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How Does an Air Conditioner Actually Work?

When the dog days of summer hit, we all rely on our air conditioner to keep our homes cool and comfortable. But have you ever thought about how your air conditioner works?

It’s about more than curiosity. Knowing the ins and outs of your AC unit’s functioning can help you identify problems and keep it running its best for years to come.

The History of the Air Conditioner

The AC was a marvel of an invention. Prior to air conditioning, homeowners had to keep their homes cool in the sweltering heat with open windows, fans, and other methods. Then, the AC was invented in 1902 by Willis Carrier.

Carrier was a mechanical engineer who developed the first functional air conditioning system while trying to reduce the humidity in a printing plant. After that, the invention revolutionized comfort for people in their homes and workplaces, making it possible for them to live in areas with extreme heat.

At the start, air conditioners were limited to commercial spaces like movie theaters, but as the technology became more advanced, ACs became smaller and cheaper. Homeowners everywhere were able to bring this technology into their homes.

ACs have come a long way over the last century, with virtually limitless styles and models to choose from. Homeowners can cool their homes with central air conditioning systems, ductless mini-split systems, cassette air conditioners, window air conditioners, split air conditioners, and commercial air conditioners.

The Types of Air Conditioner Units


Central Air Conditioners

Central air conditioners are the most common types of ACs used in homes. These systems distribute cooled air using ductwork that runs through a home or building to cool large spaces.

Cassette Air Conditioners

Cassette air conditioners are mounted on the ceiling and distribute cooled air in four distinct directions. These systems are often used in commercial spaces or areas with minimal wall space, such as a recreational vehicle.

Air Conditioner Cassette Type Installed On Wooden Ceilings

Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioners

Ductless mini-split air conditioners are split between indoor and outdoor components. These systems can be installed in individual rooms and are ideal for homes that can’t support full ductwork or require zoned temperature control.

Commercial Air Conditioners

Commercial air conditioners are intended for large commercial spaces. They have the strength and capacity to cool large buildings with maximum efficiency, such as department stores or large office buildings.

Window AC Units

Window AC units are self-contained AC units that fit into the space of an open window. They’re usually used to cool individual rooms, such as bedrooms, and are affordable and easy to install without the need for a full AC system.

Wall Ac

Split Air Conditioners

Split air conditioners are used to cool individual spaces in a home or business. They’re ideal for their simple installation and energy efficiency.

Split Air Conditioner

What Do the Parts of Your AC Unit Do?

An air conditioner has several important components that work together to cool a space, such as the evaporator coil, condenser coil, compressor, and expansion valve.

The evaporator coil absorbs the heat from the air inside your home, then the compressor moves refrigerant through the system. Once it hits the condenser coil, the heat is released outside. The expansion valve regulates the temperature of the air that’s pumped from the system.

With so many moving parts, it’s essential that everything performs optimally to avoid repairs and breakdowns. A failure with any component can result in a loss of efficiency, or worse, a complete system failure.

What Are the Steps of the Air Conditioning Cooling Cycle?

Here are the steps involved in the air conditioner cooling cycle:

  1. The compressor raises the temperature of the refrigerant gas.
  2. The hot air flows to the condenser coil, where it is cooled and condensed into a liquid and released outside.
  3. The liquid refrigerant transfers to the expansion valve, reducing the temperature and pressure.
  4. The cool refrigerant transfers to the evaporator coil and absorbs heat from the indoor air, where it becomes a gas.
  5. The gas refrigerant returns to the compressor, starting the cycle anew.
  6. Heat is removed from the indoor air and released outside.

How to Keep Your AC Running Efficiently

Once the warmer days of spring and summer hit, you want your AC to be running its best to keep your home cool. It’s important that you don’t allow your AC to run at capacity around the clock!

Here’s how you can keep your AC running efficiently throughout the whole summer:

  • Set a safe temperature: Avoid putting your AC on with an extremely low temperature, which strains the system and wastes energy. Ideally, the temperature should be between 75-78°F.
  • Use a programmable thermostat: This smart feature can adjust the temperature automatically, such as when you’re not home, to reduce energy consumption.
  • Clean the filters: Dirty air filters stress your AC unit and cause it to work harder. Make sure you clean or replace your air filters regularly to ensure your system is running efficiently.
  • Keep the unit clear: The outdoor AC unit should be free from debris or clutter that can affect airflow. Avoid letting branches, shrubs, or grass grow too close to the unit.
  • Use ceiling fans: A ceiling fan can take on some of the burden of your AC unit by circulating cool air throughout your home.
  • Keep doors and windows closed: Shutting your windows and doors helps your AC maintain a consistent temperature and keeps cool air from escaping.

Keep Up with AC Maintenance

Routine AC maintenance can help you avoid expensive repairs or inconvenient breakdowns at the height of summer. Keeping your system in good shape also reduces your energy consumption, improves indoor air quality, and extends the life of your unit.

Contact us at Sierra Air Conditioning and Heating to ensure that your air conditioner is running in optimal conditioner all year long.

we are currently experience technical issues with our phone systems and will be down for a short time. We are currently working on fixing the issue and hope to be back up momentarily. Please consider using our live chat at the bottom right of the screen to reach us for now. we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

We are currently experience technical issues with our phone systems and will be down for a short time. We are currently working on fixing the issue and hope to be back up momentarily. Please consider using our live chat at the bottom right of the screen to reach us for now. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.