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 short blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the normal inquiries we see at D.A. Bennett 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 located 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 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 operating with.

Air handler vs Heat Pump

Similar to how an air handler runs with an AC, an air handler works together with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to control your comfort by transferring heat, rather than generating it, and the air handler helps move 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 too hard to understand and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other parts 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 ought to know about air handlers: if you’re looking 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 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 shouldn't need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the home. 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 built in blowers that move the heated air into your ductwork and disperse through your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make heat, they don't have some of the parts you'll find in a modern air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are typically 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 remove heat from inside your home through a number of components 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 drawn 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 intricate 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 Albany climate is probably a little impractical, but there are a couple 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 D.A. Bennett Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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