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How Does an Air Conditioner Work?

picture of air conditioner

Air conditioners and refrigerators work the same way. Instead of cooling just the small, insulated space inside of a refrigerator, an air conditioner cools a room, a whole house, or an entire business.

Air conditioners use chemicals that easily convert from a gas to a liquid and back again. This chemical is used to transfer heat from the air inside of a home to the outside air.

The machine has three main parts. They are a compressor, a condenser and an evaporator. The compressor and condenser are usually located on the outside air portion of the air conditioner. The evaporator is located on the inside the house, sometimes as part of a furnace. That's the part that heats your house.

The working fluid arrives at the compressor as a cool, low-pressure gas. The compressor squeezes the fluid. This packs the molecule of the fluid closer together. The closer the molecules are together, the higher its energy and its temperature.

The working fluid leaves the compressor as a hot, high pressure gas and flows into the condenser. If you looked at the air conditioner part outside a house, look for the part that has metal fins all around. The fins act just like a radiator in a car and helps the heat go away, or dissipate, more quickly.

When the working fluid leaves the condenser, its temperature is much cooler and it has changed from a gas to a liquid under high pressure. The liquid goes into the evaporator through a very tiny, narrow hole. On the other side, the liquid's pressure drops. When it does it begins to evaporate into a gas.

As the liquid changes to gas and evaporates, it extracts heat from the air around it. The heat in the air is needed to separate the molecules of the fluid from a liquid to a gas.

The evaporator also has metal fins to help in exchange the thermal energy with the surrounding air.

By the time the working fluid leaves the evaporator, it is a cool, low pressure gas. It then returns to the compressor to begin its trip all over again.

Connected to the evaporator is a fan that circulates the air inside the house to blow across the evaporator fins. Hot air is lighter than cold air, so the hot air in the room rises to the top of a room.

There is a vent there where air is sucked into the air conditioner and goes down ducts. The hot air is used to cool the gas in the evaporator. As the heat is removed from the air, the air is cooled. It is then blown into the house through other ducts usually at the floor level.

This continues over and over and over until the room reaches the temperature you want the room cooled to. The thermostat senses that the temperature has reached the right setting and turns off the air conditioner. As the room warms up, the thermostat turns the air conditioner back on until the room reaches the temperature.

trane air conditioner

Heat Pump

Imagine that you took an air conditioner and flipped it around so that the hot coils were on the inside and the cold coils were on the outside. Then you would have a heater. It turns out that this heater works extremely well. Rather than burning a fuel, what it is doing is "moving heat."

A heat pump is an air conditioner that contains a valve that lets it switch between "air conditioner" and "heater." When the valve is switched one way, the heat pump acts like an air conditioner, and when it is switched the other way it reverses the flow of the liquid inside the heat pump and acts like a heater.

Heat pumps can be extremely efficient in their use of energy. But one problem with most heat pumps is that the coils in the outside air collect ice. The heat pump has to melt this ice periodically, so it switches itself back to air conditioner mode to heat up the coils. To avoid pumping cold air into the house in air conditioner mode, the heat pump also lights up burners or electric strip heaters to heat the cold air that the air conditioner is pumping out. Once the ice is melted, the heat pump switches back to heating mode and turns off the burners.



Guide to Warm Air Furnace Heating Systems

A furnace is a device designed to heat a home or other building. A gas furnace is one that burns gaseous fuel such as natural gas or propane. If your home has a gas furnace, you may be curious about how it actually works. Understanding its parts and how they work together can help you ensure that your unit is operating efficiently, and may even help you perform small repairs yourself rather than spending big bucks on calling in the pros.

The Heating Cycle Begins

The process starts with the thermostat that is inside your home. The thermostat senses the temperature inside the room. When the thermostat senses that the temperature dips below the point at which you have it set, it kicks the system into gear. On more modern units, this means that an inducer fan then pulls air through the unit until adequate combustion airflow is established. After an appropriate level of airflow has been reached, the gas valve opens and allows gas to pass through. The gas then flows through the burners and is lit up by either a spark or the heat from an ignitor. If the unit in your home is an older one, the unit is likely to have a small flame that burns continuously, otherwise known as a standing pilot, to light the gas.

Your Home Gets Heat

After the furnace senses that the thermostat has triggered the flame and that it is properly lit, the actual spark (or ignitor) is turned off. If your unit is older and contains a standing pilot, it will not be turned off. At this point, the gas will typically burn for at least two minutes before the blower starts to disperse heat throughout your home. The reason for this is to give the air an adequate period of time to warm up and so that cold air won't be pushed through the vents into the rooms in your house at the start. After either the preset time (roughly two minutes) or pre-established temperature is reached, the blower's motor is turned on and it blows air over the heat exchanger. At the heat exchanger, the air is heated and then blown through the duct system into the various rooms via vents in the floor, walls or ceiling.

The Heat Goes Off

You may have noticed that just as the heat in your home turns on when a certain temperature is reached, it also turns off after the rooms are warm enough. This is also because of the way the thermostat works with your gas furnace. Basically, the thermostat again senses the temperature in the room. When the room warms up to the temperature set by you at the thermostat, the gas valve is switched off, stopping the flow of gas. After the gas is turned off, the blower motor will still run for a few minutes. The reason for this is to allow the heat exchanger to cool off a bit. How long the blower motor runs after the gas supply is shut off depends on either a timer or a temperature switch.

Basic Maintenance

Whether you have a gas furnace or an oil furnace, some routine maintenance will be necessary in order keep everything running smoothly and to extend the life of your unit. Now that you understand the basics of how a gas furnace works, you can probably handle routine maintenance yourself, with a little more research and some online tutorials. If you feel more comfortable trusting the experts, you can invest in a maintenance contract, and for as little as $100 a year, a dealer will take care of it for you.





Gas Furnace



Furnaces and Air Conditioners – How do they work together?

Your heating and cooling systems have many components that work together to provide optimal home comfort. Air conditioning systems work hand in hand with your heating system so upgrades to your cooling system will be affected by the efficiency of your heating system.

  1. Furnace heats the air in the winter and the blower circulates air through the home
  2. AC evaporator coil removes heat and humidity in summer
  3. Condensate line carries excess moisture to floor drain
  4. Compressor circulates refrigerant through evaporator coil and expels heat outdoors
  5. Cool or warm air supplied to the home
  6. Thermostat sets temperature for your comfort
  7. Air returns to furnace for conditioning
  8. Humidity is added in water
  9. House air is cleaned before being recirculated



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