Air Conditioning Facts and Information - Types of Air Conditioner and How They Work

Summary: An explanation of the different types of air conditioning and facts and information on how air conditioning works. Find out the main differences between comfort air conditioning systems and industrial air conditioning systems, how refrigeration units are measured and what relative humidity is and how it is used in air conditioning systems.

Don't want to do this job yourself? Let us help you find a tradesman local to you

What is air conditioning?

The purpose of air conditioning is to control the filtration, air movement, temperature and humidity of an atmospheric environment. Air conditioning is always associated with the cooling and dehumidification process of air and is always therefore identified with refrigeration equipment.

The full control over relative humidity by the addition of moisture by means of a humidifier and the use of a humidifier constitutes full air conditioning, but this control is not always exercised. However, the more often used partial or comfort air conditioning which uses refrigeration equipment only and is therefore capable of cooling as well as dehumidifying is still referred to as air conditioning.

From the foregoing therefore the term 'ventilation' should not be confused with air conditioning as refrigeration equipment is not necessarily provided with ventilation equipment.

What is Relative Humidity?

The atmosphere always contains moisture in the form of water vapor. The maximum amount of water vapor that may be contained in the air depends on the temperature of the air and the higher the temperature of the air, the more water vapor may be contained.

At high temperatures and high moisture contents extreme discomfort is experienced as the evaporation of moisture from the body into the atmosphere by the process of perspiration becomes difficult.

In the air conditioning process the moisture content of the air may be reduced by the use of a cooling coil or added by the use of a humidifier.

The term relative humidity is simply a ratio between the actual moisture content of the air compared with the moisture content of the air required for saturation at the same temperature, ie at 100% relative humidity (also known as saturation point).

The air conditioning engineer uses the psychometric chart to analyze how the state of moist air alters as an air conditioning process takes place.

Is There a Difference Between Comfort Air Conditioning and Industrial Conditioning?

Yes, the object of comfort conditioning as the name implies is solely to provide a comfortable environment for the majority of occupants. Humans are reasonably tolerant to humidity and may be comfortable from a range of between 55% and 20% relative humidity at normal comfort temperatures.

It is therefore common when specifying to limit the humidity in summer and not specify a limit in winter. Typically therefore a specification would state an internal condition of 22°C / 50% relative humidity being maintained at 30°C / 20°C wet bulb external conditions in summer.

In winter the specification may typically be 21°C internal temperature at -3°C saturated outside air temperature.

Industrial conditioning is provided generally for a process which requires a closely controlled atmosphere. A typical specification may be that an internal environment is required of say 21°C ±0.5°C and 50% relative humidity ±2.5% at all external conditions.

It will be seen therefore that the industrial conditions for clearly defined limits rather than comfort conditioning which is based on statistical surveys of occupants feelings.

Portable air conditioners provide an inexpensive alternative to having a fixed 'through the wall' system and of course as the name implies can be moved around the house.

What is Meant by a "Ton" of Refrigeration?

Confusingly the unit has little to do with weight, as used in common parlance. One ton of refrigeration is the term used to refer to 12,000 B.T.U.s/hour (British Thermal Units/Hour) of cooling effect. Thus a chiller or condensing unit with a cooling capacity of 60,000 B.T.U.s/hour is said to have a capacity of 5 tons.

It should be noted that the unit B.T.U./hour is a unit of heat flow still widely used in North America, Canada and parts of Asia whereas Europe uses the 'watt'. One ton of refrigeration approximates to 3.5kW of cooling.

The origin of the term is the amount of heat absorbed by one ton of ice when melting from solid to liquid state at 32°F and assuming a latent heat of ice of 144 B.T.U.s/lb. The heat absorbed is found to be 288,000 B.T.U.s over 24 hours, or 12,000 B.T.U.s/hour (in reality the latent heat of ice is slightly less than 144 B.T.U.s/lb.)

What is Direct Expansion Equipment?

"Direct expansion", "DX", "refrigeration" or "split" units are all generic terms used to identify the same equipment. The terms are in fact rather loose but in any event it has become accepted that the terms refer to two or more units, one usually positioned externally and one or more usually positioned internally.

The units are connected together by site installed refrigeration pipe work which is charged with a refrigerant. The external unit may take one of three forms:

  • (A) The heat pump - which consists of a fan, compressor, coil and reversing valve, and rejects unwanted heat to atmosphere during the cooling cycle and extracts heat from the atmosphere during the heating cycle
  • (B) The condensing unit - which is as described above but does not have a reversing valve and therefore cools only
  • (C) The condenser - which consists of a fan and coil (as the compressor is contained in the indoor unit); the condenser is used less often than (A) and (B)

The indoor units consist of fan coil unit or air handling unit which may be located in the atmosphere being air conditioned or remotely in a plant room.

Some manufacturers produce 'external' units that may be located internally and in the case of these units ductwork is usually connected to atmosphere to reject heat or extract heat.

DX systems are in direct contrast to hydraulic systems or chilled water systems. With these systems cooling is achieved by circulating chilled water with a hydraulic pump. Generally speaking with direct expansion equipment the manufacturers match the indoor and the outdoor units and many well not sell the units individually for fear of 'mismatching' occurring.

Is it Possible to Vary off Coil Temperature During the Cooling Cycle of Direct Expansion Equipment?

It is possible to vary the off coil temperature using the direct expansion equipment by the use of 'hot gas bypass'.

Hot gas bypass maintains the evaporator coiled temperature independent of the load on the coil by taking hot gas directly from the compress output and mixing it with gas on the output side of the expansion valve.

This technique keeps the compressor(s) running, thus reducing start-up surges, temperature swings, and humidity problems.

Don't fancy doing this project yourself? We work with Checkatrade to ensure that we recommend only reliable and trustworthy tradesmen.

All project content written and produced by

Project Feedback