How Is an Air Handler Different From a Furnace?

Both heating and air conditioning are things we all love, and they’re critical to our health and well-being. Unfortunately, most people have little understanding of how these systems work. Sure, you may know that you have a furnace and an air conditioner; you may even know that your furnace burns fuel to create heat. Is that where it stops, though?

For most people, that is the extent until something goes wrong. Then, it is a mad dash through websites and videos trying to find answers and solutions. When they finally do call a heating and cooling technician, they are lost on the terms of parts and what those parts do. This is unfortunate because it makes it too easy to be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous businessperson.

How Does Your System Work?

The basics of how your HVAC system works are actually quite straightforward. The entire system works together to do two things. It moves air through your home and through the HVAC system itself. It also heats or cools the air to your desired temperature.

To make both of these things happen, every forced-air system uses a circulating fan to move air. It draws air into the system, forces it through the parts to heat or cool it, and then forces the air back out into your home.

What Is an Air Handler?

An air handler is one component of an HVAC system. Its job is self-explanatory in the name: to handle air through your home.

Every air handler has a circulating fan as well as an evaporator coil that connects to the air conditioner or geothermal heat pump system. The air is warmed or cooled as it moves over this coil. An air handler may also have dampeners, filters, and even humidity control, depending on the model and the needs.

How Is a Furnace Different?

This may sound a little like a furnace, right? They both do the same job with one major exception: A furnace produces heat whereas an air handler does not. The furnace does so by burning natural gas, propane, or oil. In some cases, the furnace uses an electric heating coil to produce the heat.

The components that a furnace is going to have that an air handler does not include a combustion chamber, an igniter, a burner, and an exhaust fan. All of these are directly connected to the furnace’s capability to create heat.

Which One Do You Need?

Do you need a furnace, an air handler, or both? This is not a simple answer as it depends on the components of your system. Here are some common situations we run into:

1. A furnace with an evaporator coil

In this setup, the furnace is equipped with everything needed to connect with an air conditioner. Every furnace has a circulating fan, so there is no need for an air handler in this system.

2. A furnace without an evaporator coil

Without the evaporator coil, the furnace is not compatible with central air conditioners. If you want to add an air conditioner later on, then you will need to either upgrade your furnace or install an air handler.

3. A geothermal heat pump

If you have a geothermal heat pump, that system uses the ground to transfer heat into or out of your home. It still needs a way to transfer the heat and move the air.

As you can see, there is not a simple answer to whether you need an air handler. To complicate matters even further, you have the transition from R22 refrigerant systems to R-410a systems.

Understanding Refrigerant Upgrades to Your Air Conditioning System

If you have an older air conditioning system, you may be looking at significant upgrades when it is time for major service. In the United States, R22 refrigerant is now prohibited from production due to its effect on the ozone. For anyone with an older system, that means it is near impossible and cost-prohibitive to add the right refrigerant to these systems.

If you have an older unit and need to replace it, you have a couple of options. If your system was all contained within the furnace, you may be looking at replacing the entire furnace, especially given the age. You may also consider adding an air handler to handle your air conditioning needs.

Top-Rated Heating and Cooling Specialists

When it is time to work on your HVAC system, you want to be sure you can trust the company you call. Jco Heating A/C Electrical has been serving the Greater Eugene, OR, area for nearly 20 years. Our clients consistently rate our NATE-certified technicians highly, earning us an A with Angie’s List. Call to get your quote for heating or cooling installation, repair, or maintenance today.