The AC refrigerant cycle is the centerpiece of your AC system’s operation. If you’re like most homeowners, you use your air conditioning system without thinking about how it works. Without the AC refrigerant cycle, you wouldn’t be able to keep your home cool and comfortable throughout the season.
Air Conditioning 101
Your air conditioner has one job – to move heat from one place to another. In other words, your AC system cools your home by removing thermal energy from indoor spaces and expelling that energy outdoors. The AC refrigerant cycle is what makes that movement possible.
Of course, your AC system needs a way to transfer that thermal energy from one place to another. That’s where the refrigerant comes into play.
In a nutshell, refrigerant works by changing phases as it’s pressurized or depressurized. As it changes from a liquid to a vapor and back, it also gains the ability to absorb, move and eventually expel heat. The entire process follows the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that heat naturally flows from hotter to colder bodies.
Important AC Components
Your AC system needs more than just refrigerant to make the AC refrigerant cycle work. There are other components inside your unit that work in concert to provide cooling comfort:
- Compressor – This component pressurizes and pushes refrigerant through the rest of the AC system.
- Condenser – Located in the outdoor unit, it allows thermal energy to be transferred from the refrigerant to the outdoors.
- Expansion Valve – This component restricts refrigerant flow, allowing it to depressurize and change phases for the next step in the AC refrigerant cycle.
- Evaporator – Located in the indoor unit, it allows refrigerant to absorb thermal energy from the indoor air.
Regularly scheduled maintenance is important for keeping these components in the best possible shape. If you’re having problems with your unit, then consider our AC repair services.
The AC Refrigerant Cycle
Here’s how the AC refrigerant cycle works to keep your home cool as your AC system operates:
- Refrigerant enters the compressor as a warm, low-pressure gas. Here, it’s compressed into a high-pressure gas, which also forces it through the rest of the AC system.
- Refrigerant enters the condenser. As it winds its way through the tight loops, the gas sheds its thermal energy and cools down, eventually condensing into a high-pressure liquid. Constant airflow from the outdoor unit’s fan forces the resulting heat outdoors.
- Now in liquid form, refrigerant moves through the expansion valve. This device meters the amount of refrigerant that passes through, forcing it to expand and lose pressure in the process.
- Refrigerant enters the evaporator as a low-pressure liquid. As it passes through the evaporator, the liquid absorbs thermal energy from indoor air blown through the coil by your AC system’s blower fan. The refrigerant gets warmer and eventually changes from a liquid to a gas.
The simplest way to visualize the AC refrigerant cycle is by spraying a can of compressed air. As the liquid inside is released as a gas, the can gets colder.