Air Conditioning 101

Air Conditioning 101: What Your Family Should Know

Now that spring and summer weather is upon us, you and your family are probably considering starting switching to AC – if you haven’t already.

The air conditioner is a wonderful invention that combines several scientific principles and mechanical techniques to successfully reduce temperature in a building. Understanding how your air conditioning unit works will help you save energy this season.

How Do Air Conditioners Work?

You can think of air conditioners as working much like a refrigerator – but on a larger scale – to cool an entire room or house, rather than just the small area inside the fridge. Both appliances rely on one special physical law. That is, when a liquid converts to a gas, it absorbs heat. By taking advantage of this law, air conditioners can successfully cool your home (1).

There are three main components to an air conditioner: a compressor, a condenser and an evaporator. The compressor and the condenser are usually located outside, in the part of the unit that is positioned outside the home. The evaporator is located inside the home – sometimes together with the furnace (1).

The air conditioner transfers heat from the air inside your home to the air outside. This is accomplished by using chemicals called refrigerants that easily convert from gas to liquid and back again. We outline the process for you below:

The Flow Of Air Through An AC Unit

The chemicals arrive at the compressor as cool, low-pressure gasses. The compressor is a pump that squeezes the refrigerant, packing its molecules closer together, which increases its energy and temperature.

As it leaves the compressor, the refrigerant is now a hot, high pressure gas. From here, it flows into the condenser. The condenser is comprised of metal fin-like coils, which help the heat to dissipate quickly into the outside air.

As the chemical leaves the condenser, the temperature has cooled dramatically, and it has changed state from a gas to a liquid under high pressure. This liquid heads into the evaporator through a narrow opening.

Inside the evaporator is a fan, which serves to circulate the air inside the house. Since hot air rises, vents are situated in the tops of each room in the house. These vents suck air in and send it to the evaporator. This warm air from the house is blown across the metal evaporator fins containing the refrigerant chemicals. The refrigerant absorbs heat form the air as it changes from a liquid to gaseous state, thus cooling the air. As the liquid evaporates into gas, it effectively extracts heat from the air around it.

This low pressure gas is now pushed back into the compressor, taking the thermal energy and heat from inside the house with it, to be sent into the outside world (1,2).

How Does The Cool Air Make It To All The Rooms In My House?

The newly cooled air in the evaporator is blown through the house via ductwork. The air conditioner continues this cyclic process until the thermostat detects the room has reached the temperature you’ve chosen. The thermostat signals the air conditioner to stop. If the room warms up again above the goal temperature, the thermostat turns the air conditioner back on, and the cycle begins again (1,2).

How To Save Money And Energy While Staying Cool

Today, at least two thirds of all homes in the United States have air conditioners. It costs homeowners a combined $29 billion to power all those air conditioners. So using your unit most efficiently is a smart way to save some energy and lower your energy bill (3).

The easiest way to save energy on home cooling is to regularly clean and replace your air conditioning unit’s filters. This is a low-cost maintenance option that makes good sense (3).

If you haven’t already, replacing your equipment with a high-efficiency air conditioning unit can reduce the amount of energy use between 20 and 50% (3).

Opening your windows on a windy day to create a cross-wise breeze will bring in refreshing spring air to your home. This natural form of ventilation creates a “chimney effect” to cool the air in your home. Turn off your air conditioner and take advantage of this tip on windy days or cooler evenings (3).

Incorporating fans into your home cooling protocol helps to circulate air in the room. This creates a wind chill effect that makes occupants more comfortable. This is a great energy saver if you want to stay cool while all the people in your home are spending time in the same room.

Annual Maintenance: Another Cost-Saver

Annual maintenance will also help improve the efficiency of your air conditioner AND prolong the life of your unit, saving you money in the long run. Be sure to call the professionals at Greater Comfort at 859-491-4915 if you are due for this annual checkup on your system.