Cooling Basics: The Ins and Outs of Air Conditioning

August 30, 2013
Ross and Witmer

You probably know how to work the thermostat to control your A/C unit, but do you really know how air conditioning works? The more you know about air conditioning, the better you’ll appreciate your unit and how it keeps your home comfortable, even during the hottest days of summer in North Carolina.

Air conditioning works by moving heat around. Basically, an air conditioner takes the heat inside of your home and moves it outside. Remember, coldness doesn’t really exist-it’s merely the absence of heat. Heat transfer happens when a warmer element is placed near a less-warm element. The heat in the warmer element will always transfer to the less-warm element. Keep this in mind as we discuss what happens inside an air conditioner.

The refrigeration cycle in an air conditioner keeps your home cool. There are four main parts in the cycle: the evaporator coil, the compressor, the condenser coil and the expansion valve. Running through these parts is a special liquid called refrigerant. As the refrigerant goes through the cycle, it changes in state (from liquid to vapor and back), temperature and pressure.

The blower in your unit brings indoor air into the cycle. The heat in the indoor air is transferred to the refrigerant inside the evaporator coil, which is colder than your indoor air. The refrigerant then brings the heat to the compressor, where it’s compressed into a very hot vapor.

Next, the refrigerant, in the form of a hot vapor, is brought to the condenser coil located in your outdoor unit. Since the refrigerant in the condenser coil is now even hotter than the hot summer outdoor air, the heat transfers to the outdoor air.

Then the refrigerant, cooled down to a warm liquid, drops in pressure when it’s passed through the expansion valve, becoming very cold. And the cycle starts all over again when your indoor air is brought in and meets the now-cold refrigerant in the evaporator coil.

For more information on air conditioning basics or other home comfort issues, contact the experts at Ross & Witmer. We serve the areas of Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Gaston and Union.

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