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Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. Blog

Air Conditioning Basics: The Compressor

Understanding the basic components of a central air conditioner will help you know why you must schedule maintenance for your system every year. The refrigerant, the evaporator and condenser coils, the blower fan, the capacitors, and the motors are all essential parts of AC operation that must remain in good condition year-round in order for the system to work efficiently and effectively. But perhaps no other component in an air conditioner is as important as the compressor: it’s not only the heart of how an air conditioner runs, it’s the part that needs to stay in the best shape or else the whole system will fail. When a compressor dies, it often means the air conditioner must be replaced.

We’ll take a closer look at the compressor to see how it works—and how it might fail.

For the repairs and maintenance on your air conditioning in Arlington, VA that will keep the compressor healthy, call Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. today.

Compressor basics

The compressor isn’t the figurative heart of an AC. It’s the literal heart: it pumps refrigerant through the system in order to move heat from the indoors to the outdoors.

The compressor is a large pump that operates similar to a piston motor. It is located in the outdoor cabinet of a central air conditioner and only comes on when the thermostat calls for cooling. When that happens, the compressor (powered by its own motor) squeezes down on the liquid refrigerant inside it. This turns the refrigerant into a hot, high-pressure gas. The refrigerant exits the compressor to move to the nearest area of low pressure, the condenser coil. After the refrigerant completes its full trip through the air conditioner—releasing its heat to the outside, then absorbing heat from the inside—it returns to the compressor where the process begins again.

Like piston motors, compressors can wear down due to dirt and lack of lubrication. This will eventually cause the compressor to become “tight” and eventually “seized,” stopping all motion. Repair technicians can often repair the compressor to get its piston moving once more.

Eventually, an aging compressor will wear down to the point that it will burn-out completely: it will no longer be able to create the proper pressure for the refrigerant. This usually coincides with the end of the life service of the air conditioner itself.

Repairs and maintenance

Although a compressor will fail eventually, you can help it achieve the longest life possible with regular maintenance from a technician. Along with annual visits, make sure you call for repairs when you notice any odd behavior, such as the compressor failing to turn on, or stuttering at start-up and then turning off prematurely. A compressor that fails early in an air conditioner’s lifespan can mean the end of the system and the need to install a new one—the most expensive repair of all!

Since 2001, Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. has helped people stay cool through the summer with repairs for their air conditioning in Arlington, VA. Call us today to sign up for our maintenance program.

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