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 confusing 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 speak to all of the variations in one blog post, so we’ll take a look at one of the more common inquiries we see at McKinley Heating 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 typically located inside the home and works 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 contains 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 works with an AC system, an air handler works as a team with your heat pump. Heat pumps are used to control your comfort by transferring heat, rather than producing 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 parts 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 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 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 don't normally pair together. 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 regulate air flow throughout the building. Some models also provide secondary heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works differently. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the hot air into your ducts and disperse into your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create 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 usually set outside the home. One of the most common confusions 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 parts 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 brought 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 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 complex than that, but the process itself is easy to break down and digest.

Understanding all of your home’s heating and cooling parts for the Edmonton 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 experts at McKinley Heating Service Experts a call at or set up a free appointment online today.

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