Split-system AC Units
A split-system air conditioner splits the hot side from the cold side of the system, like this:
The cold side, consisting of the expansion valve and the cold coil, is generally placed into a furnace or some other air handler. The air handler blows air through the coil and routes the air throughout the building using a series of ducts. The hot side, known as the condensing unit, lives outside the building. In most home installations.
The unit consists of a long, spiral coil shaped like a cylinder. Inside the coil is a fan, to blow air through the coil, along with a weather-resistant compressor and some control logic. This approach has evolved over the years because it is low-cost, and also because it normally results in reduced noise inside the house (at the expense of increased noise outside the house). Besides the fact that the hot and cold sides are split apart and the capacity is higher (making the coils and compressor larger), there is no difference between a split-system and a window air conditioner.
In warehouses, businesses, malls, large department stores and the like, the condensing unit normally lives on the roof and can be quite massive. Alternatively, there may be many smaller units on the roof, each attached inside to a small air handler that cools a specific zone in the building.
In larger buildings and particularly in multi-story buildings, the split-system approach begins to run into problems. Either running the pipe between the condenser and the air handler exceeds distance limitations (runs that are too long start to cause lubrication difficulties in the compressor), or the amount of duct work and the length of ducts becomes unmanageable. At this point, it is time to think about a chilled-water system.
A simple stylized diagram of the refrigeration cycle: 1) condensing coil, 2) expansion valve, 3) evaporator coil, 4) compressor.
In the refrigeration cycle, a heat pump transfers heat from a lower temperature heat source into a higher temperature heat sink. Heat would naturally flow in the opposite direction. This is the most common type of air conditioning. A refrigerator works in much the same way, as it pumps the heat out of the interior into the room in which it stands.
This cycle takes advantage of the universal gas law PV = nRT, where P is pressure, V is volume, R is the universal gas constant, T is temperature, and n is the number of moles of gas (1 mole = 6.022×1023 molecules).
The most common refrigeration cycle uses an electric motor to drive a compressor. In an automobile, the compressor is driven by a belt over a pulley, the belt being driven by the engine's crankshaft (similar to the driving of the pulleys for the alternator, power steering, etc.). Whether in a car or the house, both use electric fan motors for air circulation. Since evaporation occurs when heat is absorbed, and condensation occurs when heat is released, air conditioners are designed to use a compressor to cause pressure changes between two compartments, and actively condense and pump a refrigerant around. A refrigerant is pumped into the cooled compartment (the evaporator coil), where the low pressure and low temperature cause the refrigerant to evaporate into a vapor, taking heat with it. In the other compartment (the condenser), the refrigerant vapor is compressed and forced through another heat exchange coil, condensing into a liquid, rejecting the heat previously absorbed from the cooled space.