Air Handler Knowledge

Girl with a red winter hat reading a book & drinking hot chocolate in a cafe in Anchorage, Alaska.

An HVAC air handler unit (AHU) may resemble a furnace in appearance, but its purpose is very different. It conditions and circulates both cool and hot air, depending on what time of year it is. An air handler works in tandem with your air conditioner or heat pump to help you get the most efficiency from your HVAC system.

What Exactly Is an Air Handler?

An air handler does look like a furnace in that it’s usually a cased unit. Typically, it’s located inside your home and contains a blower, evaporator coil, and many components of your ventilation system. The air handler is the inside component of your HVAC system––working with your split-system air conditioner or heat pump. Usually air handlers connect to existing ductwork, distributing the conditioned air through your home and returning it to the air handler. The air handler blows the air through the ducts in your home.

Different Sizes

Air handlers come in different sizes. Smaller units may only have an air filter, blower, and coil. These are called terminal units, blower coils, or fan coil units. A larger air handler, known as a makeup air unit (MAU), conditions 100 percent outside air. An air handler that’s only designed for outdoor use and usually on roofs is called a rooftop unit, but this type is generally for commercial use.

How Do I Know If I Need One?

If need a new HVAC system and you’re looking at a conventional gas furnace and air conditioner, you most likely will not be needing an air handler. On the other hand, if you’re considering an electric heat pump, an air handler will probably be part of your purchase.

Often, air handlers contain heat strips to provide additional heating, which cause them to be mistaken for electric furnaces. There are true electric furnaces that are completely different in workings and purpose than an air handler. Those air handler heat strips are only there to assist in providing heat when the temperatures are not low enough to require having a furnace.

Contact Us

If you have any questions, call 907-332-5325 and talk to one of our Alkota Plumbing and Heating experts. We’re happy to discuss air handlers with you.