The air conditioning compressor ranks up there as one of, if not the, most important part of your home’s AC system. Nevertheless, you probably haven’t thought much about what it does and how it works. If you want to sate your curiosity about this important piece of HVAC equipment, then you’ve come to the right place.
The Heart of Your AC System
Think of the air conditioning compressor as the heart of your AC system. In fact, it pumps refrigerant throughout the unit similarly to how the human heart pumps blood throughout the body. You’ll find the AC compressor in the outdoor cabinet of your split air conditioning system. In window-mounted AC units, the compressor is located in the rear half of the unit.
How the Compressor Works
To get a good idea of how the air conditioning compressor works, it’s important to look at how your AC system works as a whole. In a nutshell, the AC system uses refrigerant to pull heat out of the indoor air, leaving behind cool, conditioned air. Meanwhile, the refrigerant circulates throughout the unit while changing from a liquid to a gas and back, depending on where it’s headed. These phase changes allow the refrigerant to absorb and shed heat at various stages.
The compressor’s main job is to push refrigerant throughout the evaporator and condenser coils. But that’s not the only thing the compressor does. It also compresses the refrigerant in its warm, low-pressure gas form into a much hotter, high-pressure form. This allows the refrigerant to shed heat outdoors as it passes through the condenser coil and condenser fan.
Common Compressor Issues
It’s not uncommon for an air conditioning compressor to suffer issues given enough time and use. Some of the common issues you could run into with an ailing compressor include:
- Hard starting – This occurs when the compressor has trouble turning on, eventually causing the compressor to burn out if left unresolved.
- Overheating – A compressor can overheat for several reasons, including worn-out parts or lubrication issues.
- Poor cooling – A worn-out or damaged compressor won’t cool your home as effectively.
- Noises – While a compressor may emit brief noises at startup, any unusual noises under normal operation should be checked out by your HVAC technician. These include any bubbling, hissing or clanking noises.
Maintaining Your AC Compressor
Regularly scheduled maintenance is a must for keeping your compressor and the rest of your AC system in top shape. Only a licensed and trained HVAC technician should diagnose and repair or replace your AC system’s compressor. Any attempts to service the compressor yourself could result in damage to the compressor, as well as injury to yourself.