Nothing refreshes you more on a hot day than stepping into a cool, temperature-controlled room. That blast of cold air can feel like a plunge into an icy pool and offers welcome relief after sweating it out under the hot sun.

But how exactly do air conditioners chill the air? The answer lies in the process of converting liquid to gas.

First, an air conditioning unit relies on four essential parts: an evaporator, a compressor, a condenser, and an expansion device. Fans direct airflow, moving warm air across the evaporator, and channeling the cold air out through the unit’s vents.

The air itself becomes cold thanks to phase conversion, which occurs when liquid transforms to gas. During phase conversion, the vaporization process absorbs heat. Air conditioners are optimized to take advantage of this heat absorption to cool air by using refrigerants, chemical compounds able to vaporize and liquefy repeatedly.  

As hot air runs through specially designed coils filled with refrigerants, air conditioners can take advantage of phase conversion to remove unwanted heat and create chilled air. As the refrigerant converts from liquid to gas, the coils absorb the heat, expelling it outside with the help of condenser coils. Meanwhile, as it cools, the refrigerant returns to its liquid state and the process begins anew. It’s an ongoing cycle as the coolant moves between liquid and gas, with hot air escaping outside and cool air blown through a series of air ducts to lower indoor temperatures.

Air conditioners also remove humidity from the air, which helps improve comfort levels by producing a drier indoor atmosphere. The water leached out of the air eventually collects in the drain pan. On especially humid days, that excess water can collect in the pan, which is then drained by the A/C unit.

While the science behind the system sounds complicated, making the most of your air conditioning system should be easy. Regular inspections and routine maintenance can go a long way towards optimizing your A/C system, and when it’s time to upgrade, those upfront purchase and installation costs can be mitigated by the long-term savings you get from improved efficiency and lower energy bills.

If you have indoor air quality problems or just have questions about indoor air comfort

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