Air Conditioners 101

Whether it be a single-family home, a housing complex or a commercial facility, air conditioning is an important part of keeping residents, employees and customers comfortable, especially in the warm weather months. Air conditioners come in several different varieties, with the most popular being the small window mounted units and the bigger, central air systems.

Many people take air conditioning for granted, only really coming to realizing its importance in helping them feel comfortable when there’s a problem with their unit or when they realize that their unit may require replacement. But have you ever really thought about how air conditioners work, whether its a window unit, or room air conditioner, or a central air conditioner? In this post, we’ll get into the basics of air conditioning, how air conditioning units work and briefly get into more depth regarding some of the different types of units available.

How Air Conditioners Work

Air conditioners work similarly to another common household appliance – refrigerators. Except instead of cooling a small area of space as a refrigerator does, air conditioners are designed to cool an entire home or facility. Here’s a closer look at how an air conditioner works, thanks largely in part to three main components – the evaporator, the condenser and the pump:

  • The value of the evaporator: The evaporator is a crucial piece in any air conditioning unit. Simply put, the evaporator is essentially just cold indoor coil. The evaporator works together with a condenser to cool a home and release any captured heat outside of the facility that is being cooled. Condensers are the opposite of evaporators – they are hot outdoor coil.
  • The pump: Also commonly referred to as the “compressor,” the pump’s main function is moving refrigerant gas between the aforementioned condenser and evaporator, forcing it through the copper wire tubing that connects the two air conditioning components. It also helps it move within the fins in the coils. The refrigerant then is converted to a liquid and is eventually evaporated in the evaporator coil. This, in turn, leads to heat being removed from the home – causing the home or the facility to become cooler.
  • Outside of the home or facility, any heat captured is removed through the condenser, which works to convert refrigerant into a liquid state, which can then be moved back into the house to continue to perform its cooling.

All About BTUs

“BTU” stands for “British thermal units” – and this just so happens to be the unit of measurement that defines an air conditioner’s performance output. Specifically, a BTU is defined as the amount of heat that is necessary to raise a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. Generally speaking, larger facilities will need units with higher BTUs than smaller homes and facilities. For example, an air conditioning unit rated 10,000 BTU should be adequate for a single-family home that’s about 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. That’s because it has the capability of cooling 10,000 pounds of water, which equates to about 1,200 gallons, of water 1 degree in one hour. A larger, 2,000 square foot home will likely need an air conditioner with more BTUs – perhaps about 60,000.

As we mentioned, the size of the facility that you want to cool will dictate the type of air conditioner you need and what amount of BTUs you’ll want it to have so that all occupants can stay comfortable during the dog days of summer.

Air Conditioning Issues and Maintenance

When cared for properly, an air conditioner should last for about 15 years. But with that being said, there are many different factors that can greatly shorten this average lifespan. Here’s a look at some common issues that plague air conditioners:

  • Dirty coils
  • Irregular refrigerant levels

These two aforementioned factors may not only lead to your air conditioning unit failing to work up to par, but they can also cause utility bills to escalate. What’s more is that these factors can also cause the compressor component to work harder on your air conditioning unit, potentially even causing it to fail if the problem isn’t addressed in a timely manner.

Here’s a look at some other potential issues that can plague your air conditioner:

  • Leaks: Remember, the evaporator and condenser are connected by hoses and tubing. And when you’re dealing with hoses and tubing, there’s always the potential for leaks. So check these hoses periodically to ensure that refrigerant is being transported properly.
  • Air filter: The air filter can become very dirty in your air conditioning unit, which can cause the unit to work harder. That’s why it’s recommended that you change the filter at least once every month, especially in the summer months when it’s often in use.
  • Vegetation: This issue is perhaps the easiest to resolve – keeping vegetation at bay. With that in mind, make sure any bushes or trees are at least 2 feet away from the air conditioning unit so airflow has the chance to proceed as intended.
  • Preventative Maintenance: While this comes at a cost, it’s never a bad idea to have a professional out to give your air conditioning unit a tune up every spring. An HVAC contractor will look over all of the components and make adjustments and repairs as necessary to make sure it’s operating up to snuff. Preventative maintenance is especially important for homes or commercial facilities that have large, expensive central air units, as it’s important to protect that investment.

Types of Air Conditioners

As we previously noted, the two main types of air conditioners are window units, or room air conditioners, and central air conditioners. Here’s a brief overview on each:

  • Room Air Conditioners: These are usually mounted in windows and designed to specifically cool a confined room or small area. Unlike central air conditioners, which use ducts to distribute the air, room units use fans. Generally, these units can be plugged into a standard electrical outlet.
  • Central Air Conditioners: Usually the condenser is outside of the house and the evaporator is inside the home in the air handler component of the unit. These units run air through ducts, dispersing it throughout the entire home or facility.

Air conditioners are a vital piece to any facility, and they’re not a cheap replacement. That’s why it can make sense to either purchase used parts or a used unit if you’re ever in a bind and need to acquire such on a more affordable level. For more information on air conditioners, and to browse Bid on Equipment’s selection of units and components, contact the company today.

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