A separate air handler is typically required for an electric heat pump. The heat pump air handler delivers heating or cooling inside your home, while the outdoor unit of a heat pump looks like a standard AC condenser unit. Smaller air handlers may contain only a filter, blower, and coil. They may go by a variety of names, including blower coils, fan coil units, or terminal units. Larger air handlers, or makeup air units, use only outside air; none is recirculated.
An air handler is as vital a component for a heat pump as it is for an air conditioner. Just like one for an AC, it’s connected to your home’s existing ductwork. It helps distribute conditioned air by blowing it into the ducts, allowing air to circulate throughout your home.
When Do I Need an Air Handler?
Conventional ACs and furnaces don’t usually require installing a new air handler. That’s not the case with an electric heat pump. Its function and design generally require you to purchase an air handler with the system.
The farther north you live, the less likely you’ll need an air handler, as a gas furnace is better suited for cold climates. Heat pumps with air handlers are common in southern regions of the U.S. Where they’re used, homeowners benefit in the form of savings on their electric bill, having a single unit for heating and cooling, and no risk of carbon monoxide exposure as the heat pump does not rely on combustion like a gas furnace.
Do a Heat Pump and Air Handler Need to Be Installed Together?
It is possible to replace a heat pump and use the same air handler. However, the units must match. Some will work together while others may not be compatible. It’s best if both units are from the same brand. They must also use the same type of refrigerant and match in terms of capacity and Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). Even if mismatched components do work together, the system will be, according to the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), at least 30% less efficient and can fail prematurely.
How Does a Heat Pump Air Handler Work?
The reason you need a separate heat pump air handler is because it performs very specific functions via these components:
- Coil: The evaporator coil is cold and removes humidity when the heat pump is in cooling mode. When you require warm air inside, the coil helps transfer heat from outside and becomes warm. This allows it to transfer heat into your home.
- Blower Motor: The motor controls the blower and fan so air can move into the ductwork and circulate. A single-speed motor operates at a fixed speed and works only by cycling on and off. Multi-speed motors can operate at up to 100% and run at reduced speeds to match demand and save energy. Providing more precise temperature and humidity control, variable-speed motors adjust to your comfort requirements and run continuously, further saving power.
- Filter: Cooled or heated air passes through a filter before it enters the ductwork, minimizing the number of particulates that can enter indoor air and the HVAC system. A dirty filter can cause particulates to collect in ducts and AC components and reduces airflow, which can affect efficiency and strain the system.
Heat strips may be installed in the air handler as an option. They provide additional heat in lower temperatures, but not so low a furnace is needed. In the region surrounding Portland and Salem, Oregon, winter highs average in the 40’s and 50’s and nighttime lows in the 30’s, which isn’t as chilly as other locations.
The air handler is connected by a plenum to supply ducts, which deliver conditioned air to rooms. Return ducts provide a path for air to return to the air handler and be heated or cooled once again. All components, including the air handler, must be properly sized and matched. You need an HVAC professional to determine the right equipment for your home and ensure the air supply and movement of air through the air handler are balanced.
Contact Air Stars
We specialize in installing, repairing, and maintaining home heating and cooling systems for customers in the Willamette Valley. Our reliable, energy-efficient solutions include heat pumps that work during all four seasons, especially since the area generally has mild winters. We can determine if a heat pump is right for your home. To schedule an evaluation and help finding the right-sized heat pump air handler, book an appointment online or call 503-897-9292.