Air conditioning systems are one of the staples of modern buildings. Be they residential, commercial or meant for professional or academic activity, nearly every large-scale building built over the past three or four decades is equipped with some form of apparatus meant to freshen or warm up its different rooms or areas, so those dwelling within can be as comfortable as possible temperature-wise.
Yet, for how popular and widespread they have become, there is still much the average citizen does not know about this type of setup. Most non-specialists are likely not aware of how air conditioning systems work, and even laymen with an interest in this area will probably not know much beyond the basics of how this sort of apparatus functions.
With that in mind, we here at Thermotech have decided to share our knowledge with our customers, and put together a brief descriptive guide detailing how air conditioning systems work. As HVAC and air conditioning specialists, we believe in knowing what you are buying into, and thus feel it is important to share what we know, so that our customers can make an informed decision when buying one of our air conditioning units. It is in that spirit that the lines below give a rough overview of how air conditioning systems work, and how all the different parts that make up one of these setups come together to achieve the final result.
The standard air conditioning system functions in a similar way to a refrigerator, but spanning a considerably larger area. While refrigeration chambers are usually self-contained – meaning the refrigeration mechanism only affects the area inside the fridge itself – air conditioning systems are designed to have influence over a much wider space, usually a room or set of rooms. As such, their potency is considerably larger than that of a refrigerator cooling unit, and they tend to be built to a somewhat larger scale.
The fundamental operating principle, however, is similar for the two types of systems, and based around a chemical which is converted from gaseous to liquid form, and back again. In the case of air conditioning units, this process aims to drive out the hot air inside a room or division, forcing it outdoors and thereby cooling down the room temperature inside the building.
The chemical used for this purpose, as well as the form it is stored in, varies depending on the type and complexity of the air conditioning system, but the basic principle remains the same regardless of what type of apparatus is installed in any given building.
Similarly, most air conditioning systems, regardless of type or configuration, are based around three basic components: the compressor, the condenser and the evaporator. The former two are usually located in the outside portion of the air conditioning unit, while the evaporator is typically located indoors, and directly responsible for the hot or cold air felt inside the building’s rooms or divisions.
Needless to say, each of these parts plays a very specific role in the overall heating or cooling process. The compressor is responsible for squeezing the chemical fluid, bringing its pressure from low to high and thereby increasing its temperature. The fluid then moves into the condenser, which is equipped with fans that help it spread outwards and dissipate quicker.
While in the condenser, the fluid also changes from liquid to gaseous form, as its temperature decreases again, becoming much cooler. It then passes through a narrow hole into the evaporator, where its pressure drops and it begins to evaporate and dissipate into the air. It is assisted in this process by a fan built into the evaporator, which helps it spread evenly across the area the unit encompasses.
The hot air then rises to the top of the room or building being cooled, where it sucked up by vents, usually located in the higher portion of the room. It then travels down ducts back to the evaporator, where it is used to cool the gas within; this cooler gas then gets blown back into the room or surface through floor-level vents, completing the cooling-down process. Almost immediately thereafter, the gas travels back to the compressor, where the process starts anew.
The lines above gave a brief overview of how air conditioning systems work; however, in doing so, it left out the two-in-one alternative to this type of system, the heat pump.
Heat pumps set themselves apart from traditional air conditioning units through their adjustable function, which allows them to be used for the dual purpose of cooling as well as warming up a room. While air conditioning systems such as the ones described above typically only decrease room temperature, heat pumps can also contribute to increase it, making them more versatile and well-rounded than traditional air conditioners.
In terms of function, these devices do not differ too much from the process detailed above. The different modes are selected by way of a switch, and depending on the way it is flicked, the heat pump will either act exactly like a traditional air conditioning unit (as detailed above) or reverse the flow of the liquid, acting the exact opposite way, as a traditional heater. This way of operating allows these devices to be both versatile and energy efficient, while also allowing home owners and commercial managers to save up, by basically acquiring two products for the price of one. They can, therefore, be a good alternative to air conditioning units for building located in colder areas and which will also need heating up in winter.
As has hopefully become evident, then, there is no great amount of complexity to how air conditioning systems work. On the contrary, the process is relatively simple, and hopefully the paragraphs above have done an adequate job of outlining it in terms anyone can understand. As noted above, we here at Thermotech want our customers to be informed and know what they are buying when purchasing one of our air conditioning systems, and understanding how these units work is definitely a good starting point!