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What is an Air Handler?

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An air handler does exactly as the name implies – it handles air. Okay, maybe that explanation is a bit simplistic. So, let’s look at what this important part of your HVAC equipment really is and does.

What Is An Air Handler?

An air handler’s main function is to circulate the air in your air conditioning or heating system. Typically, it’s located inside your home, in a basement, attic or closet. The air handler works with an outdoor unit, either a condenser or heat pump, depending on the type of system you have. The air channeled through the system is either: a) heated through the electric heat pump; or b) cooled by the air conditioning condenser.

What Are The Components Of An Air Handler?

There are three main parts of an air handler:

Air Filter

The air filter sits between the intake vent and the fan. Before cooling it, the filter purifies the air. While manufacturer recommendations vary, most recommend changing air filters at least every three months. If you spend a lot of time indoors, have pets, or a family member suffers from severe allergies, you should change the air filter more often.


The blower fan “blows” all the cooled air back into the home via the ventilation duct system. It helps the air handler circulate the air through the indoor spaces.

Evaporator Coil

The coil is what actually cools or heats the air in your home. This happens when the refrigerant housed in the outside unit is pumped as a high-temperature, high-pressure gas into the inside air handler. There, a valve converts this gas refrigerant to a low-temperature, low-pressure gas that is pumped into the coils. Then, in the case of air conditioning, this cools the air that is being passed over the coil and into the duct system. The “used” refrigerant is then pumped back outside to the outdoor unit to begin the cycle all over again.

How Does An Air Handler Work?

When in cooling mode, the air handler draws in warm air from the home, blows it across the cold evaporator coil to remove heat, and then blows the cooled air throughout ductwork in the home. The captured heat travels to the outdoor compressor where it is dissipated. Then the cold refrigerant returns to the evaporator coil for another cycle.

In heating mode, the air handler works in reverse, acting as a heat pump. It draws in cool air from the home, blows it across the warm evaporator coil, and then blows the heated air throughout the home. The cooled refrigerant travels to the outdoor heat pump, which warms it up again using outdoor heat.

Types of Air Handlers

Air handlers come in different variations – single-speed, two-speed, or variable-speed. A single-speed version can only be 100% on or 100% off. A two-speed has a setting lower than 100% which helps circulate the air in your home more evenly. Variable-speed air handlers have multiple blower settings, from 100% to as low as 40%. They modulate between speeds to provide optimal comfort. The number of speeds vary depending on the brand and model.

Because they can run at a slower speed, a two-speed and a variable speed model is better at conditioning all the air in your home and potentially eliminating hot and cold spots. The result is lower energy costs and increased comfort.

How Long Do Air Handlers Last?

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends that homeowners replace the components of their HVAC system every 10 to 15 years. Although heating and cooling systems are meant to endure heavy usage, after 10 years their components start to wear out. That means evaporator coils, blower motors and condensers might all begin to exhibit signs of age.

Signs Your Air Handler Needs Replacement

The most common reason for your AC unit to break down is lack of yearly maintenance. A licensed professional will be able to inspect and identify any troubling situations that might arise prior to them becoming larger problems. But even the best maintained units can run into trouble with age. So, what are the signs?

  • The air handler puts out weak or inconsistent air flow.
  • Your air conditioner freezes in the summer.
  • The unit is constantly leaking.
  • Your air handler needs more than one major repair every year
  • Reduced energy efficiency – you’ve noticed an unexplained spike in your energy bills
  • Your air handler is more than 15-20 years old.

Trust Your Comfort To Levco

If it doesn’t cool efficiently, if it leaks, makes noises, looks corroded, or is just plain old, we are here for you. If you want to maximize the energy efficiency of your system and at the same time maximize its quality and reliability as well, then give us a call so we can help you decide how to proceed. Levco works with the top brands in the industry and can provide you a comparison of repair options for as well as our best advice for replacement. We’ll help you find a system that matches your home’s needs and your budget.

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