How Air Conditioners Work
It’s almost that time of year again where Indianapolis homeowners switch on the air conditioning! Spring is soon coming to a close and air conditioners across the city will work hard to provide respite from the hot and humid summer weather.
Do you know how air conditioners work? We rely on them to create comfortable indoor temperatures throughout the summer, but many aren’t aware of how they perform this important job. The cooling and HVAC pros of Williams Comfort Air share how air conditioners work so you better understand your home’s cooling system.
How Air Conditioners Work
Approximately 75 percent of all US homes are equipped with air conditioners. Many air conditioning system users believe that this equipment creates cool air, much like a furnace warms air – this isn’t so. How air conditioners work is much like your home’s refrigerator. It transfers heat from your home to the outdoors, which creates a cooler temperature inside rather than add coolness to your indoor air.
Important Components of Air Conditioning Systems
Your air conditioner relies on many different components to do its job. The main components that facilitate the cooling process include:
- Indoor coil: The indoor coil, also known as the evaporator coil, works to pull heat from your indoor air supply.
- Compressor: The compressor is a pump that moves refrigerant through refrigerant lines between the indoor coil and condenser to facilitate heat transfer.
- Condenser: The condenser, or outdoor coil, works to release heat into the outdoor environment.
These critical components are connected by refrigerant lines, which hold refrigerant in liquid and gaseous forms depending on the cooling cycle stage. Today, new air conditioners typically use an environmentally friendly hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant known as R-410A, also called Puron. Older air conditioners utilize hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) such as R-22, commonly known as Freon, which are currently part of a world-wide phase out to prevent ozone layer damage.
The Cooling Process
So, how do air conditioners work to cool a home? The cooling process looks like this:
- The hot air from your living areas circulates into the cooling system where it passes over the indoor coil. Refrigerant inside the indoor coil works to absorb heat from this air. Here the refrigerant transforms from a cool, liquid state into a hot vapor, which produces a cooling effect.
- Refrigerant vapor cycles to the air conditioner’s compressor in the outdoor unit. Refrigerant is compressed to a higher temperature and pressure.
- The refrigerant vapor reaches the condenser (outdoor coil) where heat is released and exits into the outdoor environment through the fins of your outdoor air conditioning unit. Through this process, refrigerant cools down and also converts back to liquid form.
This cooling process continuously repeats until enough heat has been removed from your home to deliver your desired temperature settings. An expansion device within your air conditioner regulates refrigerant flow and allows cooled refrigerant to cycle back through the system to the indoor coil where the cooling process starts again.
Types of Air Conditioning Systems
There are a few different types of air conditioning systems available for use in your Indianapolis home. How air conditioners work to cool living areas is the same no matter the type of system, but there are other differences in setup and functionality.
Central Air Conditioners
The majority of air conditioned homes in the US utilize central air conditioning systems. A central air conditioner circulates air through a network of ducts and registers in your home, located on floors, ceilings, and walls.
Types of central air conditioners include:
- Split system: A split system central air conditioner is named after its setup – the system includes two cabinets that house components. There is an indoor cabinet which holds the indoor coil, which often times also contains the furnace as well. The outdoor cabinet holds the compressor and condenser.
- Packaged system: A packaged central air conditioner is named as such because all components are “packaged” together. A single cabinet holds the condenser, compressor, and indoor coil. Packaged systems are also available with heating system equipment, such as a gas furnace or electric heating elements.
Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioners
As the name suggests, ductless mini-split air conditioners do not use ductwork, as central air conditioners and heat pumps do. These systems are composed of an outdoor heat pump or air conditioner, and indoor air handler units. They are connected through a line set which holds refrigerant lines – one that carries liquid refrigerant to the indoor components from the outdoor components, and a suction line, that moves gaseous refrigerant from the indoor components to the outdoor components.
Ductless mini-split air conditioners deliver cooled air directly into the space where the air handler sits, rather than across the entire home like a ducted system does. Make no mistake though – a ductless system may be used as a whole home cooling solution. Multiple air handler units are supported by a single outdoor unit; the number depends on the system you select. Air handlers installed in selected areas across the home deliver zoned cooling for maximized comfort.
For cooling, heat pumps and air conditioners operate in the same way. The difference is, a heat pump is also able to provide heating during the colder months. To do so, the process is simply reversed. Heat is extracted from the chosen source via the condenser, and the indoor coil releases heat into the air that moves inside your home.
Heat pumps use ductwork to distribute warm and cool air throughout your home. Two types of heat pump systems may be used:
- Air source: An air source heat pump uses the air outdoors to release heat or extract it, depending on whether heating or cooling is needed.
- Geothermal: A geothermal heat pump, also called a ground source heat pump, uses the earth or a nearby water source for heat or as a heat receptacle. These systems utilize a ground loop, which is a network of buried piping that extracts heat below ground for home heating, or expels excess heat into the earth in cooling mode.
How to Maintain Your Air Conditioner
Now that you know how air conditioners work, it’s important to know how you need to care for them, so they are able to effectively and efficiently cool your home. In addition to air conditioning tasks on a homeowner’s to do list, Williams Comfort Air provides the helpful services you need to maintain excellent performance from your cooling system.
- Schedule preventative maintenance. Preventative maintenance tune-ups are necessary each year to ensure proper performance of cooling system components, improve energy efficiency, reduce your risk of malfunctions, and extend system service life. Ideally performed in the spring, Williams’ HVAC maintenance technicians perform a thorough tune-up and cleaning of your system to help it run at its best during cooling season.
- Change furnace filters regularly. The same filter used for your furnace helps your air conditioner operate, too. The filter facilitates appropriate airflow through the system with the added benefit of removing airborne contaminants. Furnace filters need regular changes, as a dirty filter causes airflow restrictions that lead to inefficiency and system malfunctions. Change your furnace filter according to the manufacturer’s recommendation, which may be every month up to every 12 months, depending on your filter type. In the summer when your air conditioner works around the clock, check your filter monthly to assess if it needs an early change.
- Keep components clear. Good airflow through the system is essential for efficient cooling and best system performance. Components both inside and outdoors must be kept clear of obstructions.
- Outdoors- Ensure there is a minimum of two feet of space clear surrounding your unit. Never store items near the air conditioner’s outside components. Remove vegetation and prune bushes and branches to clear the area. Gently clean the air conditioner’s fins to remove grass clippings, mulch, leaves, and other yard debris that have settled on the unit.
- Indoors- Never store items around the indoor components of your cooling system as this restricts airflow. Walk through your home and check all registers and vents – make sure they are open and not obstructed by furniture, rugs, and other items.
- Seal air leaks. Help your home retain the coolness produced by your air conditioner when you seal air leaks that allow your cool air to escape. Use appropriate caulk to seal air leaks around window and door frames, exterior wall penetrations, and cracks both inside and outside of your home. Our HVAC technicians help control air leaks in your duct system, which cause as much as 30 percent energy loss! We inspect your ducts to locate disconnections and damaged ductwork and provide appropriate sealing to make sure your cooling energy reaches your living areas as intended.
Now that you know how air conditioners work, know that Williams Comfort Air provides everything you need to take care of your home comfort! From new air conditioner installation to repairs and maintenance that keep your existing cooling system in top condition, we are here to help. Contact us today for air conditioning help in Indianapolis, IN and the surrounding communities.