A Brief History
The first air conditioner appeared in 1902, and they only came into widespread use in the middle of the 20th century. As recently as 20 years ago, 1 in 3 houses still lacked A/C. Today that number is closer to 1 in 8. Most homes use central air conditioning; the only exception is the Northeast, where a slight majority of homes still rely on window/wall units
Air conditioning made living in hot climates tolerable. It's no coincidence that, after invention of A/C, America saw a remarkable change in its population distribution. Some cities that were barely on the map in 1902 are now thriving metropolises, including Los Angeles, Houston, and Phoenix, which are now the 2nd, 4th and 6th biggest cities in the country, thanks in part to the availability of air conditioning.
How Air Conditioners Work
The principles behind air conditioning are easy to understand. Basically, an A/C system sends a chemical on a loop from the inside of the house to the outside, over and over again. With every trip, the chemical transfers heat from the house to the outdoors, leaving the air inside cooler until it reaches the temperature you desire.
This chemical is called a "refrigerant." What all refrigerants have in common is that they easily transform from a liquid to a gas and back. A liquid turns into a gas when it absorbs heat, and a gas expels heat when it turns into a liquid. The trick that makes air conditioning possible is to force the refrigerant to change back and forth so it absorbs heat inside and releases it outside.
How does your air conditioner do this? Let's start with what happens inside.
Inside the House: Cooling the Air
The refrigerant, in liquid form, passes through the first of 3 main parts of the A/C system: the evaporator. The evaporator consists of coils, and fans blow air across them. The refrigerant inside the coils gets warmer thanks to this contact with hot air, and begins changing into a hot gas. The air that travels across the coils, meanwhile, gets colder as the refrigerant absorbs this heat during the transformation.
Outside the House: Expelling Heat
The air in your house is now colder, but the refrigerant has to do this many times to make a significant difference. So the system sends it to the second main component: the compressor. The compressor is located in the unit outside of the building. It compresses the refrigerant, which begins this step as a low-pressure hot gas and leaves it as a high-pressure hot gas. Then it's on to the final stage.
The last component is called the condenser and is also located in the outside unit. The refrigerant travels up the coils of the condenser, cooling down as it does. As it cools, it starts to change back into a liquid. The heat it picked up in the evaporator now gets expelled through the sides of the unit, and the refrigerant goes back to the evaporator, ready to begin the cycle again.
Caring for Air Conditioners
Although routine maintenance on A/C units can be performed by anyone, installing and fixing one is best left to experts. An HVAC company in Fort Wayne IN
can help you with any advanced air conditioning problems you may encounter.
The most important thing you can do is to keep the outside unit clean. Dirt, leaves and other debris may pile up next to it, obstructing airflow and reducing efficiency, thereby making your energy bills higher. Make it a habit to periodically check the area around the unit so that the air keeps flowing freely. If you do this, you can save money on your energy bill and decrease the likelihood that the unit will need repairs.