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How Is an Air Handler Different From a Furnace?

When you start talking with people about your heating and air conditioning system, there are often a lot of confusing terms. Among these is the term “air handler.” What is this and, more importantly, do you need one?

To understand this question and the answer, it is helpful to know the basics of how your HVAC system works. Your entire system is based on two concepts. The first is that air needs to move around your space and through your system. The second is that you need to make that air your desired temperature.

What Does the Furnace Do?
Technically speaking, the furnace is the appliance that creates the heat and works to transfer it to the air. Furnaces can use a number of different fuels, including:

  • Natural gas
  • Propane
  • Oil
  • Electricity

It really does not matter the method used for generating the heat; the furnace simply creates it. Once it is created, it must transfer that heat to the air. This is what the heat exchanger does.

Furnaces are part of what is called a forced-air system. This simply means that the entire system works by forcing air through it. Once the heat is created, air must be forced through the heat exchanger and then out into the space being heated.

All furnaces include a component called a circulating fan. The purpose of this circulating fan is to force the air through the system. This creates a circular process, drawing air into the system, warming it, and then forcing it back out.

What most people do not know is that the circulating fan, also known as a blower fan, is a type of air handler. It is an important component of the furnace.

What Is an Air Handler?
It may seem like the air handler is a circulating fan that is not part of a furnace unit. However, it is actually a little more complex than that. In addition to housing the circulating fan, the air handler also has a set of coils used to either heat or cool the air.

If the furnace does not have evaporator coils for the air conditioner as part of the unit, these would be in a separate air handler. If a home is running a heat pump or geothermal system, the coils for that would commonly be in the air handler as well.

In addition to containing the blower motor and coils, the air handler may also contain several other components to help the air move around your space. Depending on the specific model, these extra components may include:

  • Air filter
  • Mixing chamber
  • Dampers
  • And more

It is these extra components that differentiate an air handler from a simple blower, which can be an entirely separate unit.

Do I Need an Air Handler?
Depending on your system, you may not always need an air handler. Some common setups you may see include a furnace with air conditioning coils, a furnace without air conditioning coils and a heat pump system.

A furnace with air conditioning coils does not require an air handler, but if you decide to put in an air conditioning system after installing a furnace without these coils, you will need a separate air handler unit. This will house the evaporator coils that cool the air moving through the system. If you are running a geothermal heat pump, you will need an air handler to transfer the heat to the air. In this setup, the coils in the handler act like the heat exchanger would in a furnace system.

As you can see, there are specific times when an air handler is needed and others when it is just an extra expense. The best way to know what you need is to work with a certified technician at All Hours Air who understands your system and how to perform the upgrades properly.

Expert Heating and Cooling Services
When you need to get your HVAC system working properly, trust the same company that countless people across Reno have for over 10 years. The All Hours Air team of certified technicians is proud to offer the best service in the area. That is demonstrated by the prestigious Angie’s List Super Service Award we have received and the A+ rating we have with the Better Business Bureau.

We not only offer expert heating and cooling installation, repairs, and maintenance, but we also provide air quality control and plumbing services. No matter what you need, our team has the expertise to provide it. Call us to schedule your consultation today.

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