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How Does an Air Conditioner Actually Work?

How Does an Air Conditioner Actually Work

Summer is almost here, which means running your AC on a virtually continuous basis. Your AC is one of those things that you use frequently but might not have any idea how it actually works.

Knowing the ins-and-outs of your air conditioning unit can help you identify problems early, keep it running as efficiently as possible, and avoid frequent repairs.

Here’s how your air conditioner actually works.

Air Conditioners: How it Started, and How it’s Going

Before we dive into how an AC works, let’s take a brief look at its history.

Prior to the invention of air conditioning, people relied on fans, open windows, and other ineffective methods to cool down. That made it nearly unbearable for residents of hot climates to function, especially in industrial settings. However, Willis Carrier’s invention in 1902 changed everything.

As a mechanical engineer, Carrier was tasked with managing humidity levels in a printing plant when he developed the world’s first functional air conditioning system. This invention completely transformed business, allowing people to survive (and even thrive!) in environments that were previously too hot to bear.

Initially, air conditioners were primarily used in commercial buildings such as department stores and theaters. After technology advanced, AC units became more compact and affordable. As a result, households across the nation began to install their own air conditioning units.

Since Carrier’s original invention, air conditioning technology has made significant advancements. Nowadays, there are a variety of air conditioner styles and models available to consumers, such as central air conditioning systems, cassette air conditioners, ductless mini-split systems, commercial air conditioners, window air conditioners, and split air conditioners.

What are the Different Types of AC Units?

Not sure what type of air conditioner you need? Don’t know what kind of air conditioner you already have? Air conditioners come in different styles and models to suit different needs. Let’s take a look at some of them!

  • Cassette Air Conditioners: These are ceiling-mounted units that distribute conditioned air in four different directions. They are often used in commercial settings or in spaces with minimal wall space, like recreational vehicles.
  • Central Air Conditioners: These are the most common type of air conditioning systems used in homes. They distribute cooled air through ductwork of the building and are ideal for cooling large spaces.
  • Commercial Air Conditioners: These units are designed for large commercial buildings and are ultra-powerful. They can cool large spaces with efficiency and are commonly found in office buildings and department stores.
  • Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioners: These units consist of an indoor and outdoor component and can be installed in individual rooms. They are ideal for homes without ductwork or for spaces that require individual temperature control.
  • Split Air Conditioners: These units are perfect for cooling individual spaces and are commonly used in homes and businesses for their energy efficiency and easy installation.
  • Window AC Units: These self-contained units are designed to fit into a window opening and are ideal for cooling individual rooms. They are affordable and easy to install, making them a popular choice for individual bedrooms or homes without existing ductwork.

AC wall unit

AC Components: What are They and What Do They Do?

It’s important for anyone who has an AC to understand the basic components of their system. The more familiar you are with these parts, the easier it will be to identify any issues that may arise:

Evaporator Coil

The evaporator coil is an essential component of an air conditioning system. It works by absorbing the heat from the air inside your home and circulating the cooled air back into your living space. This process continues until the desired temperature is reached.


This part is responsible for moving the refrigerant through the AC system. It compresses the refrigerant gas, which causes it to heat up and circulate to the condenser coil. The compressor is considered the heart of the air conditioning system since it provides the necessary pressure to circulate the refrigerant.

Condenser Coil

The condenser coil is located on the outside of your home and is responsible for releasing the heat that was absorbed by the evaporator coil. The refrigerant in the condenser coil is cooled down by a fan or another cooling mechanism, and the heat is released into the outdoor air.

Expansion Valve

The expansion valve regulates the flow of refrigerant into the evaporator coil. It controls the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant, which ensures that the cooled air coming out of the system is at the desired temperature.

If any of these parts stop working, your AC unit may not cool your home efficiently, or it may not work at all. Regular maintenance and prompt repairs can prevent serious problems and prolong the lifespan of your air conditioning system.

The Steps of the Air Conditioning Cooling Cycle

Curious how an air conditioner works? Here are the six steps in the cooling cycle.

  1. The compressor increases the temperature of the refrigerant gas.
  2. The hot gas flows to the condenser coil and is cooled and condensed into a liquid, releasing heat outside.
  3. The liquid refrigerant flows to the expansion valve, reducing its pressure and temperature.
  4. The cool liquid refrigerant flows to the evaporator coil and absorbs heat from indoor air, turning into a gas.
  5. The gas refrigerant returns to the compressor to repeat the cycle.
  6. This cycle removes heat from indoor air and releases it outside, creating a comfortable indoor environment.

How an AC works

Remember, while these steps may seem simple, air conditioning systems are complex and can be dangerous to work on without proper training. If you suspect that your AC is not functioning properly, it’s important to call a trained professional to safely and efficiently repair it.

Tips for Keeping Your AC Running Efficiently

As the warmer months approach, it’s important to ensure that your AC unit is running efficiently to keep you cool without straining or damaging the system.

Besides AC Tune-Tups, consider these tips for maintaining your AC throughout the summer season:

  • Set a reasonable temperature: Avoid setting your AC to an excessively low temperature, which can waste energy and strain your system. Try keeping it between 75-77°F.
  • Use a programmable thermostat: A programmable thermostat can help you adjust the temperature automatically and reduce energy consumption when you’re not at home.
  • Clean the filters: Dirty air filters can restrict airflow and overwork your AC unit. Clean or replace your filters regularly. The more you use your unit, the more often you’ll need to change the filters.
  • Keep the unit clear: Ensure the outdoor unit is free from debris and has enough space for proper airflow. Regularly cut back any nearby limbs, bushes, or grass.
  • Use ceiling fans: When used in conjunction with your AC, a ceiling fan can help circulate cool air throughout the room and reduce your reliance on the AC.
  • Keep doors and windows shut: Keeping doors and windows shut while the AC is running can help maintain a consistent temperature and prevent cool air from escaping, saving energy and money.

By following these simple steps, you can keep your AC unit running efficiently and avoid costly repairs.

Keep Your System Running Smoothly With Adeedo

Keeping up with regular maintenance of your air conditioner is crucial. Not only can it prevent costly repairs or replacements, but it also improves the quality of the air you breathe, reduces energy usage, and extends the life of your system.

Contact your friends at Adeedo today to see how we can assist you in maintaining your air conditioner all year long!


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