What is an Air Handler and How Does it Work?

Your HVAC system is made up of a network of components that can sometimes seem a bit daunting. Understanding the parts of your system can help you take better care of it. An air handler is a crucial component responsible for circulating and regulating the air throughout your living space, keeping it comfortable throughout the year. 

For customers wanting to learn how to enhance their home’s heating and cooling efficiency, recognizing common issues with air handlers can be crucial. This post will demystify your system’s air handler, so you can identify and address potential issues before they become actual problems.

With a little knowledge, you can have a better HVAC system for better air quality and comfort.  

Key takeaways: 

  • An air handler is a box unit that filters and conditions the air in some HVAC units 
  • The best way to care for your unit is with preventative maintenance and professional servicing 

Breaking down the basics: What is an air handler?

Just as it sounds, the air handler is the part of your HVAC system that handles the air. In other words, it transforms air into warm or cold air sent to your home. 

Despite just looking like a simple box, these units consist of several different parts. In this next section, we’ll look at some of the main components and how they contribute to the heating, cooling and overall “air handling” process. 

The main components

While some air handlers may have fancier features and therefore more parts, these are the standard elements in most units. 

  • Fan/Blower: This component does the heavy lifting of moving air throughout your home. It circulates either cool or warm air produced by the air conditioning or heating equipment, ensuring a consistent temperature in every room.
  • Evaporator Coil: This is where the actual cooling of air takes place. It absorbs heat from the air inside your home, lowering the temperature. It’s a key player in the process of air conditioning during those hot summer months.
  • Air Filter: This filters the air as it goes through the unit. 
  • Dampers: Dampers help direct air flow within the HVAC system by adjusting the volume of air as it passes through. They contribute to efficient heating and cooling by regulating temperatures to meet specific needs in different areas of your home.
  • Heating Elements: When the system is in heating mode, these turn electrical energy into heat, increasing air temperature as it passes through. Together with other components, they ensure that heating and cooling jobs are performed effectively throughout the seasons.

How does it heat or cool your home? 

The operation cycle of an air handler is a systematic process that ensures your home remains at the desired temperature, contributing greatly to your overall comfort. This process can be broken down into four main steps: intake, filtration, conditioning, and distribution.

  1. Intake begins with the intake of air from your home into the system. This is where your thermostat senses the need for either cooling or heating and signals it to start the cycle.
  1. Filtration: Once the air is drawn into the system, it passes through the air filter which captures dust, pollen, and other airborne particles, so only clean air proceeds through the system. This step is crucial for maintaining both the efficiency of the system and the quality of air in your home.
  2. Conditioning: The filtered air then reaches the evaporator coil, where the actual conditioning takes place. In the cooling system, the evaporator coil absorbs heat from the air to cool it. For heating, other components, like heating elements, raise the air temperature.
  3. Distribution: Lastly, this air is sent back into your home through the ductwork by the fan/blower component. 

Each of these steps involves specific components working in harmony to heat or cool your home efficiently. Understanding this cycle enhances homeowners’ appreciation of their HVAC system’s complexity and the crucial role of regular maintenance in ensuring its optimum performance.

Benefits of a residential HVAC system

Choosing an air handler for your residential HVAC system isn’t just a matter of convenience; it’s about elevating the comfort and efficiency of your home. These versatile units ensure that your living space enjoys consistent airflow, which not only contributes to reducing your energy bills but also supports our planet by minimizing energy use. 

Beyond cost savings, air handlers are pivotal in protecting the air quality inside your home. They come equipped with advanced air filters that capture and remove harmful contaminants like dust and pollen, safeguarding the health of your family, particularly for those with allergies or respiratory concerns. 

Additionally, the durability and efficiency of air handlers promote a longer lifespan with fewer maintenance needs, ensuring a comfortable, healthy home environment. 

Maintenance tips for homeowners 

Some common issues with these units include clogged filters, frozen coils, and leaky ducts. While these things can happen, there are things you can do to avoid them. We’ve compiled a list of helpful tips: 

  • Schedule Preventative Maintenance Regularly: To avoid unexpected breakdowns, schedule annual preventative maintenance with a certified technician. This can significantly prolong the life of your HVAC system.
  • Change Your Filters Frequently: A simple yet effective tip is to replace your air filters regularly, ideally every 1-3 months. Clean filters improve air quality and efficiency, lowering your utility bills over time.
  • Consult Licensed Experts for Repairs: When facing issues with your air handler or HVAC system, always seek the expertise of licensed professionals. Attempting DIY repairs can lead to worse problems, a voided warranty, and higher expenses.
  • Pay Attention to Odd Sounds or Smells: Note any strange sounds or smells. Squealing or grinding noises may suggest mechanical issues, while musty or burning smells could signal mold presence or electrical malfunctions.
  • Monitor Your Utility Bills: Keep an eye on your monthly utility bills for any sudden spikes in costs. This can be an indicator of inefficiencies within your HVAC system, signaling that maintenance or upgrades might be needed to restore optimal performance.


  • Does every AC or heating system have an air handler? 

Some HVAC systems have an air handler or multiple, but not all systems do. AC systems that share a heater’s blower motor, for example, don’t require a handler. They are common in systems that provide both heating and cooling; however, standalone heating systems like boilers or radiators may not include one.

  • What is the difference between AC and air handler?

The main difference is their functionality. ACs are designed to cool the air. An air handler, on the other hand, circulates and manages the flow of air across the home’s HVAC system, which may include both heating and cooling functions. Air handlers can be part of air conditioner systems.

  • Is an air handler the same as a fan? 

No, an air handler is not the same as a fan. While both move air, handlers are a more complex unit that integrates components such as filters, coils, and blowers to condition and circulate air throughout your HVAC system.

Trust the reliable experts at Anderson Air 

Maintaining your HVAC system isn’t just for home comfort, but to safeguard your investment and health. 

At Anderson Air, we bring decades of experience and a commitment to professional service to every job. We serve homeowners and businesses in the North Arkansas area, including Bentonville, Farmington, Fayetteville and Springdale. 

Trust our team to keep your system running efficiently and effectively. If you’re experiencing any issues or just need routine maintenance, call us today. Anderson Air is the team you can trust for all your HVAC needs.

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