How Does an Air Conditioner Work?

Summer is here with record highs across the country, and with the vast majority of homes having some type of air conditioner, it’s the ideal way to get out of the heat. As you are unwinding in your comfortably cool home or office, thankful that your air conditioner runs well, let’s gain some insight at how an average cooling system functions.

The Basics

Your air conditioner operates the similar to your refrigerator, but obviously instead of keeping a single space cool, it has to effectively provide cooler air to your whole home. Both use a refrigerant that adapts swiftly from liquid to gas, back to liquid again. In your air conditioner, the refrigerant is on a constant circle from the outside to the interior of your house. It goes into the house as a sub-cooled liquid that evaporates and collects or soaks up heat from the air in your home, expands back into vapor, then heads to the outside condensing unit where it dissipates the heat and is transferred back to a sub-cooled liquid.

The Components

Your AC system is made of four key pieces: 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 indoors, in your attic, or located in the garage. As warm indoor air is blown across the cold evaporator coil, heat is removed from the air…and the cooler air is pushed throughout your indoor space.

From the evaporator coil, the now super-heated vapor refrigerant flows to the compressor based in your outdoor condensing unit. The compressor raises the pressure of the vapor until it changes into a hot, high pressure vapor. The now super-hot vapor goes into the condenser coil where a smaller amount hot air blows across the coil, removing heat to the outdoors, and returns 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 repeated.

Your air conditioner is a constant loop of physics at work. We know the important thing to you isn’t really how it works, but that it’s operating the right way. If you’d like to talk science or just about staying cool, give our professionals a call at 410-355-6010. We will partner with you and the laws of physics to keep you happy this summer.

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