Who Invented The Air Conditioner & How It Works?
Built in the early days of the 19th century, the first mechanical working Air Conditioner was the brainchild of Wills Carrier, an engineer working in Brooklyn, New York at the time.
What Is An Air Conditioner?
It is a unit made up of different components of the Refrigerant, compressor, condenser etc.
That dehumidifies and conditions the air that is being fed to it, to the desired standards.
What Is Air Conditioning?
It is defined as the process of removing heat from a confined space, which in turn, cools the air and removes the moisture from it.
Air conditioning is used for various domestic and industrial purposes.
It is also used in rooms with heat producing electronic devices or even to display or store fragile artwork.
How many times have you walked in from a hot day outside and bolted straight for the AC vents?
I know I have…… at full speed.
That feeling of cold, dehumidified air on your skin after facing the wrath of the Sun is heavenly, to say the least.
And so, we all love Air Conditioners and now we know who to thank them for.
They save us all from sweaty situations and uncomfortable living environments and provide unlimited industrial applications in various fields of work. Let’s dig further.
Invention Of The Carrier Air Conditioner
Willis Carrier was working for Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company, where he was faced with the dire problem of “humidity” in one of the application processes in his workplace.
Being the man he was Willis began experimenting with air conditioning in order to find a way to solve the problem. Soon, he came up with the first Carrier Air conditioner which was built in Buffalo and ran for the first time on 17 July 1902.
*picture courtesy – www.Williscarrier.com
The Air Conditioner provided the publishers with optimum temperature and humidity, thus helping to maintain the consistent paper dimensions and ink alignment of the final product.
The machine was then sought after by many after experiencing its real-life applications.
Soon “The Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America” was formed by Willis Carrier to meet the rising demands for Air Conditioning.
Over time, the same technology was incorporated in automobiles and personal living spaces which we still seem to this date.
Air Conditioner Fact #1
It was an unnamed California millionaire in 1892, who first tried to cool an entire room in his house mechanically.
The supposed device was six by nine feet in dimensions and required a false wall to conceal the machinery, more of which was up on the roof.
How Does An Air Conditioner Work?
Any Air Conditioner uses a Refrigerant which with the help of a compressor, condenser and evaporator coils, removes the heat from the air blowing over it and absorbs the humidity as well.
This process happens step by step in which the refrigerant goes through different states of matter in order to absorb the heat from the room air efficiently.
Just like the radiator of a car, the Air Conditioner contains a series of piping which helps dissipate large amounts of heat, over a smaller surface area.
When the blower fans blow hot room air over these coils which hold the ever-expanding and compressing refrigerant, the coils absorb the heat and humidity, and the fans then blow out the cold dehumidified air.
*photo courtesy – www.foranyinfo.com
In simpler terms, the Air Conditioner works by sucking in the normal air and then using its various components to separate water molecules from the air to finally produce clean, cold and dehumidified air.
The removal of heat is a byproduct of the dehumidification of air.
Parts Of An Air Conditioner
In order to produce the final cold and dehumidified air, every Air Conditioner is made up of these five specific components that each plays its own part in the production of cold air.
These five components may vary in size and function depending on the type of air conditioning you have installed, but will essentially make up the Air conditioner you know, as a whole single unit.
- Expansion Valve.
- Evaporator Coil.
And this applies to every kind of Air Conditioner out there, be it Window, Split, ductless or any other.
They all use the following components and direct expansion refrigeration to give you cold dehumidified air.
*picture courtesy –www. made-in-china.com
It is usually made up of an element with a very low boiling point, like Nitrogen.
This is because the liquid pumps throughout the Air Conditioner like “blood” and collects heat from the air being sucked by the Air Conditioner by changing its state of matter.
The collected heat is then expelled out the back once the refrigerant changes its state of matter back to gas or vapour and so the cycle keeps on repeating itself.
*picture courtesy- www.wikimedia.org
If the refrigerant is the blood being pumped throughout the Air Conditioner, then Compressor is the heart that pumps this blood throughout the Air Conditioner.
The refrigerant enters the Compressor in the form of Cool Vapor at low pressure.
The compressor then compresses the Cool Vapor using high pressure.
This causes the vapour to become compressed, which then exits out the compressor as a hot vapour at high pressure.
*picture courtesy- www.macsworldwide.wordpress.com
The condenser can usually be found in the shape of a coil inside an Air Conditioner.
The coil is a series of piping with a blower fan that blows the room air over the coils.
When the room air hits the housing of the coils in the condenser, it absorbs heat from the hot refrigerant flowing through the coils at high temperature and high pressure.
This exchange of heat causes the hot gas to condense.
The gas is then converted into a liquid.
This high pressure and high-temperature liquid, then reach the Expansion Valve.
*picture courtesy – www.ecoclim.com
The expansion valve does what its name suggests; it expands the high temperature and high-pressure hot liquid.
When the hot liquid refrigerant, reaches the expansion valve, it has to pass through a tiny opening at high pressure, which results in a spray of low-pressure mist on the other side of the valve.
This conversion from high pressure, high-temperature liquid to a low-pressure mist results in a sudden drop in the temperature of the refrigerant, making it a cool liquid mist at low pressure when it reaches the Evaporator coil.
*picture courtesy – www.made-in-china.com
Here Is Where All The Magic Happens
When the low-pressure cold liquid mist enters the evaporator coils, the blower fan passes room air over the coils.
This results in heat exchange between the coils and the room air, where the heat from the hot room air is transferred onto the refrigerant which now starts heating up and changing its state of matter back to warm vapour.
This warm vapour is then sent back to the compressor, where the whole cycle begins once again all over.
How The Term Air Conditioning Was Coined?
The term was first patented by Stuart W. Cramer of Charlotte.
Willis Carrier then adopted the term and incorporated it into his Company’s name.
Stuart had filed for the patent in 1906 while exploring ways to add moisture to the air in his textile mill.
It was his attempt to compete with “water conditioning” which was a well-known process then for processing textiles.
He would combine moisture with the ventilation in order to change and control the humidity of the air in a textile factory.
Most Common Types Of Air Conditioners In Use Today
- Window AC
*picture courtesy – www.airconditionercanada.com
These are the most commonly used types of Air Conditioner.
You will mostly find them hidden in the windows of small offices or residential areas.
The Air Conditioning unit is cube-shaped and is completely contained in itself.
This makes its installation, especially easy for untrained professionals as well.
The Air Conditioner requires a small window-like opening in the building to operate, which allows the exterior part of the unit to hang outside and dissipate the heat in the outer surroundings of the building, while the inner part blows out cool air.
Being an all in one unit, the window Air Conditioner has its own downside.
Because the compressor and the evaporator coil are in the same unit, the cooling capacity and the cooling capabilities of the window AC are limited.
This also makes the unit considerably noisy and thus unappealing to some.
Split Air Conditioners
*picture courtesy – shopping.indiatimes.com
As you might have guessed by its name, the unit itself is divided into two separate sections that operate independently, but in harmony to condition the surrounding air.
The cooling unit is placed in the room or area you want to cool, while the unit that separates the heat from the room air is kept outside to ensure optimum cooling.
Such units can be found in offices, shops, and commercial as well as business spaces.
These units offer superior cooling performance when compared to Window Air Conditioners and produce lesser noise as well.
The separate Cooling unit allows for higher capacity Air Conditioners to be built, while the other unit allows for elimination of noise.
Central Air Conditioners
*picture courtesy – sanelijomiddle.us
These are the more commercially used Air Conditioners which are deployed on a larger scale.
Malls, hotels, corporate buildings, stadiums etc., all deploy Central Air Conditioning in order to cool efficiently and effectively on a large scale.
Central Air Conditioners essentially have the same components as the Window or Split AC but on a much larger scale.
These components are then placed best to their use depending upon the building layout.
Today, many buildings are built with central air conditioning in mind.
The ducts and other components are all laid out in the building plans before construction. Central Air Conditioning also acts as a ventilation system in spaces like Parking Garages or other underground structures.
Air Conditioner Repair
Repair of an Air Conditioner is not an easy task and should not be attempted by untrained professionals.
Failure to adhere to this advice can easily result in loss of life or limb.
Even simple repairs and replacement of refrigerant, requires specialized equipment, tools and ample knowledge of engineering and chemicals.
The refrigerant itself tends to be volatile and can cause harm if not handled properly.
Thus, if your Air Conditioner is not working properly, seek proper assistance and any kind of Air Conditioner repair should only be attempted by professionally trained personnel only.
Although you cannot repair it on your own, you can definitely assess the issue and take a decision accordingly.
Follow these steps to assess the situation and health of your Air Conditioning unit.
Air Conditioner Fact #2
Willis Carrier was such a driven man that once while building his Air Conditioner he left for a business trip with a huge suitcase, and all he had packed in the suitcase, was a single handkerchief!
What Is The State Of The Unit?
- Does it turn on?
- Does it turn on but not blow any air?
- Does it turn, but doesn’t cool the air?
- It does not turn on
- Make sure the unit is plugged in and ensure that the power socket works correctly by plugging in another appliance to verify the power supply in the socket.
- Check all the circuit breakers and fuses and ensure that none of them has tripped off or blown out. This is because older residential areas tend to get overloaded easily with today’s high consumption appliances like the Air Conditioner. Even if you live in a newer house, it doesn’t hurt to check and rule out this possibility.
- Ensure that your thermostat shows the appropriate readings and is set at the right temperature. Wrong settings can also result in the malfunction of the unit.
- It turns on but has low cooling performance.
- Go ahead and check your blower fan belt for any damage or breakage. If there is excessive slack in the belt, it can also be a cause of the low cooling performance. All of these cases can result in the formation of ice inside the unit and thus result in lower cooling performance.
- Repair or replace the blower fan belt and do allow the ice to melt before starting the unit again.
- Check the coils and the blower fan Filter
If they are covered in dust and grease, clean them thoroughly with a solution of water, soap, and a little bleach.
- If none of the above seems to work, it’s time to call the company for the services of qualified personnel.
Air Conditioner Service
Unlike repairs, you should clean and maintain your Air Conditioner regularly, by yourself or by hiring someone.
This helps to prolong the life of your appliance and also reduce the cost of future repairs.
Some simple steps you can follow in order to carry out the Air Conditioner service have been listed below.
- Unplug/Switch off the power whenever not in use
During the seasons you don’t require air conditioning, or if you are going out of town for a while, make sure to unplug the power to the Air Conditioners in order to avoid the risk of electrical or mechanical failures.
Air Conditioners are huge appliances and although safely built under many safety standards, we can’t rule out the possibility of one malfunctioning while connected to a power supply.
Air Conditioners are known to leak gases if not maintained properly, and this can be avoided by regular maintenance.
- Wash the Condenser coil once a season
Use a high-pressure garden hose to wash away any stuck debris or dirt. During the usage of the Air Conditioner, circulation of constant air and the dehumidification of all that air for a long period of time often deposits a thick coat of grease and dust on the condenser coils and other inner parts of the Air Conditioner.
- Clean the Debris (only for ACs with external units)
*make sure the unit is unplugged*
On the exterior unit, remove the protective housing, usually held in place with the help of some screws/fasteners.
After undoing the screws, lift the fan cage/cover till you see the fan.
Now clean away any debris or waste or leaves that might have gotten inside the unit.
- Clean the Grills, Fins, and Vents
Using a high-pressure hose, blast away any kind of dirt or debris stuck in the fins and vents of your unit and make sure they are absolutely clean.
Ensure that you hit the spray of water from the inside out and not the other way around as that could damage the structural stability and integrity of the Air Conditioner.
- Straighten the Fins
Over time the fins in any Air conditioning unit, will become bent or blocked depending on the usage.
Use a butter knife or any other knife to straighten out minor bends and clean any blockages in the fins of the Air Conditioner.
Any major deformations or breaks in the fins should be brought to the immediate attention of the respective maintenance personnel in order to avoid further damage and repercussions.
- Clean the Evaporator Coil
Time to get to the Evaporator coil, almost every commercially available Air Conditioner today, provides easy access to its evaporator coils, with the exception of some that use foil and a few screws to cover up the access area leading to the coils.
Do not hesitate and don’t let those puny screws come in the way of your clean evaporator coils.
After undoing the cover, clean away the dust and dirt using a soft brush that does not scrape at the metal.
Now use the commercially available, no-rinse coil cleaner on the dirty coils, and continue the Air Conditioner service.
Spray the coils with ample amounts of the solution and let it drop into the drain pan below.
You can now clean the drain pan with hot water, soap and bleach to remove any leftovers.
Tip: pour 50% bleach and water down the drain to keep the drain clear.
- Clean/Change the Blower Filter
Every Air Conditioner has a blower filter to prevent unwanted debris, particles, insects etc. from entering the Air Conditioner vents.
Depending on your make and model, the filter can either be cleaned or washed depending on what it is made of.
It is advisable to change/replace the blower filter twice every year, preferably before the start and end of the summer season.
This helps ensure the proper functioning of the machine and prevent unwanted repairs.
Paying heed to the following steps would ensure a safe Air Conditioner service and the safe and smooth working of your Air Conditioning unit.
Effect Of Air Conditioners On The Environment
As much as we’d like to think that we need to condition the air everywhere is having no effect on the environment, we can’t ignore the scientific facts and the consequences we are facing today.
Air Conditioners have a very adverse effect on the environment. Firstly, they use a large amount of electrical energy in order to condition the air around us to our desired needs.
Secondly, the refrigerants used in cheaper Air Conditioners or Air Conditioners made by an unknown maker that does not adhere to environmentally friendly laws will contain environmentally harmful chemicals like CFCs, HCFCs, HFC or HFO.
These chemicals cause severe harm to the ozone layer around the earth, and the ozone layer is responsible for our skin’s protection from UV rays and other harmful flares that are released by our sun on a regular basis.
Even the environmentally friendly Air Conditioners, that claim to have no effect on the environment might cause more harm than you might imagine.
Although they may use seemingly harmless refrigerants, like water or ammonia, there is still a noticeable impact on the local surroundings.
Also for those that might not be aware, Ammonia is toxic in nature and can cause more harm than good if leaked into the wild.
Hence, although the need for cooling might outweigh the environmental impact it causes, we should still try and do our best to reduce the carbon footprint, our air conditioning units have.
Some simple steps we can do to reduce the impact of our air conditioning units.
- Always use the least possible amount of units possible to cool an area.
- Share your cooling areas while working together with other people.
- Ensure that you are not overloading your unit by asking it to cool an area larger than its capability. As that can have a very adverse effect on the life and electrical efficiency of your unit.
- Regularly check the amount of electricity your air conditioning uses, any spikes indicate component failures which can one day result in failure. Decreased energy consumption will also save you money and help preserve the environment.
- Ensure that you recycle your units properly and get rid of the refrigerant in an environmentally friendly way, without causing harm to you, or to those around you.
Air Conditioner Fact #3
The first fully air-conditioned residence was built in 1913 by Charles Gates, who was also known as Charles “spend a million” Gates due to his spending habits.
His mansion also had gold plumbing to top it all. But the irony of life is that Charles died while on a hunting trip, before the mansion was finished.