Understanding How an HVAC Air Handler Works

An air handler is a component within an HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) system designed to boost a home's air quality and energy efficiency. The air handler unit is quite different from an air conditioner, but this article will cover the key differences between the two pieces of equipment in addition to the different types of air handlers frequently used.

What is an air handler?

Most HVAC systems have a split system, meaning they have both an indoor and outdoor unit. The air handler is the indoor HVAC unit. It takes care of operating the cooling and heating components of the HVAC system. The air handler parts include an evaporator coil and air filter that, together, create a blower that moves the freshly conditioned air throughout the house. Looking a bit like a furnace, an air handler works by running an indoor coil with either a heat pump or an air conditioner to heat or cool the house.

Without the HVAC air handler, you’d have poor air circulation inside your house. Moreover, the quality of the indoor air will be poor. A properly installed air handler ensures that you’ll stay comfortable inside the house during the summer and winter. The unit functions to move cool or warm air from your air conditioner, heat pump, or furnace into every inch of your house.

While the air handler has heat strips for added heating power, it is not an electric furnace. The heat strips in the air handler enable the unit to give off sufficient heat when the temperature outside gets a bit colder but still not that cold that you have to use a furnace.

Types of Air Handlers

Just like the other components of an HVAC system, there are several types of air handlers.

  • The single-speed one has a fan motor that runs at one fixed speed only.
  • Five-speed air handlers will be more precise in their operations, offering more efficient air circulation. It is quieter as well.
  • A variable-speed air handler that varies the fan speed according to the comfort requirements of the user. This type of air handler unit (AHU) is good in assuring a consistent temperature indoors, improving the air quality inside your house, and controlling humidity levels.

If you have a boiler system, the hydronic air handler is designed to work with it while the insulated air handler is for homeowners who want an AHU that’s super quiet.

Should you buy an air handler or a furnace?

Knowing what type of temperature is prevalent in your area will help you decide what type of heating or cooling equipment you need.

If you live in an area with mild temperatures, it is recommended that you invest in a split-type air conditioner that has an indoor air handler and an outdoor condensing unit. Homeowners in areas with cooler temperatures should have a heat pump and HVAC air handler installed so they can properly address their cooling and heating requirements. For Washington residents in the area where the temperature could turn frigid, a high-efficiency gas furnace will be a good investment.