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How does a portable air conditioner work?

Most people think that portable air conditioners produce cold. But its actually more accurate to think of them sucking heat out of your home. Weird, I know but I’m going to cover exactly how portable air conditioners work in this article. 

How does a portable air conditioner work?

A portable air conditioner works by pulling heat from indoor air and pushing excess heat out your window using an exhaust tube. A compressor and expansion valve are used to control the density of refrigerant in order to cool down indoor air and deposit heat outside. 

Portable air conditioners are divided into two parts. The cooling part contains an evaporator coil and fan and is designed to pull heat out of your indoor air. It does this by blowing a stream of air over the chilled refrigerant moving through the evaporator coil.

The other part of a portable air conditioner contains all the elements that transfer excess heat to outside air – a fan, compressor, and condensing coil. The condensing coil contains heated refrigerant and that heat is transferred into air that the fan blows out your window via an exhaust tube.

But how does the refrigerant go from hot to cold and back to hot? The answer is using the power of compression. The refrigerant gets hotter when your portable air conditioner compresses it and colder when it expands.

This gets a bit scientific but bear with me. Heat is actually thermal energy and each molecule of refrigerant has a certain amount of thermal energy. When your portable air conditioner forces the refrigerant to become denser, it packs more molecules and thus more thermal energy. This makes the refrigerant hotter than the outside air. 

When the expansion valve prevents all of the refrigerants from moving into the compression coil, it forces the refrigerant to expand and become less dense. This also means there’s less thermal energy in the evaporator coil and the refrigerant is colder than room temperature.  

What are the parts of a portable air conditioner?

The parts of a portable air conditioner are as follows.

  • Expansion coil: The expansion coil is a long, squiggly tube that houses cold refrigerant. This is the element that actually reduces your internal room temperature.
  • Compressor: The compressor sits where the refrigerant flows from the expansion coil into the condenser coil. It squeezes the refrigerant so that it passes into the condenser coil at a higher density and thus hotter. The compressor uses the lion’s share of the electricity you need to run your portable air conditioner. 
  • Fans: Your portable air conditioner has two fans. One fan blows outdoor air over the condenser coil and the other blows indoor air over the expansion coil.
  • Condenser coil: The condenser coil is a long tube that carries dense, hot refrigerant. The purpose of the condenser coil is to transfer excess heat into outdoor air. 
  • Expansion valve: The expansion valve sits between the condenser coil and the expansion coil as the refrigerant passes into the expansion coil. The valve limits how much refrigerant can pass through, helping to maintain a higher pressure in the condenser coil than in the expansion coil.