How Your Air Conditioner Works - Part 4

We’re back with the next installment of Air Conditioning 101. The DIY guide to understanding how your air conditioner works. We hope that with 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. The friendly folks here at GAMA Air want our friends and neighbors in the 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 area to make educated decisions regarding the care and upkeep of their home’s central cooling system. 

So far in Part 1 we covered the basic theory of cooling your home. In Part 2 we brought up the role of the thermostat. Then in Part 3 we mentioned the indoor unit and the outdoor unit. In Part 4 we get into more details about how the AC in a typical residential home works.

The outdoor unit is the heart of your cooling system. Regardless of the brand or how old or new it is, your outdoor unit has three major components. 1) A Compressor, 2) A Fan, and 3) a Coil. Obviously, there are a lot more parts and pieces to make the whole thing run, but to simplify the explanation we’ll focus on those three. Even though the outdoor unit may be the heart of the AC system, it needs the indoor unit to do its share of the work. The two units work together as a single system. The indoor unit has two major components: 1) A Fan, and 2) a Coil. Again, we are simplifying matters for the sake of discussion. The indoor unit has other parts, and they are significant if it is also part of your home’s heating system.

What connects these two units? What makes them work as a team? Put simply: Refrigerant. Between the outdoor and indoor units is copper tubing that allows refrigerant to circulate. Do you remember the key to understanding how an air conditioner works? An air conditioner does not make cold air, but rather it moves heat from the inside of your home to the outside of your home. The refrigerant is the vehicle for moving the heat. The word Freon used to be synonymous with refrigerant, but Freon was a brand name for a type of refrigerant (R-22) that is being phased out of use because of environmental issues. Nearly all residential ACs these days use R-410A refrigerant, which some call Puron.

Refrigerant is a substance that can be a liquid and it can be a gas, depending on its temperature and the pressure it is under. Think of H20, to give an example. When it is a liquid, we call it water. When it is a gas, we call it steam or vapor. Water turns to vapor when it boils, but at what temperature? Typically, at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100°C). However, what if you are using a pressure cooker? Water will continue being a liquid up to about 250°F (121°C) because of the higher pressure. The same thing happens with refrigerant, if you raise the pressure enough it will be liquid.

Here’s another example: When you take a cold drink out of the refrigerator what happens on the outside of the container? Water starts to form droplets which build up, and eventually run down onto your coaster (hopefully you have a coaster because if not, you can get some nasty stains or damage to your furniture!) In this case the cold surface of your drink is making the vapor in the air turn back into liquid water. The same thing happens with refrigerant; if you can drop the temperature it will turn into a liquid.

In our next lesson we will see how that relates to the cooling that happens when your central air system is operating.

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.

Related Posts
  • Why is My Smoke Detector Always Going Off? Read More
  • Eliminate Energy Waste in Your Home - Part 7 Read More
  • Eliminate Energy Waste in Your Home - Part 6 Read More