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How Does Central Air Conditioning Work?

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We all tend to take central air conditioning for granted – until there isn’t any. Just the thought of living through the heat and humidity of a Connecticut summer without AC is enough to make us sweat. But many homeowners aren’t familiar with how central air conditioning works, other than turning the thermostat to cool.

But knowing how your home’s AC system works helps you keep it running more efficiently. And if it should break during the dog days of summer, you’ll be more confident finding a replacement. So how exactly does this process work?

Parts of a Central Air Conditioning System

Before we walk through how the system works, it’s important to know the key components of a typical Central AC system, as outlined by the Department of Energy:

  • Thermostat — controls the system operation
  • Outdoor Unit— houses a blower, condenser coil and compressor
  • Indoor Unit — houses the evaporator coil and fan to circulate the cooled air
  • Copper tubing — allows refrigerant to flow between the indoor and outdoor units
  • Air Filter – Cleans the air of dust and debris
  • Ductwork — allows air to circulate from the indoor unit out to the rooms of your home and back to the indoor unit

a/c system

How Does Central Air Conditioning Work?

Many people mistakenly think that an AC system works by “creating” cold air. That’s not exactly correct. It actually removes the warm air inside your house and transfers it outdoors.

Just as a sponge soaks up water, central air conditioners absorb the heat from inside the home and push it outside through a process called “the refrigeration cycle.

There’s no need to get hot under the collar thinking we’re about to go all techie on you. To help you understand how the process works, we’ve briefly outlined the steps in the AC cycle:

  1. You start by setting your thermostat. As the temperature in your house rises beyond that setting, a signal is sent from your thermostat to the AC system.
  2. This signal tells the system that cold air is needed and turns on both the blower motor of your compressor located inside your home, and the condenser, which sits outside your home.
  3. Warm air is then drawn into your ductwork and blown over the evaporator coil. This coil is the portion of your system that is filled with liquid refrigerant, a cooling compound. The evaporator coil absorbs the heat from the inside air, which turns the refrigerant into a gas.
  4. This air runs through an air filter, so dust, lint and debris are removed.
  5. Cooled air is returned to the home through air vents.
  6. The heated refrigerant gas is put into the compressor. The compressor  pressurizes the gas and sends it to the condenser coil in the outside unit.
  7. The condenser releases the heat outside and then turns the refrigerant back into a liquid and sends it back into the components inside the home. Then the cycle starts again.
  8. This process continues until your home reaches your preferred temperature.

In plain language, central air conditioners remove heat and humidity from the indoor air, return the cooled air to the indoor space, and transfer the unwanted heat and humidity outside. (So why didn’t we say that in the first place! Actually, I think we did, but the extra detail can help you in the event of a breakdown.)

AC Not Operating Efficiently? Trust Levco

If your AC is not operating the way it should, it could be a clogged air filter, refrigerant leaks, thermostat issues, obstructed supply or return vents, or a dirty coil. And though you now know how your AC system works, don’t try to diagnose, or repair the problem by yourself. Most of these problems are preventable or easily rectified by licensed HVAC professionals.

Better yet, schedule your Spring Check to have your system inspected by Levco’s team of highly trained technicians to identify problems before the heat of summer.

If your equipment is old and you’re thinking this is the year to replace the AC system, Levco’s HVAC service specialists can perform an equipment evaluation for you and are available by telephone or an in-home visit to answer any questions you may have. Contact us today!

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