Air Handler vs. Furnace: What’s the Difference Between Them?

arrows up and down concept of differences depicting air handler vs furnace heating system

Do you wish your home was more comfortable? Perhaps your old HVAC system is no longer effective. Find a suitable HVAC replacement among current options. If you are overwhelmed by this task, get help from an experienced HVAC contractor. If you are confused with industry terms, read about them for clarity. In this article, we discuss the difference between an air handler vs furnace.

Explore Our Home Heating Services Call To Schedule A Free, In-Home Estimate

Air Handler Vs. Furnace: What’s The Difference Between Them?

You might have heard good things about air handlers and furnaces. Now you can’t decide which one to get for your home. After all, these are similar equipment with overlapping features. The truth is that there is no straightforward answer. The right choice depends on your situation. Get to know their differences, advantages, and disadvantages. Once you’re familiar with the basics, decision-making will be a breeze.

Call Today: (856) 665-4545

What Is An Air Handler?

In a forced-air system, rooms get air from a network of ducts around the house. Just remember that air will not move unless a force is applied to it. You need a powerful fan, sometimes called a blower, to make this happen. In HVAC systems, the cabinet that contains the blower is called the “air handler.”

Aside from its role in circulation, the air handler also contains coils that can influence the temperature and humidity of indoor air. For example, cold coils will absorb heat from the surrounding air and lower temperature. They will also trigger the condensation of vapor into water, thus reducing humidity.


What Is A Furnace?

A furnace is equipment that generates heat by burning fuel. Most places in the US depend on natural gas, except the northeast, which is partial to heating oil. You can also find electric furnaces, although these are less common because of their poor efficiency.

Every furnace that you encounter will have its own blower fan. If the house temperature drops below the desired level, then the furnace will start creating heat, and the blower will begin to move. The furnace will pull in cold air, warm it up, and push it through the ducts.


The Key Difference Between Furnaces & Air Handlers

1. An Air Handler Can’t Generate Heat Like A Furnace Does

This piece of equipment is all about air movement. An air handler can only push air through the ducts. It is not capable of generating heat by itself. Only a furnace can tap into fuel sources to produce heat and warm the air.

Learn More About Our Home Heating System Services Call To Schedule An Appointment

2. Every Air Handler Contains A Coil That Conditions Air

Although they can’t produce heat, air handlers always have coils that can trigger similar results. Coils can change air temperature and humidity. The heat that flows through the coils comes from an external AC or heat pump. Furnaces may or may not have coils, depending on whether the system includes a central air conditioner.

How Do Air Handlers & Furnaces Work Similarly?

Every manufacturer makes its own versions of these two equipment types, so you can expect them to have comparable components. The following similarities will also be evident:

1. You Can Find Single & Variable-Speed Models For Both

image of efficiency rating depicting energy-efficient air handler and furnace

These are available in the classic design with blowers that run in a single fixed speed. They are either at rest or moving at full capacity. You can also get newer models that operate in variable speeds, going from low to high for higher efficiency and better performance.

2. You Can Rely On Them During Winter

Furnaces are reliable winter companions. Their ability to produce a large amount of heat makes them effective in keeping homes warm even in extreme conditions. Air handlers that are connected to heat pumps can also cool air during winter, although only in mild conditions.

Call To Schedule A Free Consultation Explore Our Case Studies

3. Both HVAC Systems Operate Under The Influence Of A Thermostat


Both these machines start and stop based on the instructions of a thermostat. If there is a mismatch between the user settings and the indoor conditions, then the blowers will run to push warm air to the ducts.

4. You Can Purchase Both In A Range Of Sizes

The ideal equipment size will depend on the heating requirements of each home. Ask your HVAC contractor to conduct HVAC size calculations that will determine the best match.

Pros/Cons Of Furnaces Vs. Air Handlers

house in winter depicting home heating


The Pros of Furnaces

  • superior heat generation for extreme cold
  • more energy efficient
  • lower energy bills

The Cons of Furnaces

  • not as versatile as an air handler with a heat pump
  • not optimal for regions with mild winters and hot summers
  • use of fossil fuels which may be detrimental to the environment
Call To Make An Appointment

The Pros of Air Handlers

  • works with heat pumps for both heating and cooling
  • smaller size than furnaces for ease of installation
  • no risk of gas leaks and carbon monoxide poisoning

The Cons of Air Handlers

  • may have a loud indoor blower
  • may leak refrigerant through the coils
  • poor performance under 30 degrees Fahrenheit

Which is More Cost Effective — Air Handler or Furnace?

image of the words cost effective depicting air handlers vs furnacesA direct comparison is not useful since these two have different functions. Furnaces can generate and distribute heat, while air handlers focus solely on distribution. If you pair the latter with a heat pump, then we have a more logical match-up.

Comparing the cost of acquisition and installation, expect to pay around twice as much for heat pumps than you would for furnaces. It’s a glaring gap, but it’s not necessarily a deal breaker.

Keep in mind that heat pumps offer both cooling and heating, so you can use them throughout the year. On the other hand, furnaces can only produce heat, so usage is limited to the colder months.

Explore Our Home Heating System Services Get Started - Call To Make An Appointment


Given all this information, the choice is clear. If you live in an area with mild winters and hot summers, then go for a heat pump and air handler. This combination will keep you comfortable across the seasons. If you live in a region with mild summers and extreme winters, then go for a furnace to save money upfront. In case your situation is somewhere in between, consult a professional HVAC contractor for advice.

Call McAllister Energy For Superior HVAC Solutions

McAllister Energy

McAllister Energy offers high-quality HVAC services in Camden County, New Jersey. We hire only the best, professionally certified technicians who conduct superior heating and cooling services. Some of our HVAC services include HVAC maintenance, heating and cooling installations, repairs, ductless systems, energy audits, and much more. All our techs provide accurate HVAC services on time, every time.

Our company guarantees affordable heating and cooling service rates. Our maintenance services can increase your home’s comfort, energy efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. We can also provide you with a highly energy-efficient HVAC replacement system that fits your budget. Your satisfaction is important to us, so all our work comes with a guarantee. Book a service appointment with McAllister Energy today. We provide free, in-home estimates.

Call Now: (856) 665-4545 Read Our Reviews

You can click here to contact us now or call us at (856) 665-4545 to find out more!