We enjoy the peace of mind that comes with reliable heating. You can provide heat for your home with different types of equipment, such a furnace or air handler. But while they’re both heaters, there are multiple differences between a furnace and air handler.

What Is a Furnace?

The most popular form of residential heating system, a furnace generates heat using fuel sources like electricity or natural gas. Once heating elements like the combustion box or heat exchanger reach the correct temperature, a blower motor will ensure the heat is evenly distributed before shutting off again.

The main difference between a furnace and an air handler is where the heat comes from. A furnace generates heat on its own, while air handlers draw their heat from other sources.

What Is an Air Handler?

Also known as a forced air system, air handlers use powerful motors to push and pull air through your ventilation. It cannot generate its own heat and must pull it from outside or another piece of equipment like a heat pump. They offer both air conditioning and heating modes, which changes where the heat comes from as well as where it is sent.

An air handler features a coil much like ones used in air conditioners. If in AC mode, it will pull warm indoor air across the coil where refrigerant is. The refrigerant is then transported away to dissipate heat while the now-cooler air is sent back into your air vents.

Other Key Differences

  1. A furnace is a heat source, while an air handler draws heat from other places. For hot climates, an air handler may be the only system needed for comfortable heating.
  2. Air handlers contain a heat pump or AC coil. Requiring these additional systems because air handlers can’t generate heat is a trade-off for the superior circulation.

Are There Any Similarities?

Yes! Furnaces and air handlers share many common features.

  • Multiple speeds available: Single-speed and variable-speed modes offer more specific control over how powerful your heating is.
  • Thermostat control: Both air handlers and furnaces need a thermostat to accurately regulate temperature.
  • Large and small models: Like different speeds, we need multiple sizes to ensure every kind of home can find the right amount of heating.