Learning About Furnaces

New To The South? Air Conditioning 101 For The Beginner

In a few areas of the country, air conditioning is either not necessary, or a simple window unit will do. But in most areas of the United States, a central air conditioner is a requirement to handle the long, sweltering months of spring, summer, and autumn.

For recent snowbirds—those who lived in the north but decide to retire to a warmer climate in the Sun Belt—central air conditioning units can be a bit of a mystery. Here's what you should know about buying and operating one.

How Does A Central Air Conditioner Work?

A chlorine-free refrigerant, called R-410A, is circulated between an air handler and a condenser. R22, also known as Freon, was previously used, but it will no longer be allowed as of January 1, 2020. Therefore, new ones use the more environmentally-friendly R-410A.

The air handler is a part of your heating, venting, and air conditioning system. It is located somewhere in the house, either the basement or in the utility room in homes without basements. The air handler contains a blower, which will move air through the vents.

The condenser is located outside, and it is essentially the large central air conditioning unit itself. It is made up of the cooling tubes and fins, exhaust fan, and the compressor. The coolant runs through the tubes starting outside to the evaporator in the home. The evaporator dehumidifies the air.

An air conditioner does not cool the air, rather it removes the heat from the air via the return ducts. The warm air passes over the coils, and then returns the cooled air via the supply ducts, which then distribute it throughout the house, making the room feel cooler. Supply registers are located on the ceiling or near the ceiling on the top of the wall, and return registers are either in the floor or at the bottom of the wall.

How Large Does A Central Air Conditioning Unit Need To Be?

An air conditioner is rated in terms of tonnage, which is based off of British Thermal Units, or BTUs. This can get confusing pretty quickly, which is just as well as there is no foolproof way for the layman to determine how many tons your home will need.

It is best to have the air conditioner installer determine how much air conditioner you need as it will depend partly on your climate, but it also depends on how well your home is constructed. For example, a newer home will typically have better insulation, therefore, it won't necessarily require as much tonnage.

How Should A Central Air Conditioner Be Operated?

Your air conditioner thermostat should be a "set it and forget it" event. Turning it up and down throughout the day will only cost you money and cause the air conditioner to not work as efficiently as it could otherwise. Decide which temperature you feel you can best handle, which is usually between 74-78 degrees Fahrenheit for most people. Be sure to have an air conditioning installation professional perform routine maintenance as well as change the filter regularly.