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 number 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 speak to all of the variations in one blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the normal inquiries we see at Barlow Service Experts: 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 set inside the home and runs with both the heating and cooling pieces 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 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 can work with an AC system, an air handler works in tandem 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 too complex 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 part of a greater whole.

Here’s what you ought to know about air handlers: if you’re looking 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 searching 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 setup with heat pumps and help improve air flow throughout the building. Some air handlers also provide extra heating and cooling elements 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 ducts and disperse throughout your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and make heat, they don't require some of the parts you'll find in a typical air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are typically 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 remove 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 brought 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 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 complicated than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and comprehend.

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

Contact Us