If you are like most homeowners, you probably haven’t given much thought to how your central air conditioning works. The most important thing is that your AC kicks on when the temperatures outside begin to climb in the summer. As long as your air conditioning helps your home beat the summer heat, chances are you haven’t even given the process a second thought. However, when your system breaks down, it is good to know a little about your system to understand what has gone wrong.
By the late 1960s, many new homes in the United States had central air conditioning that was helping to cool rooms and provide relief from the heat. Today, central air conditioning systems are an essential piece of equipment for the majority of homes. The system works by removing heat and humidity from indoor air and circulating drier, cooler air throughout your house. For this process to be successful, your system relies on several essential pieces of equipment working together.
The average air conditioner can be examined by looking at four key components: the evaporator coil, compressor, condenser coil, and expansion valve. Let’s take a closer look at the essential parts of air conditioner.
Inside the air handler in your home is the evaporator coil that plays a starring role in the air conditioning process. Lined with aluminum fins, your evaporator coil is responsible for absorbing the heat from the air in your home. As the cold refrigerant enters the evaporator, the coil draws ambient heat from the air passing through. Capturing this heat transforms the refrigerant from a cold mist to a warm vapor. As the air passing through the coil loses the heat and humidity, the air handler forces the drier, cooler product through your home to lower your indoor temperatures. The heated refrigerant is then sent to your outside unit to expel the heat and humidity.
The compressor is seen as the heart of your central air system. The compressor is located in the outdoor unit alongside the condenser coil. As the name implies, the compressor takes in the warm refrigerant vapor from the evaporator and compresses it into a denser form. This process also causes an increase in temperature and pressure, which makes the refrigerant hotter than before. The compressor then relies on the condenser coil to release the heat from the refrigerant.
The Condenser Coil
Like the evaporator coil, the condenser coil also has a starring role in the HVAC cooling process. On the opposite end, the condenser coil’s job is to release the heat from the refrigerant. The fan in the outdoor unit pulls air in through the condenser coil instead of absorbing the heat, however, the condenser uses the airflow to send the heat out of the unit and into the air. The process changes the refrigerant from a high-pressured gas into a hot liquid. Before the refrigerant can be reused to remove additional heat from your home, it must return to the cold mist state through the expansion valve.
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The Expansion Valve
The expansion valve essentially transforms the hot liquid refrigerant back into vapor form. The liquid refrigerant enters the valve, where a temperature-sensing bulb helps modulate the flow based on temperatures within the line. As the refrigerant passes through the narrow opening, it experiences a reduction in pressure. The drop in pressure causes the refrigerant to rapidly expand into a mist and cool significantly. The cold refrigerant is returned to the evaporator to begin the process again.
With each cooling cycle, your air conditioning system must perform a complex dance between several pieces of equipment to deliver cool, comfortable air to your home. To ensure that all of your equipment functions properly, it is important that you schedule annual maintenance with a qualified HVAC technician.