How Does Air Conditioning Work?

How Does Air Conditioning Work?

It may surprise you to learn that the innovations that led to air conditioning weren’t about making people comfortable—they were about saving paper.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Willis Carrier created a system in 1902 to help a Brooklyn publishing company resolve a humidity problem. The hot summers caused paper to get moist, meaning it wouldn’t absorb ink, making it useless for printing.
Carrier created a machine to take the air inside the building and blow it over cool pipes. Cold air carries less moisture than warm air, so it reduced the humidity inside.

He also discovered it made people cooler and more comfortable. Carrier knew he was on to something, and as the cliché goes, “the rest is history.” 

Where would we be without Willis Carrier, one of the pioneers of air conditioning? One thing’s for sure, August in Raleigh-Durham would be much more difficult.

Have you ever wondered how central air conditioning works? Here’s a basic 4-1-1 on how it functions and what you can do to get the most life out of your AC System.

The sophisticated science of AC

Your air conditioner works a lot like your body’s own natural air conditioning: perspiration.

When you sweat, the water evaporates from your skin, cooling your body. Think of an air conditioner in the same way with an additional bit of chemistry.
Air is pulled into the AC system and then sent over a set of cold pipes called an evaporator coil. The coil is filled with refrigerant, which absorbs heat from the air. When it does this, it changes from a liquid to a gas.

Then, the refrigerant is sent outside the house to another coil called the condenser. When the refrigerant reaches the condenser, it transforms from a gas back to a fluid. A pump moves the refrigerant between the two coils.

The air created then travels through ductwork and cools your home. This process continues until your home reaches the temperature you want.

Common causes of AC failure

When the system is running smoothly, your home is comfortable and energy efficient. However, there are several common reasons for AC failure. If your unit isn’t making your house cooler, or if you’ve received an increase in your energy bills, consider having a professional technician look at the following:

  • Duct leakage: Inefficient ductwork can drain 20 to 40 percent of your energy.
  • Filters: If you haven’t replaced them or cleaned them, now’s the time. Clogged filters block cooler air.
  • Clean coils: Air conditioning is a sophisticated system. Prime performance is dependent upon keeping it clear of dust and grime. These should be a part of regular routine maintenance checks.
  • Size: It could be that your air conditioner is too small for the size of your home or business. When a system is overworked, it can break down and be unable to efficiently cool rooms.

5 tips to get the most out of your air conditioning

There’s no reason to sweat it when it comes to air conditioning. Follow these steps to ensure smooth running year round:

  1. Get your AC inspected before the heat is on. This will not only give you peace of mind, but help you avoid the busy season.
  2. Keep your unit clean. This means checking coils and any outdoor pieces.
  3. Regularly replace your filters. Clogged filters are one of the chief causes of AC issues.
  4. Inspect ductwork to ensure there are no leaks.
  5. Check for “draft” areas to ensure cool air isn’t seeping out of your house.


Air conditioning is complicated, but staying cool shouldn’t be. Talk with your local heating and AC dealer to find out how you can maintain your system.

Betcha didn’t know that!




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