Most people have a vague idea of how air conditioning systems work. There is a heat exchange between warm air and refrigerant within the air cooling system. The result is that the refrigerant is heated up and changes its state between liquid and gas, in doing so heat is drawn from the air that is passing through the system.

The resulting cool air is then blown back into the room. There are multiple important components in this process such as the compressor, condenser, and evaporator. In this article, you will learn why your HVAC condenser matters so much.

Once you understand its basic function, you will also see what can go wrong. Understanding that is not only going to be intellectually rewarding but it will save you money in practical terms.

Quick Recap on Condensation

We all learned about the water cycle when we were in school. Water evaporates as the sun heats it up, it then rises into the atmosphere where it forms clouds, and eventually as it cools it precipitates and it starts to rain.

The key point here is that water changes its state from liquid to vapor and back again to liquid as a result of temperature changes. This principle is the basis on which air conditioning systems extract heat from the air. That heat affects something within the air conditioning system called refrigerant.

What Is a Refrigerant?

In the water cycle described above, you can think of water as being the refrigerant. In fact, water vapor and ice have been harnessed within cooling machines since the 1800s. Within an HVAC system, the refrigerant is the medium that changes its physical state so as to draw heat from the air passing through the system.

Heat will always move from a medium of a high temperature to a medium of a lower temperature. It is for this reason that water has some disadvantages as a refrigerant when compared with other liquids that have lower boiling points. That means that they can be used more efficiently to draw heat from ambient air temperature while causing a change in their physical state.

How Does an HVAC Condenser Work?

So far in this article, you’ve come to understand that one of the keys to air cooling is that within your HVAC system is a refrigerant that changes its state continuously in a cycle and as a result air is cooled within the system. The part of this process, where the refrigerant changes its state occurs within the condenser.

Likely you’ve seen at the back of your refrigerator there is a sort of metal coil that wraps back and forth from side to side. This is the condenser part of the refrigerator and there will be a similar structure within your HVAC system. 

There are 3 important phases that the refrigerant will go through as it moves through the condenser. The refrigerant is compressed and heated up before entering the condenser which means it is in a gas or vapor form. So the first phase is desuperheating; this is when the gas cools to the point where it is ready to start to condensate and return back to its liquid form.

The next stage as it works its way down the condenser is to actually condensate back to the liquid state. Following this is the subcooling stage. This means that the refrigerant cools sufficiently that it will require significant heat to make it changes its state back to gas.

HVAC Condenser — Vital Importance

Although the principles of refrigeration and cooling air within your HVAC overlap, there are also important differences. For example, in your HVAC system, air must be forcibly driven over the coils of the condenser so that heat exchange can take can place.

If there is anything that affects this heat exchange negatively then you will get problems with your system. For example, if there is anything blocking the flow of air into your condenser then the heat exchange will be less efficient.

Further, if there is a build-up of dirt and debris on the condenser coils, then this too will negatively affect the heat exchange. Of course, there are many other potential issues that can occur so check out this article for more specific details. The important thing is to understand the principles how of the condenser works and why it matters in your HVAC system; knowing that will give you the diagnostic insight you need.

Use an HVAC Condensate Pump

A quick note on this subject, as it is related to your condenser and can cause some confusion: The condensate is not the refrigerant. As air passes through your HVAC system and is cooled, heat and moisture are removed.  

That means that water is a by-product of the process. This is the condensate and it needs to drain somewhere. Many systems allow for the water to drain away. 

However, depending on where you live, there may not be a drain available in which case it needs to be pumped from a storing tank to the outside. That is the function of your HVAC condensate pump. 

HVAC Condenser — Demystified

In this article, you’ve read about why your HVAC condenser matters. It may have seemed to be a mysterious part of your HVAC system, but now you understand why it is there and how it functions. More than that, those insights give you some sense of being able to work out potential problems that may occur and how they affect your system.

Keep this article as a quick reference to remind you about the importance of refrigerant changing state within your condenser and how that facilitates the all-important heat exchange. If you have any questions about your HVAC system, please get in touch here.