While air conditioners can differ from model to model, they all operate on similar principles. In this article we will address how an air conditioner operates, as well as potential problems you may encounter.
When you switch the air conditioner on, the thermostat control sends 120 volts of alternating current to the compressor and the fan motor. The compressor acts as a pump, compressing refrigerant in gas form into the condenser coils located near the back of the unit where the gas is condensed into a hot liquid. The condenser coils dissipate the heat as the liquid travels through them. Once the refrigerant has passed through the condenser coils and the capillary tube, it travels to the evaporator coils located near the front of the unit.
As the refrigerant liquid enters these coils, it expands into a gas which makes the coils cold. The gas flows through the coils to a suction line attached to the compressor. The compressor converts the gas back into a liquid, and the cooling cycle continues.
At the same time the fan motor rotates a blower wheel which draws in air to be cooled by the evaporator coils before re-circulating it back into the room. The same motor also operates the condenser fan blade, which blows outside air through the condenser coils to cool them.
The air temperature is regulated by the thermostat control. Depending on the model, the control may be a thermostat switch and sensing bulb assembly or an electronic control board that works with a sensor. The sensing bulb or electronic sensor is clipped to the front of the evaporator coils to monitor the temperature of the air entering the coils. Once the room has sufficiently cooled, the thermostat control shuts off the voltage to the compressor. Some models which use a vent can operate the fan motor only to draw in air at night. However, when the appliance is actively cooling the air, the vent must be closed for the system to work properly.
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Be aware that it’s normal for water to collect in the bottom of the air conditioner when the appliance is running. A slinger ring on the condenser fan blade picks up this water and sprays into the condenser coils to help the coils dissipate the heat. To prevent the water from dripping into the room, the appliance should be tilted back slightly when installed.
If you can hear the appliance running but the air does not appear to be recirculating, the fan motor has likely burned out and will need to be replaced. If the air does not cool at all, the compressor may have failed, or the refrigerant may have leaked out of the system. Be aware that any repairs to the refrigerant system must be performed by a licensed technician.
If you suspect that the air conditioner is not cooling the air properly, you can perform a test using a thermometer. Allow the air conditioner to run for 15 minutes then measure the temperature of the air in the room, and the temperature of the air exiting the cooling duct. The difference in temperature between the room air and the cooled air should be 15 degrees Fahrenheit or more. If the difference is less than 15 degrees Fahrenheit, the air filter may be clogged, or the condenser coils may require cleaning.
A clogged air filter can cause the evaporator coils to frost over and the efficiency to be greatly reduced. Over time the condenser coils collect dirt and debris, so we recommend cleaning the coils periodically by using compressed air to dislodge the debris and a vacuum to clean the inside of the cabinet.
Enter the appliance’s full model number in our website’s search engine for a complete list of compatible parts. Our site also has an extensive selection of instructional videos to assist you, covering topics like part testing, disassembly, and part replacement. At Bear Appliance Repair they make fixing things easy.