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How Does Air Conditioning Work? A Short Explanation

How Does Air Conditioning Work? A Short Explanation

People often ask us questions about their air conditioner, like what is Freon gas and how does air conditioning work?  I usually respond with a story like recently my i-phone broke and I was forced to get a new one at the Apple store, but the photos and apps that I had would not load onto my new phone because they were taken using an outdated version – it occurred to me that there are a lot of things that I use on a daily basis and have absolutely no idea how they work.  This bothered me.  Unfortunately, the intricacies of the I-Phone are way over my head – but I do know how air conditioning works, so I figured I could at least contribute something.

How does air conditioning work?  The short answer on how your AC works.

how does air conditioning work - how does my air conditioner work

So how do central air conditioning units work?  Central HVAC units (What does HVAC mean?), and really any modern AC unit work by employing similar operating principles and components as your refrigerator. Refrigerators use energy to transfer heat from their interior to the outside and into your home, keeping their contents cool.

Likewise, an air conditioner removes heat from your home and transfers it outside. How does your air conditioner do this?  It does this through the use of two coils: the evaporator coil and the condenser coil. Evaporator coils are located inside your home and use rapidly evaporating Freon to absorb heat from the surrounding air. This newly chilled air is then circulated through your house, thus cooling it.

The now relatively hot Freon then travels outside your house to the condenser coil, where the compressor condenses the Freon, releasing it’s stored heat to the outside of your house, beginning the cycle again.  It is this property of refrigerants that allows your air conditioner to work.

More on Freon can be found in: What is Freon made of?

The long answer on how does air conditioning work?

If you have any desire to “nerd out,” then this paragraph is for you – otherwise, skip to the next paragraph.  Until the 90’s, nearly all air conditioners worked by using chlorofluorocarbons (aka CFCs) as their primary refrigerant, but because it was later realized that these chemicals could cause damage to the Earth’s ozone layer, production of CFC’s stopped in the United States in 1995. Today, almost all air conditioning systems employ halogenated chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) as a refrigerant, but these too are being gradually phased out due to efficiency and environmental concerns, with all production and importing expected to stop by no later than 2030.

Importation and production of today’s main refrigerant for home air conditioners (known as Refrigerant HCFC-22, or “R-22”) began to be phased out in 2010 and is expected to stop entirely by 2020. An alternative known as R-410A (Puron) is widely considered to be more safe for the ozone layer and is becoming more and more common in the industry. However, the US Department of Energy expects R-22 to be available for many years to come as it is necessary to service older units.  What does this have to do with answering the question, how does air conditioning work?  Well think of it kind of like the world changing from steam power to gasoline – it’s a different chemical with different reactions, but exists to serve the same purpose.  The change won’t happen overnight just as steam didn’t become obsolete overnight.

For more information on new air conditioning technology that works without refrigerants, check out: DEVAP – The New Idea on How Air Conditioning Works.

As these older refrigerants are phased out, more ozone-safe alternatives such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are expected to dominate future markets, as well as alternative refrigerants like ammonia and newer technologies like DEVAP.

We here at ASM proudly protect our planet to the maximum extent possible, and are qualified to handle, install and service all refrigerants currently used in the HVAC industry. Give us a call; we pride ourselves on our professionalism and customer service.

If you have further questions about or related to “how does air conditioning work,” here are some important HVAC facts.

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