In all the jargon surrounding installing HVAC systems in your facility, it’s easy to get mixed up on which devices do what. This is true, particularly when differentiating between furnaces and air handlers, as they both are used to heat and cool a facility. Both are used in HVAC systems, and they even look similar while delivering certain similar functions. However, each has its own very particular mechanics and purposes, which can easily cause confusion between the two. This article will explain the functions, similarities, and differences between these two crucial HVAC components. We hope this will help you understand what device you need for your facility.

What A Furnace Does

Furnace is a vital piece of HVAC equipment that produces heat to keep a facility warm and toasty during the cold months. It usually produces heat by burning some kind of fuel such as natural gas, wood pellets, coal, wood chunks, heating oil, and other highly combustible materials. However, there are also electric furnaces that produce heat through electric resistance rather than burning anything. In simple terms, furnaces are a more complex yet efficient variant of the wood stoves or chimneys used in older times. They are however better sealed for minimal heat loss during their convection process.

All furnaces have these main components;

  • An Internal Combustion Chamber: This is where the fuel is burned and turned into heat energy.
  • A Channeling System: This puts the heat into a facility’s ventilation system
  • Filters: This is used to filter out all the byproducts.
  • A Thermostat: This is a device connected to the furnace that is activated/inactivated when the ambient temperature falls to a certain level.

Related Article: Gas Furnaces: Efficiency, Maintenance and Replacement

What an Air Handler Does

Air handlers are simply air channeling systems for an HVAC's ductwork. The air they move can be heated if an electric heat pump is installed as an attachment or it may be the cooled air through an air conditioning system. In a nutshell, an air handler is a forced air blowing system that includes a powerful fan called a blower, which is responsible for circulating air around pipes in a facility. Therefore, as the name suggests, this blower only "handles" your cooled or heated air.

The basic mechanism is as follow:

  1. The air handler’s blower attaches to an AC system or a heat pump and based on a thermostat’s signals, it either blows cooled or heated air through the ductwork in your facility.
  2. A coil filled with refrigerant is also available in air handlers. This coil is placed in the path of the forced air and through this coil, either heat or refrigerated cooling is infused into the air passing over it.
  3. Your facility is heated or cooled by the air being forced through your facility’s ductwork.

Unlike a furnace, air handlers work on the dynamics of electric refrigeration and electric coil heating to chill or warm air up as it’s forced into or out of your facility rather than actually burning fuel to produce heat on their own. While this makes them highly useful in warm climates as mechanisms for air cooling, they are extremely inefficient in exceptionally cold climates.

Related Article: 4 Reasons You Need An Air Handler Unit For Your HVAC System

Differences Between An Air Handler and A Furnace

One of the major differences between these two units is the fact that a furnace can actually produce its own heat for channeling while an air handler can’t create heat (though some models do provide auxiliary heat). Instead, an air handler simply distributes heat or cold created by the heat pump or refrigeration coil mechanisms. Air handlers are much more commonly used in exceptionally warm climates, where temperatures almost never fall to uncomfortably cold levels, whereas for areas that have extremely cold weather, furnaces are used.

Similarities Between An Air Handler and A Furnace

Both the units, air handlers and furnaces, have a blower fan that helps the HVAC system to channelize the modified air throughout the ductwork in a facility. While with air handlers air can either be moderately heated or cooled as needed, furnaces can only provide air which is heated and not cooled before being channeled. However, furnaces provide superior heating power that is good for climates with exceptionally cold winter seasons. Furthermore, both the units are controlled by a thermostat that regulates when they activate and deactivate. However, unlike a furnace, an air handler's thermostat can also activate its internal AC mechanism.

Which One Should You Invest In?

Generally speaking, if you have your facility in a location that gets extremely cold in winter weather but has mild summers, you should consider investing in a furnace. It is a much better option for thorough heating that’s also energy and cost-efficient. However, if your facility is in a location that witnesses mild winters and hot summers, we would suggest investing in an air handler along with a heat pump. These two units would be a good choice for both AC and moderate heating.

If you are still not sure which of these units would be good for your needs or want to understand much more precisely, get in touch with one of our HVAC experts for a professional assessment based on the weather in your state. Our experts will help you with both estimation and installation options based on your individual needs so that you can ensure the best indoor environment while keeping your energy bills low!

Buy HVAC Devices at ProServices Supply

If you are looking to buy complete HVAC systems or HVAC devices for your facility, check out ProServices Supply's online store. We have an extensive range of Goodman Air Handlers and Goodman & GMC Furnaces, with the best prices available in the market today and delivery services available all across the US.

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