How Your Air Conditioner Works - Part 3

Nowadays, learning from home are more common than ever. Are you ready to learn more? This is Air Conditioning 101. It is a DIY guide to understanding how your air conditioner works. The goal is that the more you know, the better you can care for your system. This will extend its lifespan, and help you keep utility costs to a minimum. We want our friends and neighbors in and around Beverly Hills, Culver City, Mar Vista, Miracle Mile, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Bel Air, Westwood, Downtown Los Angeles, Vernon, Huntington Park, Sherman Oaks, Encino to understand better their home’s central cooling system.

We’ve already gone over in Part 1 the basic theory of cooling your home. Then in Part 2 we brought up the role of the thermostat. Here’s Part 3 from the helpful folks here at GAMA Air.

How exactly does your air conditioner cool your home? For many people this is a mystery, but you will be relieved to know it isn’t that complicated. Let’s start by repeating a basic concept that we mentioned in Part 1. Cold air cannot be created. An air conditioner does not make cold air. For air to be cold the heat has to be removed from it, and put somewhere else. In the case of an air conditioner the heat is moved from the air inside your home to the air outside your home. 

That is why every type of cooling system has the following two basic parts: One part to remove the heat from inside (often called an ‘indoor unit’), and another part to throw that heat to the outside (often called an ‘outdoor unit’). This applies for any type of cooling system, from those installed in skyscrapers all the way down to the tiniest window AC. It is true that the complexity of the systems will vary based on size, but those two parts are always there. For simplicity in this lesson we will simply call these two parts the ‘indoor unit’ and the ‘outdoor unit’.

In most residential installations, the ‘indoor unit’ and the ‘outdoor unit’ are two physically separate pieces of equipment. The ‘indoor unit’ is a Circulating Fan/Coil unit inside your house, in the attic, the crawlspace, the garage, or maybe a closet. This could can be referred to as a Blower, an Air Handler, or a Fan Coil depending the part of the country or the company that manufactured the system. The ‘outdoor unit’ is a Compressor/Condensing unit that is very close to the house on the outside. Most simply call it “The AC”.

Some houses may have what is referred to as a ‘packaged unit’. In that case both the ‘indoor unit’ and the ‘outdoor unit’ are built together and sit outside the house. And of course, there are window ACs which also have both parts built together, with the ‘indoor’ part sitting inside the window, and the ‘outside’ part obviously hanging out the window on the outside.

Geothermal systems are becoming more common. For houses with these systems, the indoor unit is also a Fan Coil or Air Handler. But the ‘outdoor unit’ is quite different. We’ll get back to Geothermal systems in a future lesson of Air Conditioning 101.

So let’s get into more details about how the AC in a typical residential home works. That will be in the next lesson. Come back for more!

Need help with a question you have? Visit our Ask an Expert page and get a quick answer from the resident expert here at GAMA Air.

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