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What Is an Air Handler?

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Sometimes air handlers are more reliable than the local mailman in delivery.

Your HVAC system has two major components:

  • The Heat Pump
  • The Air Handler / Air Handlers

The latter is responsible for delivering cool air or bringing the heat indoors.

Your ambient comfort is all thanks to the capacity of your air handlers to deliver.

If you think about:

  • What is an air handler?¬†
  • How¬†does it handle my air?

Think of going through a typical Oregon summer with rising temperatures; your air handler is what saves you from sweltering by noon.

However, it's not only responsible for keeping your indoor air cool. It determines your indoor air quality by more than just its temperatures.

If you haven't heard of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), don't worry. We will cover why you should be thanking your air handlers for keeping the allergies away all Spring long.

Let's begin with how your HVAC system components handle your air indoors.

Parts of an Air Conditioner

Depending on your space's configuration, your home's HVAC system might be more traditional, with a central air conditioning system.

Heating and cooling systems with connected ductwork move air throughout your home with the same temperature and quality.

A more current HVAC has a split system for an indoor air handler.

However, all air conditioning units possess the same two components.

All HVAC systems come with indoor and outdoor units.

Air Handlers

Most homeowners have air conditioners with more than one air handler.

Even central air conditioners have more than one indoor handler.

Some homes have one air handler per room, per "zone," or even two to properly condition a larger area.

It may closely resemble a furnace, with some modern elements to it.

However, those digital installations on that funny-looking furnace are because it isn't what you think it is.

It's not a furnace. It doesn't generate heat. It removes humidity!

That's right, and it's a more intricate system than you think.

It does more than your average furnaces.

What is an air handler?

An air handler is responsible for managing your indoors.

It circulates outdoor conditioned air and extracts indoor air that may be too hot or "contaminated."

Have you ever heard your mom say, "shut the door! You're letting all the cold air out!"

Well, that isn't entirely true, not if thermodynamics has anything to say.

The reason for your indoor environment suddenly rising temperatures when you open doors and windows is warm air coming in and not cold air exiting.

Air handlers can remove heat and manage your home's temperatures by extracting warm indoor air through return ducts and dumping it into the outdoor heat pump.

Alternatively, warm air from outdoors is conditioned through its refrigerant coil to alter its temperature before indoor distribution.

While air conditioners have plenty of cooling elements, they also have electric heat strips to help manage heat.

In rare cases that Portland gets a little too chilly, an air handler assists homeowners in staying comfortable by keeping the air inside warm.

The mixing chambers, indoor blower, blower motor, air filter, and an indoor coil are also located within air handlers.

Now, none of its many operations is possible without air.

An air handler works by conditioning outdoor air because it doesn't produce any out of... thin air.

It receives outdoor air flow from its outdoor unit.

Outdoor Components

You can find a heat pump within the outdoor unit of an air conditioner, also known as the condenser.

Inside the condenser, you will find an outdoor blower, blower motor, heat pumps, and other cooling equipment.

You might have motors with variable speed options depending on your HVAC system.

A variable-speed motor is more cost-and energy-efficient, especially in homes with more rooms and zones.

Efficiently conditioned air is hard to come by with rising temperatures, and Oregon has some of the hottest summers and stays relatively hot or humid during all seasons.

Energy efficiency is highly recommended for those living in Portland and surrounding areas.

How Can You Tell the Energy Efficiency of Your Air Handler?

There is a system called the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) that helps buyers tell how efficient an air conditioner can be.

Due to their lack of versatility, air conditioners with single-speed motors have lower SEER ratings. Motors with multi-speed and variable-speed functions work more efficiently by turning blowers up or down according to the cooling cycle's needs.

For example:

  • If an area's room temperature hasn't met the thermostat's required temperature, motors are cycled until the desired temperature is met.
  • Suppose an area's room temperature has been met. In that case, motors are cycled off, and your air conditioner's other components perform minimally or just enough to stabilize air quality and save energy consumption.

A heating and cooling system with a variable speed motor has intelligent systems that automatically facilitate cycling for maximum efficiency. Central air conditioners often operate with a single-speed motor. Even when one area has met the desired temperature, engines remain cycling until all rooms meet the required temperature.

The next time you look at an air conditioner, take a closer look at the air handler to examine its stickers. A SEER rating is typically indicated on promotional stickers or little off-white stickers at the bottom.

What is SEER?

A SEER rating determines how much energy (measured in Watt-Hours) an air conditioner uses in its cooling output during Summer and other cooling seasons. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficiency you can expect from your air conditioner.

A split system tends to have higher SEER ratings with an average of 14-16 SEER. This is because the air handler of a ductless mini-split system only caters to one zone. It is independent of an entire home's temperature and isn't affected by as many factors as central HVAC air conditioning.

Air handlers that operate separately are more efficient than those linked together or connected to one condenser. They also work with coils instead of ducts.

Coil versus duct system

Air handlers operating with coils are less susceptible to air or energy loss.

Anytime air loss is experienced within the HVAC operating process, its different components may overcompensate and use more energy. An outdoor and indoor coil is linked through a copper coil and transmits air throughout both systems.

The lesser distance air travels through keeps temperatures more stable and delivers cooled air faster, cutting down the time components need to work. Ductwork can heighten the risk of air loss, and one faulty air handler can affect the entire system.

The return duct of a ducted system's air handler facilitates heated air out of indoor spaces. It can get congested and contaminate the rest of the air delivered by other air handlers. When this happens, a central system can overcompensate for each of its air handlers and cause a surge in your energy bills.

However, these problems aren't exclusive to more traditional air conditioning systems. Even your split system's air handlers can suffer from congestion, contamination, and short cycling. The best you can do to protect your systems from suffering from mishaps is to ensure it is properly installed and routinely maintained.

How to Care for My Air Handler

Your air handler needs to be installed properly and accurately. Yes, its measurements must be accurately accounted for and observed during installation. An air handler that is an inch off its mark is more prone to leaks, congestion, and other potentially hazardous risks.

An improper installation can affect your heating and cooling system's capabilities. Its refrigerant lines may freeze and disrupt the cooling cycling of your unit.

A blower can malfunction due to various factors. Its installation may compress the space its motions require. It can also cycle off on its own when congested with air contaminants, such as when an air filter no longer functions properly.

Remember, your air handler houses air filters. Filters that aren't cleaned or replaced as needed no longer serve their purpose and allow contamination to be distributed through your air by hindering your AC's coil and blower.

Filters also play a major role in your home's IAQ. IAQ measures the quality of breathable air within and around enclosed spaces. Air handlers that safely extract ambient contaminants increase your home's overall IAQ. Indoor air quality is often overlooked, but according to the United States Government, Americans should be more responsible for the quality of the air they are breathing indoors. Poor IAQ can lead to several respiratory diseases and should never be overlooked.

We don't advise you to remedy these problems by yourself. While condensers look more intimidating, we assure you the air handler poses many risks.

Don't attempt to dismantle and tinker with your air handler by yourself. Call a professional instead!

Sunset Heating and Cooling

We are among Portland's most trusted HVAC care technicians and have been serving Portlanders for over one hundred years.

Whether installing, repairing, cleaning, or upgrading air conditioning equipment, you can count on us!

You're just in time for a pre-season tune-up!

Call now (503) 500-5866

Visit our website to schedule a consultation and check our products and services.

What Our Clients Say

Roman did an awesome job. I had the trifecta, new AC unit ,furnace and hot water heater. Courteous, and competent service. I highly recommend Sunset Heating & Cooling.

-Charles E.

Caring, professional and helpful. Thanks for making things happen quickly and getting my Dear friend's heating back up and running in such a quick manner. You went above and beyond for a family in need and that is very much appreciated. Thanks from the whole group!

-Kristina K.

Sunset went out of their way to help with my project and David was amazing. Great job and look forward to future projects.

-Todd T.

The Sunset team who sold and installed a new furnace and AC unit in my condominium were wonderful. They were knowledgeable, professional, thorough, respectful and friendly. They went the extra mile to be sure other residents were not impacted and I was happy. They took special care to leave no trace of their being here, except for new and vastly improved heating and cooling system.

-Kaki B.

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