What Does an Air Conditioning Compressor Do?

Your air conditioner works day and night to keep your home cool year-round. And no other component works harder than the air conditioning compressor. However, you might be wondering just how it works to bring cooling comfort to your home.

A Quick Primer on the Air Conditioning Process

To get a good idea of what the compressor does, let’s take a quick look at the entire air conditioning process:

  • Your AC pulls warm indoor air into the unit via the return vents.
  • As the warm air moves over and through the evaporator coil, latent heat is absorbed into the refrigerant inside of the coil.
  • As the now-cold air recirculates back into the living spaces, the refrigerant moves into the condenser coil where it sheds the collected heat.
  • The refrigerant moves back through the evaporator coil to start the process anew.

While all of this is happening, the refrigerant changes between gaseous and liquid states in both high-pressure and low-pressure forms. This is important for absorbing and later releasing latent heat found in the indoor air.

Your Air Conditioning Compressor’s Role

Your AC unit needs a way to move the refrigerant between the evaporator and condenser coils. Not only does the compressor move the refrigerant through the coils, but it also compresses the refrigerant into a high-pressure gaseous form, allowing it to eventually shed heat as it passes through the condenser.

In other words, the compressor both pressurizes and pushes refrigerant through the coils and the rest of the AC unit, allowing the air conditioning process to continue without a hitch.

When Good Compressors Go Bad

It goes without saying that the compressor plays an integral part in your AC system’s overall function. Nevertheless, problems can pop up that could put a damper on your home’s cooling comfort, especially if they’re not addressed properly.

If the compressor doesn’t have enough refrigerant, for instance, the resulting stresses can damage the compressor and eventually cause it to fail prematurely. In many cases, low refrigerant levels are the result of a leak or improper refrigerant charge.

Keeping Up with Compressor Maintenance

Compressor failures don’t happen often. When they do, however, you’ll want to react quickly and call your HVAC technician as soon as possible. Only your HVAC technician has the right tools and training to diagnose and fix problems involving your air conditioning compressor.

With the right care and attention, the compressor should last for the life of your AC system. In cases involving compressor failure, however, most technicians will recommend replacing the entire AC unit instead of simply replacing the compressor by itself. That’s because an entirely new system is often more cost-effective than replacing just the compressor.

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