How Central Air Conditioning Compressors Work

How Central Air Conditioning Compressors Work

If your air conditioning compressor stops working, it can really ruin your day. Or your week, if you don’t repair or replace it quickly enough.

This is because your compressor is possibly the most important part of your air conditioning system. Without it, the refrigerant won’t do any cooling, and your home won’t stay comfortable during the hottest months of the year.

Rather than living with a fan blowing directly in your face all day, let’s take a moment to learn more about the AC compressor in your air conditioner. That way, you’ll understand how it works, why it’s so important, and what you should do when your air conditioning system stops working properly.

How Your Air Conditioning System Works

Essentially, air conditioners are comprised of two main systems: the airflow system, which pulls indoor air through filters and removes impurities and reduces humidity in your house. The second is the condenser unit, designed for cooling your home’s air.

Key Components of Modern Air Conditioners

All central air conditioner systems are made up of these key components: the evaporator, condenser, and compressor. The compressor works inside your air conditioning unit as a go-between to coordinate the evaporator – located inside your air conditioner – and the condenser in the outdoor unit.

As long as your AC system is turned on, you’ll experience more a comfortable temperature and cleaner indoor air. This process works day and night to ensure homeowners have the ideal living environment as opposed to the hot, humid, and potentially dangerous indoor environments of our ancestors.

Newly installed package unit

How Your AC Compressor Works

The compressor in your air conditioner works as the “heat pump” element of most units. In most central air conditioner systems, the AC compressor is located in the outdoor AC unit. Any time you hear your air conditioner unit’s motor kick on, you’re hearing the compressor doing its job to ensure your air conditioner blows cold air. The compressor is housed within the condenser unit and starts the chain reaction that cools the refrigerant.

As the refrigerant moves from your air conditioner’s evaporator, it becomes a low-pressure gas. Your AC compressor tightly compacts the molecules in the gas together, raising both its temperature and pressure.

Since hot air seeks cool areas, the gaseous refrigerant moves through the compressor and the rest of the system and outside through the condenser coil where the excess heat is released from the outdoor cabinet. As the refrigerant moves through the loop, it begins cooling and is fed back into the system to continue removing heat from the air.

You can see how important this liquid-gas cycle is for the proper functioning of all air conditioners. In the event of a compressor failure, you’ll be stuck with hot air and unhealthy living conditions.

A compressor

When AC Compressors Fail

If your compressor stops working, you’ll encounter a host of problems. Let’s make sure you can stop that from happening in its tracks – otherwise, you may need a new AC unit altogether.

Similar to a car’s motor, your compressor has a variety of moving parts that must work in unison. If any of those parts fail, the system will stop working properly, which reduces energy efficiency. As your air conditioner compressor becomes worn over time, it’s all but guaranteed to break down.

When this happens, your air conditioner has no means of circulating the refrigerant. This means you won’t feel that refreshing cool air in your home – in fact, you’ll probably never reach your desired temperature.

In most cases, if your compressor fails, you may have no choice but to purchase an entirely new system.

Compressors being switched out

Air Conditioner Compressor Warning Signs

As with any piece of equipment, it’s best to catch any problems long before your AC compressor fails. The most common warning signs you should be aware of include:

1. Unusual sounds

Any time you hear new noises coming from your HVAC system, including rattling, knocking, clicks or ticks, you might have an issue. Your compressor may be experiencing a “hard start” which means it’s on its last legs and you’ll need to replace it.

2. Not keeping your home cool

Have you been running your indoor unit or outdoor unit on full blast but not feeling the cool air you’re used to? This is a big red flag for when air conditioners will need immediate maintenance.

3. Reduced energy efficiency

Modern air handler systems are designed (and required by law in many cases) to be cost effective. If you see a spike in your electricity bill, your AC may need some work to bring it back to a more efficient state. Energy bills are higher than ever, and if your AC is no longer saving you on energy costs, you might need to replace it.

4. Circuit breakers tripping

When your compressor starts overheating or drawing too much power, it can cause your circuit breaker to trip. Your compressor may need replacing or some immediate maintenance.

5. Leaking outdoor unit

Notice any pools of liquid or stains from previous puddles around your outdoor AC unit? This could be a refrigeration leak. Reach out to a specialist to see if you need a replacement.

Newly installed compressor

Air Conditioner Compressor Maintenance

Preserving the life of your AC compressor is important for you as a homeowner. Otherwise, you’ll have costly repair bills and worse – an uncomfortable home to live in.

With regular maintenance, you can ensure your air conditioning compressor is clean, the refrigerant is at the correct level, and all the moving parts are working well.

If your air conditioner system needs work, only a licensed HVAC technician should perform maintenance or repairs. Licensed technicians will check your refrigerant levels and ensure you have enough refrigerant working through the cooling systems. Then, they’ll determine if your problem is an easy fix or if you need a total AC replacement.

The last thing you want is warm air collecting in your home during the hottest months of the year, so reach out to a licensed, professional technician ASAP.

Contact the Professionals

Have you experienced problems with your air conditioner? Do you think your compressor may be in bad shape? Are the heat, humidity levels, or energy efficiency norms of your home on the fritz? If so, you should seek out a low-cost heat and air expert who understands every aspect of the air conditioning process and can ensure a cost-efficient system for years to come.

At Blue Water Climate Control, we have years of experience handling AC unit compressor problems for our customers. We understand the importance of proper heating and cooling and how to make sure your home’s system works at optimal efficiency year-round. Whether you need a new AC, to replace components of your less-efficient system, scheduled repair and maintenance services, or otherwise, we’ve got you covered.

For more information on our HVAC repair services, AC replacement services, and other heating and air conditioner system services, reach out to a member of our team today.

 Written by Jeremy James

Jeremy James is a veteran of the U.S. Navy who has grown his family’s HVAC business into one of the most successful home service businesses in Knoxville, TN. More than 20 years of experience in the HVAC and Engineering industries and passion for what we do has translated into our customer service, professionalism, and quality. LinkedIn