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Have you ever thought about getting to know your air conditioner a little better? Most people have little working knowledge of how their AC unit actually works or the parts needed to make it happen. Sure, you may know it has refrigerant, but do you know what that actually does and how?

Taking a few minutes to learn these basic parts of your system will help you if your unit breaks down. Yes, you probably will still call for someone to help fix it, as well you should. However, having an idea helps accelerate the process and gives you peace of mind about the integrity of your technician.

Air Conditioning Basics

First, let’s discuss the basics of your system and how it works. Yes, it has refrigerant, which helps to cool the air. Here is a glimpse at how that happens.

That refrigerant actually absorbs the heat from the air moving through the system. Once it absorbs the heat, it takes it outside and releases it into the air.

In order to facilitate this rapid heat transfer, the refrigerant has to experience changes in pressure. When it goes outside, it’s compressed, which intensifies the heat it absorbed by forcing it into a smaller area.

When that refrigerant then goes back inside, the pressure is dramatically dropped, rapidly reducing the temperature and making it extremely cold. To make this all happen properly, your appliance has several components constantly working.


The compressor is part of the outside unit. Its job is to compress that refrigerant and intensify the heat. It does this by forcing more of the refrigerant into a smaller area.

Because of the strain a compressor is constantly under, it will eventually give out. If your system is already 10-15 years old, which is the expected service life, then it may be time to replace the entire unit.

You may notice your air isn’t coming out quite as cold as it should or even that your air conditioner is struggling to start. You may also discover your AC unit tripping the circuit breaker. It may also emit screeching, clatter, or even growling noises as it struggles.

Condensing Coil and Fan

As the compressor pressurizes the refrigerant, it sends it into the condensing coil. This is where the heat from the refrigerant is transferred to the air outside.

The condensing fan draws air into the condensing unit, drawing it over the coil, and then vents it out the top. This is very similar to how the radiator in your car works to cool your engine.

Of these two, you’re more likely to have problems with your condensing fan. This will likely come with some strange sounds, which could include rattling, scraping or grinding, or even a buzzing sound. You may also notice the fan blades turning slowly.

Evaporator Coil

Once you get inside the house, the refrigerant goes to the evaporator coil. As it travels there, it will pass an expansion valve, which restricts the amount of refrigerant entering your coil. This immediately drops the pressure, driving down the refrigerant’s temperature.

These coils collect a lot of air contaminants that make it past the air filter. As such, they need to be cleaned regularly, usually during an annual maintenance visit. If you’re not careful while cleaning them, you may damage them, causing a dangerous refrigerant leak.

Circulating Fan

The circulating fan is a critical part of actually cooling your house. This draws air in through the air intake and the air filter. It then draws it through the evaporator coils, allowing it to cool down. Finally, it pushes it back into your home, providing the cooling effect.

Several things can happen to the circulating fan. First, it can collect dust and dirt, just like the evaporator coils, so it should be cleaned regularly. It can also become off balance, which will put additional strain on the motor. The motor itself has bearings to allow it to spin, which need lubricating.

If this is a problem in your household, you may notice reduced air flow from your vents. You may also hear sounds similar to those you might hear from a failing condensing fan outside.

The best way to get the most out of your air conditioner is to perform annual maintenance and tend to repairs quickly. Cardwell Heating and Air Conditioning has provided reliable air conditioning maintenance and repair to Cherry Hill residents since 2014. Our technicians are also trusted experts in heating repair, maintenance, and installation, along with water heater service and installation. Give us a call to schedule your AC maintenance today to ensure you’re ready for the hot weather.