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What is an Air Handler?

By September 21, 2023Air conditioner
Repairman fixing air handler

An air handler is a crucial component of any HVAC system. It plays a vital role in ensuring proper circulation of conditioned air throughout a building or home. Understanding what an air handler looks like and what it does can help homeowners better appreciate its importance and make informed decisions about their heating and cooling needs. Wondering, what is an air handler? It is part of the HVAC system and pulls in outdoor air and circulates it through a building or home.

What Does An Air Handler Look Like?

An air handler is typically a large metal box that contains various components necessary for air conditioning and heating processes. These components may include a blower, heating and cooling elements, filters, and dampers. The size and design of an air handler can vary depending on the specific system and the space it serves.

Air handlers circulate air in the home or building.

The Importance of an Air Handler

The main function of an air handler is to circulate air throughout a building or home. However, it also performs other essential tasks. The air handler draws in outdoor air or recirculates indoor air into the unit. Then, it filters, cools, or heats the air, depending on the desired temperature set by the thermostat. Finally, the air handler distributes the conditioned air through the ductwork and vents, ensuring even airflow in every room.

Different Types of Air Handlers

There are several types of air handlers available, each designed for specific HVAC systems and needs. Some common types include:

  1. Single-speed air handlers: These air handlers operate at a fixed speed, which means they provide consistent airflow but lack the ability to adjust to varying cooling and heating demands.
  2. Variable-speed air handlers: These air handlers have adjustable fan speeds, allowing them to precisely match the airflow requirements based on the temperature needs of different zones within a building. They offer improved energy efficiency and increased comfort.
  3. Heat pump air handlers: These air handlers work in conjunction with heat pumps, providing both heating and cooling capabilities. They can reverse the refrigeration cycle to produce warm air during colder months and cool air during warmer months.
Air conditioner is different from an air handler.

Air Handler vs. Air Conditioner

Although an air handler and an air conditioner are both components of an HVAC system, they serve different purposes. An air handler is responsible for circulating air throughout a building, while an air conditioner’s primary function is to cool the air. The air conditioner works in conjunction with the air handler by removing heat from the conditioned air, leaving it cool and comfortable.

Why You Need An Air Handler

Having an air handler in your HVAC system offers several benefits. These include:

  1. Improved indoor air quality: Air handlers are equipped with filters that help remove dust, pollen, and other allergens from the air, creating a healthier indoor environment.
  2. Enhanced comfort: By distributing conditioned air evenly throughout a building, an air handler ensures consistent and comfortable temperatures in every room.
  3. Energy efficiency: Modern air handlers, especially variable-speed models, are designed to optimize energy usage by adjusting fan speeds and airflow based on demand. This can result in lower utility bills.

Signs Your Air Handler Needs Replacing

Over time, air handlers may exhibit signs of wear and tear, indicating the need for replacement. These signs include:

  1. Frequent breakdowns or system malfunctions.
  2. Reduced airflow or restricted air distribution.
  3. Unusual noises coming from the unit.
  4. Poor indoor air quality despite regular filter changes and maintenance.

How to Maintain Your Air Handler

Regular maintenance is essential to keep an air handler functioning optimally. Some maintenance tasks include changing air filters, cleaning air ducts, inspecting and lubricating fan motors, and checking for any leaks or loose connections. It is recommended to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and consult a professional if necessary.

Other Recommended Maintenance

Now that you know what an air handler is, let’s take a look at a few other areas of recommended maintenance. One of those is an air handler leaking water. This may be due to a clogged condensate line, a damaged drain pan, or a condensate pump being broken to name a few.

Another is the decision to replace or repair an HVAC unit. An average unit lasts 10-15 years, however, if not properly maintained, it could be a shorter amount of life. If you are on a first-name basis with the technician, hearing odd sounds, or have a condenser unit issue, you will want to consult with a professional about replacing or repairing.

Lastly, air conditioners are able to dehumidify. This is a great thing as they remove moisture from the air that gets sucked into the AC unit as it cools the air down.

When Do I Call a Professional?

While some air handler maintenance tasks can be performed by homeowners, certain issues require professional assistance. Calling a qualified HVAC technician is advised if it is not producing enough airflow. Also, if it is making strange noises, or emitting unpleasant odors. Additionally, if there are any electrical or mechanical problems, it is best to leave the repairs to an expert.


Understanding the role and importance of an air handler in an HVAC system can help homeowners make informed decisions about their heating and cooling needs. Regular maintenance and timely professional intervention can ensure that an air handler performs efficiently, providing optimal comfort and indoor air quality. While taking care of your air handler, reach out to All Coast Home Inspections for a home inspection in Houston, TX.

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