Are Attic-Installed Horizontal Flow Air Handler a good idea?

Attic-Installed Horizontal Flow Air Handler
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The AC Therapist

Are Attic-Installed Horizontal Flow Air Handler a good idea?

In the world of HVAC, efficient and effective circulation of air is of paramount importance. One common option for ensuring this circulation is a horizontal flow air handler, a particular type of air handler designed to pull in air from one side and push it out on the other. For homeowners with specific architectural constraints, these air handlers can be a lifesaver, especially when installed in the attic.

But are attic-installed horizontal flow air handlers a good idea? Let’s delve deeper into the topic to explore the benefits and potential drawbacks.


What is a Horizontal Flow Air Handler?

A Horizontal Flow Air Handler is a critical component of an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system that controls and regulates the circulation of air throughout a building or home. The term ‘horizontal flow’ pertains to the direction that air moves through the unit. Unlike vertical air handlers where air moves from the bottom to the top, horizontal air handlers allow air to flow in one side and out the other, operating on a horizontal axis.

This unit typically consists of several key elements:

  1. Blower or Fan: The blower is the heart of the air handler. It pulls in air from the house and pushes it back out through the ductwork after it’s been heated or cooled.
  2. Heating and Cooling Coils: These coils are responsible for changing the temperature of the air. The heating coil will heat the air during cold seasons, while the cooling coil does the opposite during warmer months.
  3. Air Filter: The air filter is crucial for maintaining air quality. It traps dust, pollen, and other airborne contaminants to prevent them from circulating throughout your home.
  4. Dampers: These components regulate airflow. They can be adjusted to control the amount of air delivered to different parts of the building. Not all systems have dampers.

Horizontal flow air handlers are particularly useful in homes with specific spatial restrictions, such as a lack of vertical space or the absence of a basement. Because of their orientation, these units can be installed in spaces like attics or crawl spaces.

However, it’s important to note that proper installation of horizontal flow air handlers is crucial to ensure efficient operation. They must be installed perfectly level to allow the condensation drainage system to work correctly, preventing water accumulation that can lead to damage over time. As with any HVAC component, routine maintenance is key to keep the unit running smoothly and efficiently, ensuring a comfortable indoor climate year-round.

Attic-Installed Horizontal Flow Air Handler
Attic-Installed Horizontal Flow Air Handler


The Merits of Attic-Installed Horizontal Flow Air Handlers

Attic-installed horizontal flow air handlers come with a set of unique benefits that can make them an appealing choice for many homeowners. Here are some of the key merits to consider:

  1. Space Optimization: In many homes, space is a significant constraint. Traditional HVAC systems, with their large and bulky components, can consume valuable square footage that could otherwise be used for storage or other purposes. Horizontal flow air handlers, however, are designed to be installed in tighter spaces like attics, thereby maximizing the utilization of available space.
  2. Efficient Cooling: Due to the natural principle that hot air rises and cool air falls, having an air handler in the attic can help distribute cool air more efficiently throughout your home. The air handler pushes cool air down from the attic, and as it naturally descends, it helps to maintain a more uniform and comfortable temperature across your living spaces.
  3. Better Air Distribution: With the air handler located at the top of the house, the distribution of conditioned air can be more efficient. This setup can lead to a more uniform temperature throughout the home, reducing the hot and cold spots that can occur with other configurations.
  4. Reduced Noise Pollution: HVAC systems can be noisy, especially when they are running at full capacity. By having the air handler in the attic, away from your main living areas, operational noise can be significantly reduced, leading to a quieter and more peaceful home environment.
  5. Improved Aesthetic Appeal: Having an HVAC system in the attic means that there are fewer components visible within your living spaces. This can improve the overall aesthetic appeal of your home’s interior.

These merits highlight why attic-installed horizontal flow air handlers can be an excellent option for many homes. However, it’s always important to carefully consider your home’s specific needs and circumstances, and to consult with an experienced HVAC professional before making a decision.


Challenges of Attic-Installed Horizontal Flow Air Handlers

While attic-installed horizontal flow air handlers offer numerous benefits, they also present certain challenges that need to be taken into account. Here are some potential issues to consider:

  1. Risk of Heat Damage: The attic is often the hottest part of a house, especially during the summer months. This extreme heat can put additional stress on your air handler, potentially leading to more frequent maintenance issues and a shorter lifespan for the unit.
  2. Insulation Issues: Many attics are not well-insulated, which can make it harder for the air handler to maintain the desired temperature throughout your home. This could potentially lead to increased energy consumption and higher utility bills. If your attic is not currently well-insulated, you may need to factor in the cost of additional insulation when considering an attic installation.
  3. Accessibility for Maintenance: Attics can sometimes be more difficult to access for routine maintenance or repairs. This could potentially make it harder to keep your system running optimally.
  4. Condensation Risks: All air handlers can produce condensation as they cool the air. However, with an attic installation, any issues with the condensation drain lines can potentially cause water damage to your ceilings. It’s crucial to ensure that these lines are properly installed and maintained to avoid such problems. Installation from a professional like The AC Therapist will prevent such problems.
  5. Weight Support: Air handlers are heavy pieces of equipment. Your attic flooring may need to be reinforced to safely support the weight of the unit, which could add to the cost of installation.
  6. Higher Initial Installation Cost: Depending on your home’s current configuration, installing an air handler in the attic could involve additional costs, such as upgrading electrical circuits or adding a condensate pump.

Each of these challenges can be effectively addressed with careful planning, proper installation, and regular maintenance. However, it’s important to be aware of them when considering an attic installation for your horizontal flow air handler. Consulting with an experienced HVAC professional can help ensure that all relevant factors are taken into account.

Attic-Installed Horizontal Flow Air Handler
Attic-Installed Horizontal Flow Air Handler


Can an air handler lay on its side?

Yes, an air handler can be installed to lay on its side. In fact, this is the basic concept behind the horizontal flow air handler. These systems are designed to operate on their side, drawing in air from one end and pushing it out from the other.

However, it’s crucial to note that not all air handlers are designed to be installed this way. Before attempting to install an air handler on its side, you should always check the manufacturer’s instructions or consult with an HVAC professional.

Moreover, when installed on their side, certain components, such as the condensation drain pan and the coil, need to be properly oriented to ensure correct operation and to prevent damage or potential water leaks. For this reason, professional installation and regular maintenance are highly recommended for horizontal air handlers.


Why is my air handler sweating in the attic?

If your air handler is “sweating” or condensing moisture in the attic, it’s typically a symptom of one or more issues related to insulation, ventilation, or humidity control. Here are some common reasons why this might occur:

  1. Insufficient Insulation: If your attic isn’t properly insulated, it can lead to temperature disparities that cause condensation to form on the air handler. The warm air in the attic comes into contact with the cold surface of the air handler, leading to condensation, much like how a cold glass sweats on a hot day.
  2. Ductwork Issues: Condensation can also form when cool air from the air handler leaks out into the warmer attic through poorly sealed or insulated ductwork. This is especially problematic in humid climates where the air contains a high level of moisture.
  3. High Humidity: If the air in your attic is excessively humid, it’s more likely to condense when it comes into contact with the cooler surfaces of the air handler. This is often an issue in homes located in humid climates or houses with poor attic ventilation.
  4. Faulty or Inadequate Drainage: Air handlers are designed to produce condensation as they cool the air, and they usually have a drainage system to handle this. If the drain line becomes clogged or if the drainage system is inadequate, it can lead to water accumulation and the appearance of “sweating.”

If you notice your air handler sweating in the attic, it’s important to address the issue promptly. Over time, excess moisture can lead to various problems, including mold growth, water damage to your home, and decreased efficiency of your HVAC system. In most cases, it’s best to consult a professional HVAC contractor like The AC Therapist to properly diagnose and correct the issue. They can assess your system and attic environment and offer solutions tailored to your specific situation.


Where is the filter for Air Handlers in the Attic?

How much does a Attic-Installed Horizontal Flow Air Handler cost? Is it more expensive than a Vertical Installation?

When comparing the cost of vertical versus horizontal air handler installations, there are several factors to consider. Each installation type has its own specific requirements and challenges, which can affect the overall cost.

A new Vertical air handler unit costs between $2,700 and $4,500 including installation.

A new Attic Installation Horizontal Flow Air Handler costs between $3,200 and $5,000 including installation.

Vertical Air Handler Installation:

Vertical installations are often considered more straightforward and are commonly found in garages or utility closets where there is enough vertical space. This can make the installation process less complex and potentially less expensive. However, if your home doesn’t already have a designated space for a vertical installation, creating one can increase the cost.

Horizontal Air Handler Installation:

Horizontal installations, especially in attics, often involve more labor and complexity. Working in an attic can be more challenging due to space constraints and accessibility, which can lead to higher labor costs. Additionally, there may be extra costs related to reinforcing the attic floor or modifying ductwork to fit the horizontal orientation.

While horizontal installations may have higher upfront costs, they can be the best option in homes that lack adequate space for a vertical unit. Also, some homeowners prefer horizontal units in the attic because they can free up indoor living space and potentially provide more even airflow throughout the home.

Please note that these are general cost estimates, and actual prices can vary based on factors such as the specific model and brand of air handler you choose, local labor rates, and the unique characteristics of your home. For the most accurate and up-to-date pricing, it’s best to consult with a local HVAC contractor like The AC Therapist, who can provide a detailed quote based on your specific needs.

What is considered proper attic air handler installation?


In Conclusion: Is it a Good Idea?

So, is installing a horizontal flow air handler in the attic a good idea? It largely depends on your specific circumstances, including the layout of your home and your specific HVAC needs. There are certainly benefits, such as space optimization and potential energy efficiency during cooling seasons. However, it’s essential to be mindful of the potential challenges, such as increased energy use in poorly insulated attics and the risk of condensation leading to water damage.

As with any HVAC installation, the key to success lies in the hands of experienced professionals. At The AC Therapist, our team is well-versed in all types of air handler installations, including attic-installed horizontal flow air handlers. We can help assess your home’s suitability for such an installation, guide you through the process, and ensure that your system is well-maintained for optimal performance.

Ultimately, while there are pros and cons to consider, an attic-installed horizontal flow air handler can be a valuable addition to your HVAC system when correctly installed and maintained. Weigh your options carefully, and always consult with a trusted HVAC professional to make the best decision for your home comfort needs.