How does an air conditioner work?

An air conditioner can lower the temperature in your home, decrease humidity, and help improve indoor air quality. The power behind your AC system that can create a comfortable environment has several moving parts. To understand how the unit cools a space, let’s dive into how air conditioners work.

How AC works

American Standard Heating and Air Conditioning® air conditioners come in a variety of sizes and efficiency levels. While there are notable differences among the many units available, they all perform the essential function of cooling a space in nearly the same way.

The core function of an air conditioner is to remove the heat and humidity from the air in your home. The unit dispenses the heat energy outside and returns cool air into the home. In order to do this, the unit uses refrigerant, a specific chemical that changes from liquid to gas and back to liquid in order to complete the cooling process. An air conditioner has three main components responsible for converting the refrigerant to the necessary form: a compressor, condenser coil, and an evaporator coil.

AC compressor

The compressor is the workhorse of an air conditioner. Without it, cool air isn’t possible. The AC compressor is located in the outdoor unit and controls nearly all other mechanical elements of the system. It compresses the refrigerant, increasing the temperature of the gas and building high pressure. That pressure pushes the refrigerant through a line leading to the condenser coil.

Condenser coil

The condenser coil is typically made of copper and is also located in the outdoor unit. This is where the gaseous refrigerant releases the heat energy it’s holding and condenses into a liquid. Once in its liquid form, the refrigerant moves back indoors and makes its way to the evaporator coil.

Evaporator coil

The evaporator coil of an air conditioner is responsible for cooling the refrigerant. It’s located in the air handler or blower compartment of the AC unit. The fan blows air over the evaporator coil, cooling the refrigerant and converting it back to a gas. The gas is then ready to absorb the heat from your home and begin the process over again until your desired temperature is achieved.

The refrigerant will continue the path between the indoor and outdoor units for as long as the air conditioner is running. Maintaining the proper amount of refrigerant in your system is necessary for how AC works to cool your space.

How does central air conditioning work?

Let’s add the other elements of the cooling system into the picture to fully explain how an air conditioner works. A system’s thermostat is typically located near the center of the home and monitors the temperature of the indoor air. When your thermostat detects that the air temperature needs to be lowered, it communicates with the entire AC system, signaling it’s time to start running.

The indoor unit’s fan pulls the hot air from your home. Dust, pet dander, mold spores and more are collected by the filter. That warm, filtered air is pushed across the cool evaporator coil. Liquid refrigerant inside the evaporator coil is converted into gas and absorbs the heat energy from the warm indoor air.

The newly chilled air is pushed through the home’s ductwork into the different rooms to cool the space. Simultaneously, the gaseous refrigerant travels to the outdoor unit into the compressor where it is pressurized and sent to the condenser coil. Outdoor air is pulled through the condenser coil by a large fan. It absorbs the heat from the indoor air and is released back outside. This process condenses the gaseous refrigerant back to a liquid that travels into the evaporator coil, starting the process over again.

Types of air conditioning systems

Understanding how an air conditioner works will help you choose the right type of AC for your home. There are three primary options when considering a residential air conditioning system: a ductless air conditioner, packaged air conditioner, and a split-system air conditioner. Working with an American Standard Customer Care dealer can provide different options to improve your home’s comfort.

Split-system air conditioner

Split-system AC units from American Standard Heating and Air Conditioning® offer the most options when it comes to energy use, noise level, and indoor air quality. These systems include an outdoor unit and indoor unit to operate. Homeowners can choose from single-stage systems, two-stage systems, or the most energy-efficient, multi-stage systems. The two- and multi-stage systems are best at creating a consistent temperature in the home with the least amount of energy. Plus, filters inside the split-systems support improved indoor air quality.

Ductless AC

A ductless air conditioner cools similarly to a central air system but is targeted to one room. Ductwork isn’t needed to deliver cool air with this type of AC. An outdoor unit is installed and connected to one or more indoor units via copper tubing. The indoor unit can lower the temperature in a single room and is typically installed in the ceiling, floor, or on the wall. Refrigerant is used, just as it is in other styles of air conditioning, to remove warm air from a space and deliver cooler air to maintain a comfortable temperature. Explore American Standard Heating and Air Conditioning® ductless units.

Packaged air conditioner

American Standard Heating and Air Conditioning® packaged systems are ideal for homes that do not have adequate floor space for a split-system unit. As the name implies, the packaged AC hosts the evaporator coil, compressor, and condensing coil in a single unit. One outdoor unit is installed and cools the home through the ductwork system, the same way a split-system works. Based on their energy-efficiency needs, homeowners can choose from two-stage or single-stage systems when selecting a packaged air conditioner.

Best air conditioner installation

Contact an American Standard Customer Care dealer to determine which type of air conditioner may meet your needs for comfort while staying within your budget.