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How Does Central Air Conditioning Work? A New Jersey Tech Explains

Aug. 19, 2016
The way central air conditioning works can be explained with these 3 steps:
  1. First, heat is removed from your home’s air, making it cold.
  2. Then, the cold air is distributed back into your home.
  3. Finally, the heat that was removed from the air is “dumped” outside.
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of those steps.

Step 1: Heat is removed from the air

Many homeowners think that their air conditioner creates cold air. But that’s not technically true.

Your air conditioner doesn’t create cold air, instead it removes heat from the your home’s air.

So how is heat removed? 

Well, as warm air from your home is pulled into your AC’s indoor unit, it passes over the cold evaporator coils. These coils are filled with refrigerant, a heat transfer fluid that absorbs heat from the air.

The copper coils running throughout the evaporator absorb and collect heat from air as it passes over.
Photo source: Maytaghvac.com

Once the air is cooled, it’s pushed back into your home, which bring us to our next step…

Step 2: Cold air is distributed to your home

Once the air is cooled, it’s ready to be pushed right back into your home via your “air duct system.”

Your air duct system is a series of hollow tubes that carry cold air to different areas throughout the house. 

Example of air ducts designed to carry air to different parts of a home.
Photo source: ductworkinstallation.com

Here’s an overview of the first 2 steps:

So, air ducts help deliver cold air to cool off your home. But what happens to all the heat that was stripped from your air?

Well, that leads us to the last step in the air conditioning process…

Step 3: The heat removed from the air is “dumped” outside

Remember how refrigerant-filled copper coils absorbed the heat from the air in step 1?

Well that heat has to go somewhere; it doesn’t just magically disappear.

So where does it go? It’s pushed outside.

You see, after the refrigerant absorbs heat, it travels to your AC system’s outside unit.

Your air conditioner’s “outdoor” unit.

Once there, the compressor and the condenser work together to push the heat into the outdoor air. The compressor first turns the refrigerant into a high-pressure, high-temperature gas and then the condenser is responsible for making sure that heat dissipates into the outdoor air.

Once the heat is “dumped” outdoors, the refrigerant travels back inside into your indoor unit to repeat the process all over again.

Have more AC questions? Ask a Belmar, NJ HVAC tech

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