How Air Conditioners Work

How Air Conditioners Work

Air conditioners remove heat from the air inside your home, and transfer it outdoors through a special cooling agent called refrigerant. This process is driven by chemicals that change from liquid to gas and back again very quickly.

Choose an AC with a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating to lower your utility bills.


Refrigerants are the essential element in any air conditioner. The compound absorbs heat from your indoor air and transitions from a low-pressure liquid into a high-pressure gas. The air conditioner components pump it to the outdoor unit, where a fan blows the hot gas away into the environment. Then the refrigerant changes back into a cool liquid and cycles all over again.

Refinements to refrigerant have been made over the decades, mainly to provide greater operational efficiency and lower environmental impact. In previous times, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) were used but later banned due to their contribution to ozone depletion and environmental damage. The newer HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) are also less damaging but their production has been phased out as well.

The current standard refrigerants are HFCs such as R-410A and R-134a, which are chlorine-free and much better for the Earth. HFCs have an ozone depletion potential of 0 and a global warming potential of less than one. Research continues on even better refrigerants with lower GWP values. One possible replacement is natural refrigerants such as propane, butane and propylene. These are not only non-toxic but offer lower operational costs and electricity consumption. The ideal refrigerant would be non-flammable and have a low condensing pressure, which is required for air cooled coils. Those qualities will ensure the copper coils stay intact without excessive wear and tear.

Evaporator Coil

An air conditioner’s evaporator coil is responsible for cooling indoor air by absorbing heat from household air that passes over its copper tubes. It is located in the indoor unit of your air conditioning system and is often shaped to look like an “A”. Its panels are lined with thin metal pieces called fins, which help bring passing air as close as possible to the refrigerant inside the coil tubing for maximum heat absorption.

Once your evaporator coil absorbs enough heat from your house’s air, the liquid refrigerant cycles between its liquid and gas phases. The cooled Air conditioner refrigerant then flows through an expansion valve, which relieves pressure from the liquid. This lowers its temperature, which causes it to evaporate and turn into a gas. The vapor then blows into your home’s air, cooling it as it goes.

Regular maintenance can prevent dirt buildup on your evaporator coil, ensuring it has an adequate lifespan. However, neglecting the care of your evaporator coil can result in its degradation and reduced performance. Dirt and dust that are allowed to build up on your evaporator coil can restrict airflow, which could cause damage to other components in your air conditioner system. To avoid this, you should have your evaporator coil regularly cleaned and inspected by an HVAC professional. This can also save you energy costs in the long run.


The air compressor is the heart of your air conditioning system. The evaporator coils and condenser are the visible parts that you see in your home’s outdoor unit, but the compressor is what makes the cooling magic happen.

The compressor is a pump that turns electrical energy into mechanical energy by compressing and then suddenly releasing air. This cycle takes the heat from high pressure gas and raises its temperature, which causes it to expand or “vaporize.” The vapor moves to the condenser where it cools and turns back to liquid. The liquid is then pumped through the system and back into the evaporator coil.

Over time, your air conditioner’s compressor can wear out and need to be replaced. When this occurs, you may notice your home’s air quality decreasing and feel a loss of cooling power. It’s important to keep up with your regular maintenance and repairs in order to extend the life of your compressor.

Leaves, dirt and grime can get stuck inside your outdoor unit’s compressor causing temperature and pressure changes. These changes can prevent the compressor from working properly and may cause your air conditioner to stop functioning. When this happens, a professional can help you troubleshoot the problem and decide on the best solution. In some cases, it is more cost-effective to replace the compressor instead of repairing it.

Condenser Coil

The condenser coil is located in the large air conditioning unit outside your house. Its job is to reject the heat absorbed by the evaporator coil. When refrigerant enters the condenser coil it is in a hot, pressurized gas form. This is where the coil’s fins help to increase the surface area and speed up the rejection of this heat. The refrigerant then returns to a liquid form and passes through an expansion valve. It then goes back to the evaporator coil, where it is cooled down and begins the process of cooling your home again.

The condenser is a very important part of your air conditioner because it plays a huge role in its ability to cool your house. Often times Air conditioner distributor people will notice that their air conditioner is not cooling as well as it normally does, and this is usually because the condenser coil is dirty.

Because the condenser coil is exposed to outdoor elements, twigs, leaves, dirt, and other debris may get into the unit over time. This is a problem because the air circulation around the coil gets slowed down and can cause a number of issues with the unit, including not being able to properly cool your house. While there are steps that can be taken by the average homeowner to clean the coil, a full cleaning will most likely require a technician.

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