What Is An Air Conditioner Compressor And How Does It Work?

Although most people think of the average air conditioner as a single unit, it's actually made up of several different components that work in concert to deliver cool, conditioned air. By helping the air conditioner's refrigerant circulate throughout other portions of the unit, the compressor plays a major role in making the average A/C system work. The following takes a brief look at the air conditioner compressor and how it works to help keep your home cool and comfortable.

What It Does

To keep your home cool, the average air conditioner relies on refrigerant to absorb and move latent heat found indoors so it can be released into the outdoor air. Pulling this off requires a bit of legwork on the A/C's part -- it has to convert the gaseous, low-pressure refrigerant coming from the evaporator into a high-pressure, high-temperature gas prior to entering the condenser. This is where the air conditioner compressor comes in.

How It Works

In simple terms, the air conditioner compressor converts the refrigerant into a higher-pressure, high-temperature form before pushing it through the rest of the closed-loop refrigeration cycle. The compressor itself is essentially a pump that compresses the refrigerant until it reaches the desired state.

Here's a good look at what exactly goes on from the moment the refrigerant enters the compressor:

  • Low-temperature, low-pressure refrigerant is drawn into the compressor through a suction line.
  • Once inside, a piston compresses the low-pressure gas until it achieves higher pressures. This also raises the temperature of the gas well above that of the outdoor air.
  • The high-temperature, high-pressure gas finally exits the compressor through a discharge line.

From the layman's perspective, raising the temperature of the refrigerant sounds a bit counterintuitive. However, keep in mind that heat naturally migrates from warmer to cooler areas. As the hot, high-pressure refrigerant enters the condenser coils, cool air directed through the coil by the condenser coil helps dissipate the heat, allowing it to escape into the comparatively cooler outdoor air.

Where It's Located

The location of the air conditioning compressor depends on the type of A/C system is used in. For central HVAC systems and ductless mini-split systems, the compressor is usually located within the outdoor cabinet, surrounded by the condenser coil and other accessories. For window-mounted A/C systems, the compressor is usually included within the unit itself, located in the rearmost portion of the unit.

As with any A/C component, compressors require occasional servicing. However, it's usually a task best left for experienced HVAC technicians due to the dangers of working on equipment designed to manage high pressures.

For more information, contact John Legg's Heating & Air Conditioning or a similar company.