Though most every home today has air conditioning, many people don’t really know how their air conditioners work. When making decisions about air conditioning repair or installation, though, it’s helpful to at least have a general idea of how they function.
To understand air conditioning, you have to understand a little bit about the refrigeration cycle. The refrigeration cycle is how air conditioners (and refrigerators or freezers) remove heat from the air inside a space and then deposit that heat into the air outside. It accomplishes this using refrigerant, which is any chemical with a low enough (sub-zero) boiling point that becomes a liquid under high pressure.
If you have ever boiled a pot of water on the stove, you know that the water has to absorb a lot of heat before it can boil. The same is true for a liquid refrigerant. However, since its boiling point is so low, the air itself can be used as a heat source to make refrigerant boil. In an air conditioning system, the refrigerant passes through an evaporator coil inside your house. A fan blows air through the coil, and the coil absorbs heat from the air as the refrigerant boils or evaporates into a gas.
The evaporated refrigerant then travels through a tube to an outdoor compressor, which pressurizes the refrigerant so much that it turns back into a liquid. To do so, it must get rid of that heat it absorbed. It passes through the outdoor condenser coil, where another fan blows air to cool the refrigerant. After condensing into a liquid, the refrigerant flows back inside to the expansion valve, which lowers the pressure right as it re-enters the evaporator coil. The low pressure allows the refrigerant to again boil, starting the process all over again.
At Ernst Heating & Cooling, we have been installing and servicing air conditioning systems in the Metro-East area for over 50 years, and therefore know more than a little bit about how they function. If you have any questions about your air conditioner or how it works, feel free to contact us.
Our goal is to help educate our customers about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information about air conditioning and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Resource guide.