How does an air conditioner work?

Before you can understand how an air conditioner works, you need to understand the different parts:

Condenser – The condenser is the part of your air conditioning system that sits outside the house. It has the compressor, condenser coils, and a network of refrigerant-filled tubes. The refrigerant is constantly cycling in and out of your home in liquid and gas form in order to cool the indoor temperature. The condenser also has a fan which helps dissipate the heat.

Compressor – Located inside the condenser, the compressor compresses the refrigerant into a liquid so it can be cycled back into the home to cool the air again.

Evaporator – The evaporator is the part of your AC that is inside the house (often in the basement), and it has refrigerant-filled tubes that remove heat and moisture from the air.

Now that you know the components of an air conditioner, we can talk about how an air conditioner works, in detail.

  1. The compressor condenses the refrigerant into a very cold liquid – this is usually approximately 40 degrees colder than the indoor air temperature. The heat that has been removed from the refrigerant is blown away by the condenser fan.
  2. The liquid refrigerant travels through tubing until it reaches the evaporator coils.
  3. The air from your return duct (the air that is drawn in from the rooms of your home) is blown through an air filter and over the refrigerant-filled evaporator coils.
  4. As the air is blown over the evaporator coils, the refrigerant absorbs the heat in the air and changes into a gas. Since the coils are so much colder than the air in your home, any moisture in the air will condense and roll off into a drain (this is how your AC dehumidifies your home).
  5. After the air passes over the evaporator coil it will be approximately 20 degrees colder than before. It will travel through the supply duct and be recirculated back into your home.
  6. Finally, the refrigerant travels back to the condenser where it will be compressed into a liquid and the cycle will start all over again. It usually takes multiple cycles before the air in your home reaches the desired temperature.
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