The Simple Science of Modern Air Conditioning
Your home probably has a central air conditioning system. If not, you probably wish it did. Either way, if you're like most people, you probably have zero idea how they work.
It's actually pretty simple. Unlike brain surgery which is just as complicated as it sounds.
The Refrigeration Cycle
Pretty much all the air conditioners, heat pumps, refrigerators, and freezers you've ever seen or heard of use the refrigeration cycle. There's probably some other way to cool stuff, but we're not sure what it would be.
In layman's terms, the refrigeration cycle describes a process by which heat is moved from one place to another. Cooling isn't so much a thing that happens as it is simply the absence of heat in a given location.
Vaporization and Condensation
You probably already know adding heat to water will turn it into a gas and removing heat will turn it into a solid. These changes are called phase transitions.
The refrigeration cycle uses phase transitions to move heat around.
As an example, we'll talk about water as a coolant, but, bear in mind, most modern AC units use a chemical coolant of some kind. We'll get to that later.
Okay, so, basically when water absorbs heat it vaporizes. This is what is happening in the air conditioner's evaporator coil. The water is condensed via pressurization into a vapor. In so doing, it draws heat out of its environment, in this case, the inside of your house.
This vapor, with all the heat, then passes into the condenser coil. In the condenser coil, the water turns back into a liquid by expelling the excess heat it has picked up. It usually does this outside your house. If you stand near an outside AC unit, you'll notice the hot air blowing into the environment. All that heat used to be inside the house, but was removed thanks to the refrigeration cycle.
As we mentioned earlier, modern AC systems don't use water during their refrigeration cycle. While it would be possible to cool your home with water, it would be terribly inefficient.
Modern AC units and heat pumps rely on chemical coolants like R-410A, Puron, Freon, and others. These chemicals are much, much more efficient when it comes to moving heat than regular water could ever be.
Don't worry, thanks to safety regulation, modern coolants are safe. Virtually all those approved for use in new residential air conditioners or heat pumps are chlorine free and won't hurt the ozone layer.
That being said, we don't recommend you drink them.
They taste terrible!
Now you know a little more about how your air conditioner does its job, and still probably nothing about brain surgery.
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