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How does an air conditioner work?


Believe it or not, your air conditioner doesn’t actually produce cold air. In this video we’ll take a look at how an air conditioner works.

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Fire & Ice Heating and Air Conditioning proudly serves Columbus, Ohio and the surrounding areas. Our service area includes Bexley, Blacklick, Canal Winchester, Columbus, Delaware, Dublin, Gahanna, Galena, Galloway, Grandview, Grove City, Hilliard, Lewis Center, New Albany, Obetz, Pataskala, Pickerington, Powell, Reynoldsburg, Sunbury, Upper Arlington, Westerville, Whitehall, and Worthington.

More information: How Does an Air Conditioner Work? A Guide to the Home Cooling Cycle

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Video Transcription

Believe it or not, your air conditioner doesn’t actually produce cold air. In this video we’ll take a look at how an air conditioner works.

Hi, my name’s Luke from Fire & Ice. For well over a century air conditioners have helped us keep cool across the world. But have you ever wondered how it works? In this video we’ll break it all down and look at what an air conditioning system is, and factors that can affect your a/c’s performance.

What is an air conditioner system?

When it comes to the air conditioner in your home a basic air conditioning system is made up of a number of parts and pieces of equipment. The workhorse of the system is the outdoor unit, also known as the condenser which consists of a compressor, fan, and condenser coil.  Inside, typically above your furnace or in the air handler, is another piece of equipment called the evaporator coil. These two pieces of equipment are connected by a line set with refrigerant inside. And in order to move the air around a blower will be needed which is housed inside a furnace or air handler. Last but not least is the thermostat which acts as the brain of the whole system.

How does an air conditioner work?

Now that we’ve gone over the parts, let’s look at how they all work together to cool your home.

In a nutshell, an air conditioner works thanks to thermodynamics and some physical changes that occur to the refrigerant as it runs through the system. The refrigerant alternates from a liquid to a gas and back again as it travels from the inside of your home to the outside. This allows for heat to be absorbed from the home and dissipated outside. Let’s take a few minutes to see how this works.

The whole cooling process starts at your thermostat. When the indoor temperature goes above the thermostat’s set point a call for cooling is sent to both the air conditioner and your furnace’s blower motor.

Outside, the compressor takes the refrigerant via the suction line and compresses the refrigerant down. At this point the refrigerant is in a cold gaseous state and as it’s compressed down the pressure increases causing the refrigerant to become very hot. The compressor also pumps the refrigerant through the condensing coil. As the heated refrigerant runs through the condenser the heat is dissipated by the fan inside the condenser and absorbed by the ambient outdoor temperature. As the refrigerant cools it goes from a hot gas to a liquid and travels through the liquid line to the evaporator coil inside your home.

Inside, the blower in your furnace or air handler has been collecting the hot unconditioned air throughout the house via the return air ducts. The air is then pushed over the evaporator coil located above the furnace. As the refrigerant travels through the liquid line from the condenser through the evaporator coil the temperature is much cooler than the air blowing over it. During this phase the refrigerant absorbs the excess heat in the air while the conditioned, cooler, air continues to blow throughout the rest of the house. By the time the refrigerant exits the evaporator coil the liquid has evaporated back into a gas where it continues its cycle. The whole system runs until the thermostat senses the desired temperature and sends a signal to turn off the cycle.

What factors affect your air conditioner’s performance?

Air conditioners can vary in size and power, often referred to as the unit’s tonnage. They can also be single-stage or multi-stage, which means they’re able to operate at less than 100% power. These units are more efficient than traditional single-stage models.

The next factor is their efficiency. Air conditioner efficiency is rated by a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio or SEER rating and is a score of the amount of energy used during an average cooling season. Most air conditioners on the market are rated between 14 and 22 SEER with higher numbers equating to better efficiency and more cost savings.

What are the next steps?

Let’s talk about what to do next. If you’d like to find out more information on air conditioners, find a model that’s best for you, or research other cooling solutions, visit our learning center at the top of the screen. If you’d like to schedule a time to discuss cooling options for your home, click the estimate button to schedule a time for a free in-home estimate. Thank you for watching and we look forward to making your day better.

Learning Center

Explore our learning center. It's a comprehensive section focused on answering your questions, providing detailed information, and tips that will improve buyer education when it comes to your home's HVAC system.

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