated air into your ductwork and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and burn fuel to make heat, they don't have some of the parts you'll find in a new air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are typically situated 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 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 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 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 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 Gaithersburg climate is probably a little impractical, 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 pros at Parker Pearce Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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