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 write about all of the variations in a short 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?
High-efficiency condensing furnaces (90% AFUE and above) are a bit more complex than conventional furnaces. The main differences between a conventional and condensing furnace are the heat exchanger technology used to extract heat from the combustion process and the method used to exhaust the combustion gases. In these ways, the furnaces are very different. The condensing furnace does not have a significantly more efficient combustion process than does a conventional furnace; both use gas burners with electronic ignition. The difference lies in that the condensing furnace has a more efficient heat extraction process after combustion.
Air handlers and furnaces aren't often found together. If you have a furnace you probably don't need to think about an air handler. Air handlers tend to be paired up with heat pumps and help manage air flow throughout the building. Some models also provide secondary heating and cooling parts to help out the heat pump. A furnace works on a different concept. Instead of an air handler, furnaces have included blowers that move the warmed air into your ventilation and disperse through your home. Since furnaces have combustion chambers and create heat, they don't have some of the parts you'll find in a typical air handler.
An air handler contains the components 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 components of your HVAC system. If you take a quick look at an air handler, it may 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 running with.
An air conditioner's compressor contains a refrigerant. As it works, it sends this refrigerant through the system. As warm air blows across the coil that carries this refrigerant, the heat transfers to the refrigerant (cool always absorbs warm). A fan moves the cooled air through the ducting and out of vents that lead into the rooms of your house. The refrigerant returns to the compressor where the absorbed heat is moved outside. The refrigerant is then sent through the coil once again to continue the cycle.