Virginia & Maryland Heating & Air Conditioning

What Is Your Air Conditioner's Compressor?

If you ask most homeowners how their air conditioner works, most won’t be able to give you an answer, much less a correct one. It’s true that for many people an air conditioner can be a fairly complex and difficult machine to understand, but in most cases this is simply because someone hasn’t taken the time to learn the basics of refrigeration. Don’t let that discourage you from doing so, however: having a working knowledge of how your A/C works can help you recognize when your air conditioner might be in trouble and when you should call for repairs.

While there are a seemingly countless number of parts to your air conditioning and heating system, there are four primary components: your evaporator coil, your condenser coil, your compressor, and your expansion chamber. On this blog, we’ll talk about your compressor, including what it does and why it’s so important to the air conditioning process.

A Compressor’s Function

Most air conditioners are actuallyheat pumps, or devices which remove heat from one space, carry it to another, and then release it. To do so, heat pumps pass air over a thermally-conductive metal tube (called a coil) that’s filled with refrigerant. Refrigerant is a liquid that requires very little energy to change temperature, thus making it excellent at trapping heat and then releasing it when necessary. The refrigerant in your air conditioning and heating systems is also capable of changing state between liquid and gas fairly easily, which is important for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment.

When refrigerant passes through your indoor coil, a blower fan pushes air over the tube, causing the refrigerant inside to absorb heat from it, which is what makes the air that comes from your air conditioner feel cold. Once the refrigerant has passed through the coil and absorbed heat, the fluid then travels towards the opposite coil where the heat will be dissipated. However, if the air outside is significantly warmer than the refrigerant, the liquid will only pick up more heat instead, which means your system won’t actually work as intended.

This is where your compressor comes in. A compressor is a device that does exactly as its name implies: compresses the refrigerant, increasing its pressure. This process causes the refrigerant in your lines to become extremely hot—we’re talking hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit. However, because the refrigerant is so hot, that means it’s warmer than the air outside, even on the hottest days of summer, which means that pretty much no matter what happens it’s going to dissipate heat back into the atmosphere when run through your outdoor coil. As your outdoor blower fan pulls air through your cooling fins and over this coil, the heat inside your refrigerant lines is released into the atmosphere, which is why the air coming from your outdoor air conditioning unit feels so warm if you stick your hand over it.

Once its journey through this coil has completed, the refrigerant is significantly cooler, but still under a tremendous amount of pressure. When the refrigerant moves through your expansion chamber, the opposite of your compressor happens: the refrigerant loses its pressure, which then causes it to become extremely cold. That cold refrigerant then passes through your indoor coil, cooling the air blown over it, and the whole process starts all over again.

Got a Compressor Problem?

As you can see, without your compressor your system wouldn’t be able to release heat into the atmosphere, and your entire air conditioner wouldn’t be able to produce cold air. Thus, when your air conditioner stops producing cold air altogether, your compressor is generally one of the first places your Sterling air conditioning repairs technician is going to check. Some common symptoms of compressor issues include leaking refrigerant, loud squealing or grinding noises, and of course, a lack of cool air blowing through your home.

If you suspect you may have a compressor problem, call Donmar Heating & Cooling today at (703) 457-8676 to request a diagnosis service or full inspection and let us take care of the difficult repair or replacement for you!
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