When talking about HVAC systems, the condenser is one of the most often-mentioned components. An AC condenser unit is part of the outdoor unit where heat is dissipated from refrigerant inside a set of coils. It’s where coolant is converted from a vapor back to a liquid. If the condenser isn’t working, refrigerant would retain the heat it has carried away from your home and your air conditioner won’t function properly.
To understand how a condenser works, you must know how it relates to the rest of the system. Refrigerant circulates in a constant cycle, which looks as follows:
- Low-pressure refrigerant passes through evaporator coils and absorbs heat from the air.
- Coolant, in gaseous form, passes to the compressor, where it’s converted to a liquid.
- Heat is dissipated from coolant via a fan in the condenser, and the process begins again.
What Happens Inside the Condenser?
While the compressor functions as sort of an electric pump, the condenser is essentially a series of coils. These are contained within the outdoor unit. An AC condenser unit doesn’t move air as is often believed but is designed to distribute refrigerant. It also contains a fan that blows air over the coils, which helps keep the condenser cool. This process does not distribute air into the ductwork.
A condenser isn’t only found in a central AC system. It’s also built into a window AC unit. Here, the condenser coils are located in the back near vents that let hot air escape. In a split system, the condenser is in the outdoor unit along with the compressor (it is also located outdoors in a ductless AC system). The evaporator coil is housed separately in the indoor unit.
Air conditioners in vehicles are arranged a little differently. An automotive AC condenser unit is placed near the engine radiator (and even looks somewhat like a small radiator). Nonetheless, it operates the same way as in other AC systems.
The Role of Refrigerant
AC refrigerant is what allows your HVAC system to provide heating or cooling. Going from a gas to a liquid allows it to absorb heat; outside, condensation allows refrigerant to release heat. Once it travels to the indoor unit, evaporation occurs because of lower temperatures interacting with warmer air. The process allows for a steady stream of cool air to blow from your vents.
The formula of refrigerant has changed over the years. Freon, or R-22, is being phased out following the Clean Air Act of 1990 because it contained chlorofluorocarbons, halons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and other synthetic chemicals that were depleting the ozone layer and contributing to air pollution. A newer refrigerant, known as R-410A, is designed to be more eco-friendly, but it cannot simply be added as a replacement for R-22; an AC must be retrofitted or replaced in order to use it.
How Do I Know My AC Condenser Unit Is Working?
The condenser isn’t typically visible. Your only sign it’s working is a steady flow of cool air. But coils can break and seals can wear out, causing refrigerant to leak. Coolant ordinarily does not dissipate within the system. If there’s less cool air, you see condensation or fluid around your HVAC system, or hear unusual noises, call a professional to check for a leak. High energy bills can also mean your AC is working harder to compensate for a low refrigerant level.
Contact Sky Heating & Air Conditioning
Fixing or replacing an AC condenser unit, or handling refrigerant, can only be done by a professional. It is illegal for anyone else to remove, recharge, or dispose of refrigerant. The condenser is part of a complex assembly and tampering with it can damage other parts of the system. Avoid more costly damage by having a technician check on or maintain your air conditioning system. At Sky, our technicians are available 24/7 and are licensed, trained, and equipped to inspect your system and find and fix small issues before they get worse.