An air conditioner is a much-loved household appliance that helps regulate the quality of air one breathes indoors. As the name suggests, it conditions the air to a better quality in terms of temperature and humidity, therefore providing relief from heat or sometimes cold. With lives becoming more urbane and most of the times being spent indoors, what started as a lifestyle choice and luxury is now considered a basic need. Air conditioning allows comfortable spaces to live and work when natural ventilation isn’t possible, read closed spaces like an elevator or a car, protection from extreme temperatures and humidity enabling normal daily routines in a pleasant environ. With rising temperatures across geographies, air conditioning which was earlier limited to very hot areas, has now taken root in almost every part of the world. Though its benefits are most appreciated in warm/ hot places, air conditioners are now manufactured in a way that allow indoor heating as well during colder days if needed.
So how exactly does this brilliant appliance work? What possibly cleans, de-humidifies, cools, ventilates and distributes the air in a room?
An air conditioner has three main parts, the compressor, condenser and an evaporator and works on similar principles of evaporation and condensation like a refrigerator though for a much bigger space rather than a closed unit of a fridge. Both work on the physics priniple of Phase Conversion. In simple terms, when a liquid turns to gas it absorbs heat. By repeating this this of phase conversion over and over again, cooling systems are able to absorb heat for long durations providing the desired results.
The coolant/ refrigerant in an air conditioner is a gas that can be converted to liquid and back with ease. It starts out as a fluid at the compressor as a cool low pressure gas. The compressor compresses/ sqeezes the liquid converting it into a hot high pressure gas and enters the condenser. The condenser condenses the gas and brings it to a lower temperature, a result of liquidation. This liquid then travels to the evaporator through a tiny aperture. This causes drop in the liquid’s pressure and conversion to gas once again. This evaporation process extracts heat from its surroundings. The end result is a low pressure cold cool gas that is distributed through the in-built fans that helps in circulating it evenly in the room. A duct in the air conditioner sucks the air into it
ACs have both domestic and commercial uses. Depending on the size or the indoor space, frequency of usage and intensity of cooling system needed, the design and type can vary. Of these, the size of the room is the most important factor while deciding which AC to buy. ACs with different cooling capacities are available and it is important to get the right one for best results.
Two basic kinds of air conditioners that are used domestically are split ACs and window ACs. In a split variant, the condensor and evaporator are placed outdoors connected to the compressor through a series of pipes. Therefore a split AC is essentially incorporates two sepearte units. Since only a part of the entire machine is placed indoors, it is considered aesthically superior (though some can debate this). A window AC on the other hand is designed as a one single unit with all three primary parts rest together on a single base.
Commercial air conditioning systems often adopt the “central” air conditioning systems for bigger spaces. Shopping malls, office floors, schools and residential buildings are good examples. The central air conditioning works similar to how a split AC works and has a furnace or “air handler” that is placed usually on the roof of the building of at the basement. The air is passed along to different sections of the building through a series of pipes. Addition of air-louver-control boxes in different zones allow multiple temperature controls as needed. A series of vents exposed to the rooms allow cold air outside and suck in hot air back inside.
Since air conditioner’s job is to improve the air quality, it is given that it absorbs some impurities in the process. Also the parts that are exposed in the room, need to be cleaned at regular intervals so that the cooling system does not breed microbes, thereby circulating those indoors.
One must first switch off and unplug before getting into the cleaning process. Once the power is off, basic cleaning can start with the exposed compressor unitof the AC. A simple dusting and cleaning off the vents is sufficient. For the other unit that is placed outdoors, first look for any weeds or plant growth that may have cropped up around it. Trim the foliage well, ideally upto two feet away. Detach the outer panel using a screwdriver. The fan would be visible now. Clean off the dirt from the blades, fan motor and shaft, preferably using a dry rug or brush. Coils can be cleaned the same way. For deeper cleaning, coils can be cleaned with a spray of water or cleaning agent. Wipe it dry, check other nook andcorners for dirt and grime and reassemble the unit.
It may sound ridiculous after reading all about condensation, evaporation, laws of physics etc that air conditioner can be built at home, but it is really not so complicated after all. Science enthusiasts would love to create an economical air conditioner at home using a box fan, copper coils and whole lot of tool box accessories. It may not look like a sleek commercial appliance, but can do the job pretty fine. There are enough tutorials both written and in video format on the internet where one can learn how to do this. This can be an interesting school project for the kids or a weekend DIY activity for the family too!
Air conditioners are almost inseparable part of modern lifestyles. Though some may argue about the ill effects of constant exposure to air conditioning and its effect on the environment overall, there is no doubt that air conditioning systems will only get more advanced with time. With the banning of harmful cooling gases (CFC) already, technology is slowly but surely moving towards more sustainable ways where gadgets become smarter, more energy efficient and greener.
Did you just buy an air conditioner? Would you buy one again? Let us know any of your tips and tricks on how to choose your own air conditioner with style and in a budget.