An air conditioner is a refrigerator without the insulated box. It uses the evaporation of a refrigerant, like Freon, to provide cooling. The mechanics of the Freon evaporation cycle are the same in a refrigerator as in an air conditioner. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the term Freon is generically "used for any of various nonflammable fluorocarbons used as refrigerants and as propellants for aerosols."

 


Diagram of a typical air conditioner

 

This is how the evaporation cycle in an air conditioner works:
.

1. The compressor compresses cool Freon gas, causing it to become hot, high-pressure Freon gas (red in the diagram above).

2. This hot gas runs through a set of coils so it can dissipate its heat, and it condenses into a liquid.

3.The Freon liquid runs through an expansion valve, and in the process it evaporates to become cold, low-pressure Freon gas (light blue in the diagram above).

4.This cold gas runs through a set of coils that allow the gas to absorb heat and cool down the air inside the building.

Mixed in with the Freon is a small amount of a lightweight oil.
This oil lubricates the compressor.

 

 

Split-system Units
A split-system air conditioner splits the hot side
 from the cold side of the system, like this:


 


 

The cold side, consisting of the expansion valve and the cold coil, is generally placed into a furnace or some other air handler. The air handler blows air through the coil and routes the air throughout the building using a series of ducts. The hot side, known as the condensing unit, lives outside the building. In most home installations, 
the unit looks something like this:

The unit consists of a long, spiral coil shaped like a cylinder. Inside the coil is a fan, to blow air through the coil, along with a weather-resistant compressor and some control logic. This approach has evolved over the years because it is low-cost, and also because it normally results in reduced noise inside the house (at the expense of increased noise outside the house). Besides the fact that the hot and cold sides are split apart and the capacity is higher (making the coils and compressor larger), there is no difference between a split-system and a window air conditioner.

In warehouses, businesses, malls, large department stores, etc., the condensing unit normally lives on the roof and can be quite massive. Alternatively, there may be many smaller units on the roof, each attached inside to a small air handler that cools a specific zone in the building.

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