Air Conditioner Condenser Unit 101

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Last updated: 
March 19, 2024

Condensers: Types, Uses, and Maintenance

Introduction to Condensers

Condensers are essential components in various mechanisms that involve heat transfer. They are designed to condense substances from a gaseous state to a liquid state through a cooling process. During this change, the substance releases its latent heat, which is then transferred to the condenser coolant. Condensers come in a wide range of designs and sizes, with small units commonly used in residential areas and large units employed in pharmaceutical or agricultural processes. Even household refrigerators have condensers that help evacuate the heat extracted from within the unit. According to our research, condenser units are also used in industrial chemical fields, such as steam power plants and distillation, as well as in air conditioners and various heat exchange devices. The majority of condenser units use the surrounding air or cooling water as a coolant agent.

Types of Condensers

Surface Condensers

Surface condensers consist of a tube heat exchanger and a shell, which are connected to the outlet of steam turbines. In most cases, cooling water flows through the tube side, while steam enters the shell side, where condensation occurs on the outside of the heat transfer tools. The condensate water drips down and collects at the bottom in a built-in pan called a hotwell. The shell side typically operates at a partial or complete vacuum, often produced by air ejectors.

Industrial Distillation Condensers

Large condensers are used in industrial distillation processes to cool down distilled vapor, converting it into liquid distillate. Generally, the coolant flows through the tube side, while the distilled vapor passes through the shell side, and the distillate collects or flows out the bottom side.

Air Conditioning Condensers

Condenser units are employed in central air conditioner units. These units have heat exchanger sections responsible for cooling down and condensing the incoming refrigerant vapor, transforming it into a liquid. An air conditioning condensing unit also includes a compressor that raises the pressure within the refrigerant and passes it along, as well as a fan that blows air through the heat exchanger to cool the refrigerant inside. The heat exchanger wraps around the unit's sides, and the refrigerant goes through several tube passes surrounded by heat transfer fins, allowing cooled air to move inside the unit from outside. The motorized fan within the condenser blows the outside cooling air in with the help of the heat exchange section found on the sides and top of the unit. Home condenser units are usually placed outside the building, with tubes connecting the building to the unit: one for the vapor refrigerant entering the device and another for the liquid refrigerant leaving the device. The fan and compressor require electric power to function.

Direct Contact Condensers

Direct contact condensers involve vapors being directly poured into the liquid. The vapors lose their latent heat and transfer the heat into the hot liquid. In this type of condensation, the liquid and vapor are the same substance.

Condensers in HVAC Systems

HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems extensively use condensers. There are three main types of condensers employed in HVAC systems:

Evaporative Condensers

Evaporative condensers are not the most popular choice and can be installed either outside or inside a building, operating at a low condensing temperature. They are most commonly found in large commercial air-conditioning units. While they get the job done, they are not the most efficient option available.

Water Cooled Condensers

Water cooled condensers are the most efficient but also the most expensive option in the condenser market. They require regular maintenance and are usually installed for swimming pools. A cooling tower is necessary to conserve water, and water treatment and makeup water are essential to prevent corrosion and algae growth. Water cooled condensers come in three types: shell and coil, tube in tube, and shell and tube.

Air Cooled Condensers

Air cooled condensers are typically installed on the outside of the unit, ejecting heat to the outdoors. They are easy to install and commonly found in upright freezers, refrigerators, and air conditioning units. One of the advantages of air cooled condensers is that they are easy to clean, which is crucial for optimum performance.

Air Conditioner Condensers

Air cooled condensers are the most common choice for residential AC systems. These devices include earth cooled condensers and combinations of water cooled and air condensers. Using outdoor air to reject the heat absorbed by the unit from the indoor air, air condenser units comprise a fan blade, a motor, coils, and a compressor. The condenser fan's job is to increase the unit's capacity to reject heat.

Air conditioner condensers act as heat exchanger devices, similar to evaporators. The condenser unit takes in the high temperature and high pressure refrigerant gas from the compressor, turning it into high temperature, high pressure liquid refrigerant. The entire process behind air conditioner condenser units is transforming vapor refrigerant into liquid refrigerant. The refrigerant undergoes three essential changes:

  1. The compressor produces a hot vapor that needs to be de-superheated and brought to vapor saturation point. The de-superheating process involves getting rid of the sensible heat within the refrigerant that is under the temperature of the refrigerant.
  2. A blend of liquid or gas refrigerant can be found in the middle of the condenser, where the refrigerant vapor has to transform into liquid refrigerant.
  3. The refrigerant has to reach a temperature under liquid saturation point.

Air Conditioner Condenser Unit Maintenance

Regular cleaning, maintenance, and repairs are key to preserving the longevity of any HVAC device, including condenser units. Regular maintenance is not complicated, doesn't have to be done too often, and can save you a lot of money in the long run. The task can be completed in less than an hour and is bound to increase the efficiency of your AC condenser unit.

Neglecting to clean your condensing units for a year can lead to clogged cooling fins, debris, and dirt accumulation. As a result, your AC may not cool your entire home as effectively as it did the previous summer. Before scheduling a costly maintenance appointment, there are some steps you can perform to de-clog, clean up, and increase the performance of your air conditioning unit. These procedures apply to most air conditioning devices, and you can refer to the instruction manual for the trickier parts. However, it's still important to call in a technician every couple of years for a thorough investigation.

Here are the steps to clean and maintain your air conditioner condenser unit:

  1. Turn off the power by switching the unit's switch to the OFF position, pulling out a block, or shutting down the AC from the electrical panel.
  2. Use a vacuum with a soft brush attachment to remove dry leaves, debris, or grass clippings from the fins. Also, clear away grass and weeds surrounding the condenser.
  3. If you notice bent fins, use a knife to realign them, being careful not to insert it more than half an inch inside the unit.
  4. Unscrew the grille, gently take out the fan, and clean it and the interior with a cloth.
  5. Clean the fins with a hose nozzle from the inside out.
  6. Reinstall the fan and prepare to restart the unit. Switch the thermostat to off, turn the power back on, and allow the unit to sit for a day to give the heating element of the compressor enough time to warm up the internal lubricant. After 24 hours, you can turn the thermostat back on to the cool setting.

To clean the indoor unit:

  1. Turn off the power or shut it down completely from the main electrical panel.
  2. Pull out the filter and change it if necessary.
  3. Vacuum inside the unit and lubricate the ports with four or five electric motor drops.
  4. Clean the drain tube with a water and bleach mixture poured into the tube.
  5. Clean out the drain port using a pipe cleaner to remove debris.
  6. Reattach the drain tube and turn the power back on.

By following these maintenance steps, you can ensure that your air conditioner condenser unit operates efficiently and effectively, providing optimal cooling performance for your home or building.

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