How Your Air Conditioner Works - Part 5

We are moving right along with Air Conditioning 101. This is a learn from home guide for the DIY person to understand how your air conditioner works. After all, the more you know, the better off you are. And when it comes to your central heating and air equipment, being better off means taking better care of that important and expensive system. That’s why the helpful staff here at GAMA Air are providing these mini-lessons. If you folks 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 can improve the operation of your AC then more power to you!

Here’s a rundown of what we’ve covered so far: Part 1 had basic theory of cooling your home. Part 2 brought up the role of the thermostat. Part 3 mentioned the indoor unit and the outdoor unit. Part 4 dug deeper into how refrigerant ties those two together. Now, in Part 5 of AC 101, we’re going to see how your AC is like a cold drink on a hot day. More on that later. What exactly is going on when your central air system is operating?

Let’s see what the indoor and outdoor units do to cool your home. When the thermostat tells the system to come on the compressor starts circulating the refrigerant between the indoor and outdoor units. The refrigerant at some points in the loop is a liquid and at others it is a gas, or vapor. By the time it gets to the coil of the indoor unit it is a liquid. The coil looks something like a car radiator. The pressure of the refrigerant is suddenly dropped and, simply put, begins to boil off as a vapor inside the coil. Don’t let the word “boil” throw you off, though. It is a very cold vapor and it chills the coil. The fan in the indoor unit pulls air from your house to the coil. As the air passes through the coil, the heat in the warm air from your home essentially is pulled out to boil off the refrigerant, chilling the air which comes out of the coil about 15 degrees cooler then when it entered. The fan of the indoor unit pushes that cooler air out to the various rooms of your home. The heat from the air is now in the refrigerant.

The refrigerant leaves the coil of the indoor unit as a vapor, much warmer than when it entered the coil, and is pumped to the outdoor unit. At the moment it goes through the compressor itself it is a gas, or a vapor. The compressor then greatly increases the pressure of the vapor so the refrigerant will turn back into a liquid easier as it is pumped through the coil of the outdoor unit.

Do you remember the example we used in Part 4 of what happens to the ice-cold drink sitting in warm room? The moisture in the air condenses as drops of liquid on the cold glass or can, right? The same thing now happens inside the coil of the outdoor unit. The fan in the outdoor unit pulls air through the coil, and compared to the temperature of the refrigerant the coil is much colder. This causes the refrigerant vapor to condense as liquid on the inside of the coil. By the time it leaves the outdoor unit and is heading to the indoor unit it is a liquid again. The heat from the air in your home is now in the air outside your home.

So far so good? Well, there’s more. But don’t worry… No homework assignments. Just come back soon for the next installment of AC 101. Stay tuned!

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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