How Does Air Conditioner Works – Basic & Explanation

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How Does Air Conditioner Works – Basic & Explanation

How does air conditioner works? Any idea? We have learned how cooling happens. But here we are going to learn how air is cooled and how heat transfer is happening in air conditioning machines? Our room becomes comfortable due to air conditioner units although outside is very hot. We will see how air conditioner works in this chapter with detailed functions of parts of air conditioners.

How Does Air Conditioner Works 

In this session, we will learn how does air conditioner works. When we feel uncomfortable due to high ambient temperature, what will we do? We simply switched on our air conditioning remote and get the cold air. Now, have you thought about it? Why does cooling happen?

Let’s try to understand the cooling process with a simple explanation.

If you take a small amount of medicated spirit, you will see your palm will get cooled. How it is cooled,

  • Spirit evaporates at normal pressure & temperature.
  • For this evaporation, the spirit takes heat from the palm
  • Palm loses heat & gets cold.
how ac works hvac
How ac works

Basic Refrigeration Cycle

All air conditioners work based on refrigeration cycles. We have already learned the vapour compression cycle or vapour absorption cycles. In this lesson, we will consider the vapour compression system which is widely used in various industries.

Refrigerant circulates through evaporator, compressor, condenser, expansion valve and continues this cycle.

refrigeration cycle basics
Refrigeration cycle basics

Parts of Air Conditioners

Now, we will see how a simple air conditioner works in our house to have a practical understanding. Let’s try to understand the different parts of air conditioners and what are the functions of each part.

There are four (4) major components in air conditioners:

  • Evaporator
  • Compressor
  • Condenser
  • Expansion valve

Along with the main components, all other parts of air conditioners are

  • Evaporator fan
  • Condenser fan
  • Filters
  • Refrigerant
  • Electric motors
  • Controls
  • Refrigerant pipes
  • Drain pipes
  • Electrical cables
  • Control cables

Introduction with Components


The evaporator is a cooling coil and acts as a heat exchanger in the AC system. The main functions are :

  • To collect or absorb the heat from the area which needs to be cooled.
  • The evaporator changes or transforms the refrigerant from the liquid to a vapour.
  • In the evaporator, the temperature of refrigerant should continually much less than the surrounding temperature in order to make a continuous heat flows to the refrigerant.

It is placed in the indoor unit. The indoor unit is located inside the room which needs to be air-conditioned. This coil is having fins to increase the surface area. Surrounding air will lose heat and becoming cool.

evaporator basics
Evaporator basics

This cool air will then to be circulated by blower to the space to be conditioned. This blower or fan is known as evaporator fan. Don’t be confused between blower and fans, we will learn the difference between blower and fan later on.

evaporator fans basics
Evaporator fans basics

Evaporator Fan

Air Distribution Scheme will be as below:


A compressor is the most important part and it is called the heart of the air conditioning system. The main functions of the compressor are:

  • To draw continuously the refrigerant vapour from the evaporator
  • Maintain a low pressure and temperature inside the evaporator. We know that high pressure and high-temperature fluid always flow towards low pressure and low temperature respectively.
  • In the compressor, the refrigerant vapour pressure & temperature will be increased and a pressure & temperature difference between evaporator & compressor will be always maintained respectively.

Due to the difference of pressure & temperature, phase changes from liquid refrigerant to vapour refrigerant will be faster.

compressor basics

Then, the compressor raises the pressure of the refrigerant to which it can be condensed to by rejecting heat to one heat exchanger i.e. condenser.


The condenser is simply a heat exchanger where gasses changed into a liquid.  Refrigerant undergoes a phase change in the condenser. 

  • The refrigerant vapour released from the compressor is in superheated conditions.
  • Firstly, condenser reduces the heat content from the refrigerant vapour & make it saturated vapour.
  • Further reduction of heat content from the vapour, phase changed into the liquid.
  • To make this heat transfer fast, the surface area of the condenser is increased with fins.
  • During this phase change, a slight vacuum is created within the condenser, hence, the condensation will be faster.
  • This heat is rejected to the atmosphere by using condenser fans.
Condenser basics
Condenser basics

Expansion Valve

The expansion valve is located between the condenser and evaporator. The main function shall be as follows,

  • To maintain constant pressure and temperature
  • To control the flow of refrigerant from the condenser to the evaporator
  • To reduce the high-pressure liquid line to low pressure in the evaporator
expansion valve basics
Expansion valve basics


A blower is used in the air conditioners, to circulate the air. The blower continues to flow the air as we as it sucks the hot air too and maintaining proper air circulation.

split air conditioner blower
Split air conditioner blower

Condenser fans

Condenser releases the heat from the condenser coils. Now, condenser fans are necessary to increase the rate of cooling and boost the system.

condenser fans
Condenser fans


Due to the dust particles or other pollutants, it is very much necessary to filtrate the air before we breathe or use.

Remember filter cleaning is necessary to increase the efficiency as well as the indoor air quality.

In the air conditioning system, various kinds of filters are used to filtrate the air. Filters maybe

  • Panel filters
  • Prefilters
  • Activated carbon filters
  • Fine filters


Refrigerant is the main working fluid in the air conditioning system. It changes it’s phase very quick. Normally, the following refrigerants are widely used:

  • R134a
  • R410a
  • R407c

Refrigerant is chosen in such a way that it will not affect the environment, like less ozone depletion potential and less global warming potentials.

Electrical Motors

The electrical motors for evaporator fans, condenser fans, compressors are required.


Monitoring and controlling air temperature in air conditioning is necessary and it is done by a thermostat.

The thermostat senses the temperature of the conditioned space and turns the blower on or off based on the cooling requirements.

  • If thermostat set temperature is higher, loads will be less
  • AC loads will be more for lower thermostat temperature.

Pipes & Cables

Piping, cabling, etc. are required to complete the air conditioning system.

  • Electrical cables are required to connect to the main power source. In addition, both indoor and outdoor units are also connected with electrical cables.
  • Refrigerant piping along with fittings, insulations, etc. are provided between the indoor unit and outdoor unit.
  • The condensate drain pipe from the indoor units is provided to drain out the water.

Working Principle Description

How do you describe the air conditioning system? 

Step#1: Heat absorbed in the evaporator.

At normal pressure and temperature, refrigerant starts evaporating in the evaporator coil and latent heat of evaporation takes adjacent surface or adjacent areas or surrounding air.

Air is becoming cool by releasing heat and refrigerant becomes heated by taking heat.

how air conditioner works basics
How air conditioner works basics

Step#2: Compressor increases pressure & temperature

When the compressor starts rotating, there will be a negative pressure and refrigerant vapour is forced to enter the compressor. Once refrigerant vapour enters, the compressor compresses the gas and its pressure and temperature increases.

Step#3: Heat removal in the condenser

High pressure and high-temperature refrigerant vapour then pass through condenser. Here, the refrigerant vapour is changed into liquid and release heat into the atmosphere.

Step#4: Flow control

After heat removal, the refrigerant enters into the expansion valve. This expansion valve throttles and control the flow and send the refrigerant to the evaporator.

This process continues and, in this way, the air conditioner works.

Working Principle Scheme

It’s a very easy process and explained in a very simple way with relevant images to understand better in a step by step.

Refrigerant is pumped through tubing in the circuit to start the refrigeration process.

refrigeration process step one
Refrigeration process step one

This refrigerant is cold and starts changing its phase in normal conditions.

refrigerant process step two
Refrigeration process step two

In Evaporator, Refrigerant takes heat from adjacent air and starts evaporating at normal pressure & temperature and change its phase from liquid to vapour.

refrigerant process step three
Refrigeration process step three

Compressor creates a low pressure at the inlet and maintain a constant flow in the circuit and compress the refrigerant vapour as well as increases its pressure and temperature.

After compressor refrigerant vapour moves to the condenser coil and releases heat to the atmosphere.

The vapour travels to a compressor that pressurizes it and moves it through the condenser coil, where it releaes heat, which is expelled outside.

The refrigerant then moves through an expansion valve which converts it to a low-pressure and maintains required flow in the circuit.

This cycle works continuously in all air conditioner units

A blower circulates air through the coil and air gets cooled. Cool air gets hot in the room, goes upside and sucked by blower and again it goes through the evaporator coil, get cooled and repeat the process.

Understanding with Animation

We have explained how does air conditioner works in step by step. Now, the same working principle can be described in simple animation also, to understand the process visually.

Learn Engineering has created a very nice representation of How Air Conditioner Works. Check it out!

Explanation of Air Conditioners

There is various type of air conditioners, from simple system to complex air conditioning system. These all are used based on the industry requirements, for example

  • Split Air Conditioners
  • Package air conditioners
  • Chilled water system and many others.

The basic working procedure is explained in very brief to get basic knowledge. Let’s start with split air conditioners!

Split Air Conditioners

A split air conditioner consists of two units, indoor unit and outdoor unit and it is normally used in residential applications, small scale industrial applications.

Indoor Unit

The indoor unit is located inside the room which needs to be air-conditioned and it consists of filters, cooling coils i. e., evaporator, expansion valve and a blower. The refrigerant evaporates and absorbs heat from the room air. Room air becomes cold by losing heat and circulate by a blower into the room.

After absorbing heat, the refrigerant will go to an outdoor unit for releasing heat into the atmosphere. Inside air will be recirculating and again will pass through the evaporator and maintain constant cooling inside the room.

split air conditioner indoor units
Split air conditioner indoor units

Outdoor Unit

The outdoor unit is located outside the room to release the heat. It consists of compressor, condenser coil and condenser fans. The heat absorbed by refrigerant from the indoor unit (evaporator coil) will reach to the compressor in the outdoor unit

The compressor, heart of air conditioning system, circulates the refrigerant throughout the system. The compression of refrigerant happens in the compressor and pressure, the temperature of the refrigerant is increased. High pressure and temperature refrigerant then moved to the condenser coil i.e., condenser. As the refrigerant passes through the condenser coil, condensing fans delivers ambient air across the condenser coil and cool the refrigerant and it again comes back to evaporator coil through an expansion valve.

In this process, the heat from the inside area will be removed to the atmosphere.

split air conditioner outdoor units
Split air conditioner outdoor units

Normally split air conditioners are available as;

  • 1 TR (Ton or Tonnage of refrigeration)
  • 1.5 TR
  • 2.0 TR
  • 2.5 TR

These type of split air conditioners are known as Hi-Wall Split Air Conditioners since it is wall mounted. However, there are many other different kinds of split air conditioners available with varying capacity now a day in the market, like

  • Floor mounted split air conditioners
  • Ceiling mounted air conditioners
  • Variable refrigerant flow type
  • Ductable split air conditioners and many others.

Packaged Air Conditioners

The name packaged air conditioners itself implies a package, where indoor and outdoor units are located in one unit only. In each package air conditioner, one side consists of evaporator fan, evaporator coils and another side consists of compressors, condenser coils, condenser fans etc. In medium-capacity requirement mainly in industrial applications or commercial applications, packaged air conditioners are widely used.

  • Used in medium-scale application where split air conditioners are not feasible
  • Capacity varies manufacturer to manufacturer. Normally it is available from 10 TR to even 30 TR.
  • Since packaged units itself has condenser units, it has to keep always outside.
  • A connection has to be provided between packaged units and the area to be cooled.

Refer a simple image for packaged air conditioners, to get a basic idea.

packaged air conditioners ac
Packaged air conditioners ac

Chilled Water System

In the case of large scale application like industrial or commercial applications, the chilled water system is used.  Mainly high capacity requirements or varying demands application chilled water system is the best choice. In a chilled water system, the main refrigeration cycle is same with split air conditioners or packaged air conditioners. However, there is a chiller which is nothing but evaporator as well as the compressor, condenser assembly. Due to its large capacity, the design of chiller is different from other air conditioners.

chiller unit
Chiller unit

Basics of the chilled water system are,

  • separate water circuit is used to get the cooling effects from the evaporator.
  • Evaporator exchanges heat between refrigerant and water instead of refrigerant and air.
  • Later on, the refrigerant passes through the compressor and cooled in the condensers.
  • The condenser is cooled by air or plate heat exchangers or cooling towers based on the capacity as well as design requirements.
  • Condenser water circulation is by condenser water pumps.
  • Chiller produces chilled water, normally at 7 deg. C and return at 12 deg. C at the chiller after heat pick up from the conditioned space.
  • Air handling units (AHU) which handle or circulate air is to be placed in the conditioned space.
  • Each AHU consists of cooling coils, fan, filters etc. and water is circulated from the chiller to the cooling coil of AHU.
  • The cooling coil in AHU picked up the heat from the air and air gets cooled and water gets hot by receiving the heat from the air.
  • Hot water around 12 deg. C returned back to the chillers and cooled in the chillers.
  • Water circulation from the chillers to AHU by chilled water pumps.
  • This circulation controlled by control systems, various valves etc.

A simple chilled water system is indicated in a diagram for getting an idea.

chilled water systems
Chilled water systems


So, we have learned how does different air conditioner works, along with a few practical examples. Any doubt, don’t hesitate to write to us!  Anyways, try to solve the quizzes to test the core of learning! Cheers!



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