DIY

Air Handler Buying Guide

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Air Handler Compatibility and Efficiency
You should have two main priorities when it comes to buying an air handler: system compatibility and efficiency.

Compatibility is important, but usually not going to be a huge problem. Most manufacturers build their systems to work together, so if you have a Payne heat pump, then a Payne air handler is going to be a good fit for your home. Of course, you don’t absolutely have to use the same manufacturer for both parts if you know what you’re doing. It is possible to integrate different machines on the same HVAC system. As always, Ingram’s Water & Air technicians will be there to help if you run into a problem.

When it comes to efficiency, however, you should make no compromises. When you think efficiency, you should actually think: money. A low efficiency air handler means you are going to pay more for your energy. A slightly more expensive air handler can pay off in the long term. After all, energy prices are probably only going to go up, so an energy efficient air handler could be worth even more in the future than they are now and they’re worth a lot right now.

Air Handler Evaporator Coil
At its most basic, a modern air handling unit is a cabinet with a blower and evaporator coil inside. Of the two, the evaporator coil is the most important. An evaporator coil has a critical role to play when it comes to the heat transfer efficiency of many HVAC systems. If you use an inferior coil design for your home, you’ll lose efficiency and may suffer more breakdowns.

So, how do you know which evaporator coil is best?

Copper is a good place to start. Many modern air handlers use a copper tube coil design. Copper is extremely resistant to corrosion and has decent heat transfer capabilities. A basic copper tube evaporator coil with no extras will, at least, do the job right.

However, there are ways to make copper coils better. Once upon a time the HVAC industry used a lot of aluminum coils, but aluminum fell out of favor due to low durability. Now some companies have started using a copper tube and aluminum fin coil design. This design takes the good from both metals and makes a coil better than either could do individually.

So, when you’re browsing air handlers, keep in mind the importance of the evaporator coil and make sure you pay attention to what it’s made of.

Air Handler Blower Motor
That gust of air coming out of your vent? That’s caused by a blower. Yes, it’s really just a big fan, but in the HVAC industry it’s called a blower because it blows air over the evaporator coil for heating or cooling. After the evaporator coil, the blower motor is the most important part of the air handler. After all, when your HVAC system is running, chances are the blower motor is running too. That means you need a motor that will last, do the job right, and won’t be a burden on your energy bill.

Which blower motor is best?

Well, as with most things, the answer is: it depends. There are a lot of air handlers out there and there are a lot of different blower motors on the market. Some blower motors operate at only a single speed or can have a number of variable set speeds. A variable speed blower motor is a good option, since it allows for a lot of different air flow options and can be an energy saver compared to a single speed motor. Of course, a single speed motor is probably going to be slightly more affordable.

Usually, most homeowners will be best served by an air handler with a variable speed blower motor.

Air Handler Humidifier
An unfortunate side effect of continuous heating during winter can be dry interior air. This can cause sinus damage and generally make your home uncomfortable. Of course, too much humidity in summer makes it feel hotter, something else you probably want to avoid. Some air handler designs come with humidification technology to decrease the humidity level inside the home and keep it comfortable all year round.

When it comes to summer, you’re in luck. Just running your air handler is usually going to be enough to take humidity out of the interior air. The basic process of air conditioning works partially be humidity reduction, so don’t worry about finding an air handler with special ‘summer humidification controls.’ Any good air handler, whether it’s an energy efficient heat pump or a traditional air conditioner, is going to do that automatically.

Of course, keeping a house adequately humid through winter is a different story. For that you can run a separate humidifier, which may be enough, or have a humidifier directly integrated with your HVAC system. Now, you should know that most air handlers don’t include winter humidifier technology. That being said, there are great ways to get good household winter humidity. If you are interested, check out Ingram’s complete line of home humidifiers.

Air Handler Controls
Like any other complicated machine, your air handler is going to come with at least some controls for manipulation. At the very least, you’ll control it through your home thermostat. That brings up an important point: make sure the air handler can be integrated with a programmable thermostat. Most can, so this isn’t a big deal, but if it can’t, then you may want to choose another model.

Aside from a programmable thermostat, some air handlers come with other control features like humidity sensors, air quality controls, etc. Just get something you’re comfortable with. If you like having lots of information at your fingertips, you can get that, but if you’re like most people and you just want the machine to work, then you can get that too.

Another important thing to consider: if you’re running a business and use a building automation system to control your HVAC system, make 100% sure you get an air handler compatible with the BAS you currently use.

Air Handler Warranty
Warranty is a manufacturers way of saying, “Look, it’s going to last at least this long.” If your latest HVAC machine comes with a 5 year warranty, it’s a pretty good bet you are going to get a minimum of 5 years out of it.

There are a lot of air handler manufacturers and warranty protections vary considerably. Generally, the longer, the better. There are some 10 year warranties out there and if the manufacturer is comfortable giving that, then there’s a real chance you’ll get a lot more than 10 years out of the system.

And don’t overlook an evaporator coil warranty. Some manufacturers give specific warranties for the evaporator coil. As we discussed in the Evaporator Coil section, it’s the most important part of the air handler. A warranty just for it can be a very good thing.

Air Handler Extras
Your car probably had a lot of options you could have paid a little more to get and your air handler isn’t going to be much different. So, which extras are worth it and which aren’t?

An extra that could be worth it in a very cold winter is an electric heat kit. Basically, they provide supplemental warmth for a heat pump on a cold, cold day. If you live in southern California, Florida or another sunny state, then this is an extra you can safely avoid. Alaskan? Think about a heat kit. In fact, think about four or five heat kits!

Some air handler manufacturers offer ultraviolet germicidal lights or air cleaners to help maintain healthy interior air. This can be a good choice if you have serious seasonal allergies or health concerns.

And as discussed in more detail in other sections there are some air handler manufacturers that offer superior controls, humidifiers, different kinds of blower motors, different coils and more. If you have questions, refer to those sections for more information. If you still have questions, call an Ingram’s Water & Air representative. They can help you make the best choice for your home’s unique environment.

Air Handler Brands
Air handlers are such an ubiquitous technology within the HVAC industry that most manufacturers offer some kind of air handler. If you have a favorite company, then chances are good you can find an air handler model made by them.

Currently, Ingram’s Water & Air offers air handlers from Payne Heating & Cooling, Rheem, Goodman Air Conditioning, Haier, Coleman Heating & Air Conditioning, Bryant, and HVAC Direct.

Which one makes the best air handler?

Honestly, that is a tough question. They all make good air handlers, but offer different warranties, options, and control technologies. The best thing for the average homeowner is to figure out what you need and want for your home, then go shopping for the manufacturer that fits your desires the most.

And, as always, if you don’t even know where to start or have a nagging concern, call or email an Ingram’s Water & Air service technician. They are HVAC experts and will be happy to answer your questions.

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