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Pacific Sheet Metal Blog

How Does My Air Conditioner Work?

Posted by Joey Haack on Jul 12, 2017 2:30:00 PM | Updated on 07/16/20 4:59 PM


You may be thinking, why in the world would I care to know how my air conditioner works? That’s for my HVAC tech to take care of! Well, that’s true, but understanding the basics of how your system cools and dehumidifies the air in your home can help you know if, when, and why your system needs to be inspected, repaired, or replaced. 

You could save a lot of money by noticing and addressing issues as they arise rather than letting them go until they harm your air conditioner. A small issue can eventually turn into a large problem. Do you want your AC to shut down on one of the hottest days of the summer? Of course not! We don’t want that, either, so we wrote this article just for you. Don't get caught off guard at the worst possible time. Be prepared with this basic AC info.

This blog post is part of Pacific Sheet Metal's Heating and Cooling Series


Air Conditioner Basics

As we all know, your air conditioner works to cool the air inside your home. It pushes heat and humidity outside and replaces it with cool, dry air. Below are the four basic components required to get the job done right. If any of these pieces aren’t working properly, your air conditioner won’t function as efficiently as it should and might even break down.


From a Liquid to a Gas

The cooling process commences as a liquid substance, called coolant or refrigerant, is converted into a gas. While the refrigerant evaporates, it absorbs heat from your home, leaving cool, dry air that can be distributed throughout your house. When the heat is released (outside), the gas turns back into a liquid and can be reused repeatedly while your air conditioner is running. The process of absorbing and releasing heat continues until your home reaches the desired temperature.


Evaporator Coils

The refrigerant lives in the evaporator coils attached to the furnace (in a central air system). Your furnace works in conjunction with the condenser—the outdoor unit many refer to as their air conditioner—and the ductwork throughout your home. When air blows across the evaporator coils, the refrigerant absorbs the heat and moisture as it converts into hot vapor. This hot vapor is then transported to the outdoor unit, where the cooling happens.


The Compressor

The hot vapor needs to release the heat and humidity outdoors and return to liquid form. It gets blown to the compressor, housed inside the condenser, where it is compressed. The temperature of the liquid rises even more and then moves over to the condenser coils.


Condenser Coils

As the hot vapor sweeps over the condenser coils, the heat is finally released. An exhaust fan blows the heat outside, and the refrigerant returns to its initial form—as a low-temperature liquid. This liquid makes its way back inside to begin the cycle all over again.


We hope you found the cooling process interesting! Now that you have a basic understanding of how your air conditioner works, you hopefully also understand why each component needs to be cleaned and inspected regularly so your air conditioner can keep you cool for as many summers as possible.

If you need air conditioner repair or inspection, or if you think it's time to install a new system, call the Aspen heating and cooling experts at Pacific Sheet Metal! We'd love to help you any way we can.


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Topics: heating and cooling