How Does an Air Conditioner Work?

The summer season is here with record temps across the country, and with many houses having some type of air conditioner, it’s the ideal way to get out of the heat. As you are relaxing in your comfortably cool home or office, appreciating that your air conditioner functions, let’s gain some insight at how a typical AC system works.

The Basics

Your air conditioner works the just like your refrigerator, but understandably instead of keeping a single space cool, it has to effectively provide cooler air to your whole home. Both use a refrigerant that changes easily from liquid to gas, back to liquid again. In your air conditioner, the refrigerant is on a consistent circle from the outside to the inside of your home. It goes into the home as a sub-cooled liquid that evaporates and collects or takes in heat from your indoor air, expands back into vapor, then back to the outside condensing unit where it dissipates the heat and is switched back to a sub-cooled liquid.

The Components

Your AC system is made of four main parts: an evaporator coil, a compressor, a condensing coil, and an expansion valve or metering device.

The part where your refrigerant evaporates from a sub-cooled liquid to a super-heated vapor is called the evaporator coil, which may be indoors, in your attic, or in your garage. As warm indoor air is carried throughout the cold evaporator coil, heat is removed from the air…and the cooled air is pushed within your home.

From the evaporator coil, the now super-heated vapor refrigerant returns to the compressor based in your outdoor condensing unit. The compressor raises the pressure of the vapor until it changes into a hot, high pressure vapor. The now super-hot vapor enters the condenser coil where a smaller amount hot air blows by the coil, moving heat to the outdoors, and switches the refrigerant to a sub-cooled liquid. The sub-cooled liquid refrigerant is sent to the indoor evaporator coil where, through an expansion valve or metering device, the process is redone.

Your AC system is a constant loop of processes. We know the important thing to you likely isn’t what happens behind the scenes, but that it’s functioning successfully. If you’d like to talk science or just about keeping cool, give our experts a call at 540-369-3971. We will team up with you and the laws of physics to keep you comfortable this season.

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