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 short blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the normal inquiries we see at Mountainwest Service Experts: what’s the difference between an air conditioner and an air handler?

Air Handlers

An air handler contains the components that move the air throughout your home, called the blower. It is normally located 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 work 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

Exactly like an air handler runs with an AC, an air handler works as a team with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to regulate temperature 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 people, but it's not too complex and we're happy to explain the difference. An air handler contains the blower, and several other components inside. 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 should know about air handlers: if you’re searching for a conventional furnace or air conditioner, you’ll likely never need to know what an air handler is because it’s possible 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 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 worry about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be used with heat pumps and help regulate air flow throughout the house. Some units also provide backup heating and cooling components 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 create heat, they don't need some of the parts you'll find in a typical air handler.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners contain the condenser and are traditionally 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 parts 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 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 complicated than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and understand.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling components for the Salt Lake City 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 Mountainwest Service Experts a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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