Updated August 8, 2023

How is an air handler different from a furnace?

When it comes to providing heat to your home, there are several methods you can utilize. Space heaters and fireplaces can all help to increase the temperature of the air in your Charlotte house. When it comes to efficiency, however, you have two main options: the split-system heat pump and the traditional furnace.

An air handler is one component of a split-system heat pump, while a furnace is a separate component that typically does not exist alongside an air handler. To better understand the differences between these two devices, keep reading for a basic explanation of what each can do.

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An Efficient System: The Air Handler

If you have never used a split-system heat pump, you may think that an air handler simply refers to the blower component of a typical HVAC system. However, this is not the case.

Much like a blower, an air handler is responsible for dispersing conditioned air throughout your home. In addition, an air handler takes care of the responsibilities often reserved for a traditional furnace or air conditioner.

A split-system heat pump installed by Putnam Mechanical uses an exterior component, much like an air conditioner compressor, and an interior component, which is the air handler. By using refrigerant at high and low pressures at different points in the system, the split-system heat pump is able to draw heat out of your home in the summer and draw heat into your house during the winter.

Whether heat is drawn in or out depends on the pressure of the refrigerant as it passes through the air handler. If the pressure of the refrigerant is high, then the refrigerant will release heat into your residence. If the pressure of the refrigerant is low in the air handler, then heat will be drawn outside.

At some point during cold weather, the refrigerant line in the exterior heat pump will need to defrost. During this process, the refrigerant in the air handler will have to be changed to low pressure, meaning it will be drawing heat from the building.

To prevent cold air from entering your home, the air handler contains a back-up heating element to maintain the comfortable temperature you have selected.

More Common: A Furnace

A furnace heats the air in your home by providing a direct heat source. In a gas furnace, the burner ignites the natural gas or propane and heats a heat exchanger. The blower then forces the incoming air over the heat exchanger, raising its temperature. An electric furnace operates similarly, except that the blower forces the air directly over hot coils, raising the air’s temperature.

Both electric and natural gas furnaces operate on their own. There is no exchange of refrigerant with a separate component needed to heat the air.

Which Is More Efficient?

Though a furnace tends to be less complex than a split-system heat pump, a heat pump is far more efficient. Since the heat pump is simply drawing in air that already exists rather than creating new heat, there is much less energy input required.

As long as the exterior temperature does not dip too low, a split-system heat pump can keep your home comfortably warm for far less money. However, if the air temperature is too cold, more frost will occur on the exterior refrigerant line. This means that more defrost cycles will be needed, resulting in extended periods of use of the backup heating element, which is powered by electricity.

Since electricity is a less-efficient way to heat a home, you will experience higher utility bills. If you live in a more mild climate, however, a heat pump can offer significant savings over a traditional furnace.

Call on the Pros

At Putnam Mechanical in Mooresville, NC, we are able to work on all types of HVAC systems, including traditional systems and newer split-system heat pumps. We want you to install the best system for your needs, so we will discuss your options with you when it is time for a new system.

We can also provide repairs or maintenance on your existing system. Even if your unit requires an electrical panel upgrade, our experienced technicians are ready to take on the task. We can handle your commercial heating and cooling needs as well.

Our commitment to service is why we have so many 5-star reviews from countless customers. We also provide refrigeration services for residential and commercial customers. For more information on how we can help, give Putnam Mechanical a call today!

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