So with that in mind, a common question we get in the air conditioning business is “What is the difference between an air handler and a condenser?” Before we get to that, the air handler and condensing unit are the two basic components of what’s called a split system. And what we mean by a split system is a heat pump heating and air conditioning system. Heat pumps are very common in Florida. And if you’re reading this, you likely have an air handler and a condenser as part of your AC system. So here are the differences between an air handler and a condenser.
The air handler is the component that circulates air inside your home. It’s typically found indoors, either in a closet or attic. An air handler’s basic components are an air filter, a blower and a coil. The internal blower moves air through the evaporator coil and transfers it throughout the building via ductwork. The air filter is found within the air handler. And its purpose is to remove airborne contaminants, while the indoor coil keeps the air at a specified temperature.
The condensing unit aka “the air conditioner” is found outside the home. A condenser’s major components are a compressor and a condenser coil. Instead of blowing conditioned air throughout the home like the air handler does, an air conditioner's main function is to remove heat from within the home. It does this by passing warm indoor air through return ducts and then over the refrigerant coil within the AC system. The condensing unit’s job is basically to transfer heat from the air outside of the building by compressing refrigerant and pumping it through its condenser coils.
Unfortunately, yes, you should replace your air handler and condenser at the same time if one or the other fails. When you purchase a new HVAC system, the efficiency ratings are based on matched equipment. So for example, if you bought a condenser with a 17 SEER rating for its energy efficiency, you won’t get the expected performance without the matching air handler. While it may sound unnecessary to have to replace both if one or the other still works, the fact is matched systems perform better. Air handlers and condensers are built to work in tandem with matching units for maximum efficiency and optimum performance.
Can you replace the outdoor condenser unit without replacing the air handler? Yes, you can. But by doing so, you put the dependability of both at risk and could end up paying more in the long run. Advances in HVAC technology have made air conditioning systems work better than ever. So replacing both your indoor and outdoor units ensures that both are on par with the same level of efficiency. That means a new condenser with a non-matching or outdated air handler will result in poor efficiency and cost more in energy bills. And if you replace only the condenser unit and the air handler fails down the line, you’ll be paying double anyway in installation costs.
Additionally, when you purchase new HVAC equipment, you get a new manufacturer’s warranty and service guarantee with the installation. So if you only replace your condenser unit, your air handler's warranty may expire before it. And some manufacturers may not extend full warranty coverage to equipment that doesn't match.
Simply put, the air handler and the condenser are a team. And they work better together if they were built for each other. So if you're going to replace one, replace the other as well. It will save you money in the long run and you will avoid some major headaches. New HVAC systems are more efficient and affordable than ever before. Knowing what the best equipment to buy for your needs is the biggest challenge.