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Split-System Air Conditioning: The Importance of Matching Indoor and Outdoor Components

Your split-system air conditioning system consists of a carefully matched and balanced set of components that work together to produce the cooling that keeps your home or business location comfortable. Sometimes referred to as central air conditioners, these systems rely on an outdoor condensing unit coupled with an indoor evaporator coil and air distribution equipment to provide cooling.

When replacing or upgrading split-system air conditioning, it may be tempting to concentrate only on the outdoor unit. This may look, at first, like it would save money, but it actually can be a costly mistake. The indoor and outdoor components of a split-system air conditioning system must match so that they work together efficiently and effectively. Mismatched indoor and outdoor units can lead to problems ranging from reduced levels of cooling to inefficient operation on one end of the spectrum to system malfunctions and total breakdowns on the other.

How Air Conditioning Systems Work

Split-System air conditioning systems work on a principle common to refrigeration: producing cooling by removing heat from where it's not wanted. The cool air that comes from your air conditioning vents is not actually produced by the air conditioner, but instead is a result of the movement of heat away from your home.

Air conditioners rely on a substance called a refrigerant to capture and remove heat. In split-system air conditioning, the refrigerant must be able to flow without restriction between the indoor and outdoor components.

A split-system air conditioning system consists of four major components: condenser, compressor, evaporator coil and air handler. Most of the components are housed in the outdoor unit. The indoor unit consists of the evaporator coil, where cooling is produced, and air handlers and fans that blow cooled air into the ductwork and out into your indoor environment.

As the refrigerant flows to the indoor and outdoor units and back, it absorbs and releases heat. Inside your home, the refrigerant in the evaporator coil picks up heat. The refrigerant then travels through a series of copper tubes to the outdoor compressor, where the refrigerant is pressurized. This process makes the refrigerant release the heat it contains. The heat is then dispersed into the outdoor air. The refrigerant then returns to the indoor unit where it begins this heat capture and release cycle again. The cycle continues until the thermostat detects that the desired indoor temperature has been reached. When the indoor temperature drops below that setting, the thermostat activates the air conditioner and the cycle starts over.

Refrigerant in Your Split-System Air Conditioning System

The matching of indoor and outdoor components of a split-system air conditioning system is vital for proper flow and performance of the refrigerant. In a mismatched system, the refrigerant may not flow properly or it may not be able to function correctly as a heat capture and release source. Refrigerant problems mean that your air conditioner will not produce the level of cooling that you want. In the worst cases, refrigerant issues may cause your air conditioner to fail so badly that complete system replacement is the only option.

Refrigerant issues are particularly relevant because of recent government regulations that require the gradual phasing out of a common refrigerant. For years, R-22 refrigerant has been the industry standard in air conditioning systems. The government has determined, however, that R-22 is harmful to the environment because it destroys ozone. In response, the Clean Air Act requires that R-22 refrigerant be phased out for use in air conditioning systems. By the year 2020, R-22 will no longer be manufactured, leaving air conditioner owners with only two expensive options: recycling R-22 or reclaiming it from existing air conditioners.

Many newer high-efficiency air conditioning systems are already designed to use replacement refrigerants such as R-410 or R-422 refrigerant. However, AC system owners are facing an unpleasant reality: The newer refrigerants will not work in systems designed for R-22, and there is no current known workaround or retrofit that will let R-410 work in an older air conditioner.

Issues with refrigerants are the main reasons why split-system air conditioning components must be matched. If you replace an outdoor unit that uses the newer refrigerants, it will not function properly if the indoor unit still uses the older refrigerants. Even though the system may still produce some cooling, it will eventually break down or fail completely. Any monetary savings you might have received from upgrading only the outdoor unit will be lost in repair or replacement expenses. Consult with your local trusted HVAC contractor for professional advice on properly matching indoor and outdoor components.

Comfort24-7.com serves Chicago, Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan with HVAC sales, maintenance, and repair services. Contact us today for more information on split-system air conditioning and the importance of matching indoor and outdoor components to achieve proper system operation and the best levels of home comfort.

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