How Does an Air Conditioner Work?

The popular season is in full swing with record temps across the country, and with many houses having some type of air conditioner, it’s the ideal way to escape the sun. As you are sitting in your comfortably cool home or office, appreciating that your air conditioner runs well, let’s look at how an average cooling system functions.

The Basics

Your air conditioner operates the similar to your refrigerator, but clearly rather than keeping a small space cool, it has to cool your entire home. Both use a refrigerant that adapts easily from liquid to gas, back to liquid again. In your air conditioner, the refrigerant is on a consistent circle from the outdoors to indoors. It goes into the home as a sub-cooled liquid that evaporates and assembles or soaks up heat from your indoor air, expands back into vapor, then heads to the outside condensing unit where it dissipates the heat and is changed back to a sub-cooled liquid.

The Components

Your AC system is created out of four main parts: an evaporator coil, a compressor, a condensing coil, and an expansion valve or metering device.

The part where your refrigerant evaporates from a sub-cooled liquid to a super-heated vapor is called the evaporator coil, which may be inside, in your attic, or situated in the garage. As warm indoor air is moved throughout the cold evaporator coil, heat is detached from the air…and the colder air is pushed throughout your home.

From the evaporator coil, the now super-heated vapor refrigerant flows to the compressor stationed in your exterior condensing unit. The compressor increases the pressure of the vapor until it shifts into a hot, high pressure vapor. The now super-hot vapor enters the condenser coil where a lower amount hot air blows past the coil, moving heat to the outdoors, and changes the refrigerant to a sub-cooled liquid. The sub-cooled liquid refrigerant is sent to the indoor evaporator coil where, through an expansion valve or metering device, the process is replicated.

Your AC system is a constant loop of processes. We realize the important thing to you isn’t really how it works, but that it’s operating successfully. If you’d like to talk science or just about staying cool, give our experts a call at 256-574-1300. We will partner with you and the laws of physics to confirm you comfortable this season.

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