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A/C 101: Understanding Air Conditioners

Many people buy or use air conditioners without understanding their designs, components, and operating principles. Proper sizing, selection, installation, maintenance, and correct use are keys to cost-effective operation.

How Air Conditioners Work

Air conditioners employ the same operating principles and basic components as your home refrigerator. An air conditioner cools your home with a cold indoor coil called the evaporator. The condenser, a hot outdoor coil, releases the collected heat outside. The evaporator and condenser coils are serpentine tubing surrounded by aluminum fins. This tubing is usually made of copper. A pump, called the compressor, moves a heat transfer fluid (or refrigerant) between the evaporator and the condenser. The pump forces the refrigerant through the circuit of tubing and fins in the coils. The liquid refrigerant evaporates in the indoor evaporator coil, pulling heat out of indoor air and thereby cooling the home. The hot refrigerant gas is pumped outdoors into the condenser where it reverts back to a liquid giving up its heat to the air flowing over the condenser’s metal tubing and fins.

Types of Air Conditioners

The basic types of air conditioners are Ductless Mini-Splits, split-system central air conditioners, packaged central air conditioners, and heat pumps.

Ductless Mini-Splits

A ductless mini-split AC is just as it sounds: it’s a mini version of a split central air conditioning system. But it does not use ducts to deliver it’s air.

A ductless mini-split air conditioner is made up of 3 main parts:

  • A condenser unit located outside your home
  • An evaporator/blower unit mounted on interior wall
  • A conduit that links the outdoor and indoor unit (the conduit houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing and condensate drain)

They’re small, quiet, and efficient and have several placement options for effectively cooling and heating different rooms in your home.

Ductless Mini-Splits are typically utilized in areas of your home or business where duct access is not easily accessible. Additions, Arizona rooms, server rooms and garages are a few common areas where these units are utilized.

They also come with a remote control so they’re convenient to use.

Central Air Conditioning

Central Air Conditioners


  • The typical central air conditioning system is a split system, with an outdoor air conditioning, or “compressor bearing unit” and an indoor coil, which is usually installed on top of the furnace in the home.
  • Using electricity as its power source, the compressor pumps refrigerant through the system to gather heat and moisture from indoors and remove it from the home.
  • Heat and moisture are removed from the home when warm air from inside the home is blown over the cooled indoor coil. The heat in the air transfers to the coil, thereby “cooling” the air.
  • The heat that has transferred to the coil is then “pumped” to the exterior of the home, while the cooled air is pumped back inside, helping to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.
  • Central air conditioning can also be provided through a package unit or a heat pump.

Packaged Central Air Conditioners

Packaged Central Air Conditioners


  • Package units are unique, all-in-one systems that supply both cooling and heating equipment in one “package.” These units sit on the ground or rooftop outside of your home or business.
  • Package units come in three forms:
    • Packaged heat pumps offer heating and cooling using heat pump technology.
    • Packaged air conditioners cool your home and can heat it as well, using electrical strip heat.
    • Packaged gas-electric units offer all-in-one air conditioning and natural gas-powered furnace performance.

Heat Pump

Heat Pumps


  • Using electricity as its energy source, heat pumps are used for either the heating or cooling of your home by transferring heat between two reservoirs.
  • In the warmer months, the heat pump acts like an air conditioner, removing heat from the air inside your home and transferring it outside.

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