hvac air handler

What is an Air Handler? What Does it Do?

When it comes to air conditioners and HVAC units in general, there are terms that we hear that we might not have a firm grasp on what they actually are. I want to change that!

For example, have you ever heard of a condenser unit, an evaporator coil, or an air handler? Chances are that you have heard of some of these terms when it comes to heating and air systems. But, do you know what they are and what they do? I’ve covered both what a condenser unit is and what an evaporator coil is in previous posts. In this post I want to go over what an air handler is and the role it plays in the heating and air system.

Air Handler vs Furnace

First off, we need to differentiate between an air handler and a furnace. A typical split unit system consists of an outdoor unit (the condenser unit) and an indoor unit (the air handler or furnace). If the split system does not have an indoor furnace, then it’s going to have an air handler. If you have a split unit that includes a furnace inside, then the furnace likely handles the distribution of the cold air and warm air via it’s blower and connecting ductwork. In this case an air handler is not needed.

Related: What is a Split Unit in HVAC?

With a packaged unit, both the condenser unit and the air handler or furnace will be located outside in one “packaged” unit.

So, What is an Air Handler?

An air handler is usually used in conjunction with a heat pump or an all electric heating and air system with secondary heating elements, such as an ac unit with electric heat strips.

The condenser unit and air handler work together to provide the cooling and heating of our homes and businesses. Some of the components that make up the air handler are the evaporator coil, the blower/fan, and the air handler filter (air filter).

air handler

What Does an Air Handler Do?

Whether it be a residential air handler or a commercial one, they both do the same job. They “handle” the air.

For a typical cooling system (air conditioner or heat pump), the return duct pulls in warm air from inside the home or business. That air is transferred to the evaporator coil where the heat from that air is extracted by the cold refrigerant in the coil. The cool air that now remains is dispersed throughout the home or business via the blower and supply ducts. The refrigerant that contains the heat is transferred outside to the condenser unit where the heat is released to the outside air. The refrigerant is then cooled again and transferred back inside to the evaporator coil to repeat the process.

Related: How Does an Air Conditioner Work?

When an air handler is paired with a heat pump to provide heat, the outdoor condenser coil takes on the role of the evaporator coil and the evaporator coil takes on the role of the condenser coil.

The outside condenser unit extracts heat from the outside cold air and retains it. Sounds like a miracle huh? This heated refrigerant is then transferred indoors to the evaporator coil. In the meantime, cool air is pulled in from inside the home or business via the return duct. This cool air is transferred to and flows over the evaporator coil which now is releasing heat from the refrigerant that was transferred in from the condenser unit outside. This newly heated air is then dispersed through the inside of the home or business via the blower and supply ducts.

For providing heat with only an air conditioner, electric heat strips can be installed that will provide heated air that the air handler’s blower then can disperse throughout the home or business.

Where is it Located?

If you have a split unit and have ever changed your air filter, then you have seen the air handler. You will usually find the air handler in an attic, a closed off closet space area, or a basement. It can resemble the look of a furnace with it’s metal casings and covers.

Thanks for Stopping By!

I really hope this article has helped give you some understanding of what an air handler is and what it’s not. Having a grasp on what the different parts of an HVAC system are will help you understand your system and how to tend to it. It will also help you when buying a new system because you have more of an idea of what you need and don’t need.

If you live in Jackson TN or the surrounding areas and are in need of service or repair for your current system, feel free to give us a call at 731-300-1030. We also install new heating and air systems with some of the best prices and warranties around. We look forward to hearing from you!

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