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 baffling 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 write 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 parts that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is usually set inside the home and operates with both the heating and cooling parts of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it may closely resemble a furnace. Air handlers can work with an air conditioner and houses 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 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 confuses some folks, but it's not that complicated and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler includes 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 need to know about air handlers: if you’re in the market 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 in the market 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 probably don't need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be setup with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the house. Some units also provide backup heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works on a different concept. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have built in blowers that move the heated air into your ventilation and disperse into 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 usually 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 take heat from inside your home through a variety 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 pulled into the system through return ducts and then pass over 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 complex than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and digest.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling components for the Niagara Falls climate is probably a little idealistic, 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 professionals at Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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