What is a Condenser Unit for Your Air Conditioner?

An air conditioner condenser is the component of the air conditioner that is responsible for pressurizing and releasing the heat that is collected from indoor spaces. This part is found in the outside housing of a central AC unit and is made up of coils that superheated refrigerant vapor passes through after being pressurized and superheated inside the compressor. The reason this component is called the condenser is because the refrigerant “condenses” inside the coils as the heat exchange occurs. What this means is that the refrigerant starts off as a heated vapor whose molecules were pressurized, but still in a gaseous state, before cooling off and becoming a denser liquid state. 

Parts of a Condenser

The condenser contains the following parts:

  • Compressor: The compressor pumps heated gas refrigerant into the condenser.
  • Compressor Fan: The fan circulates the gas refrigerant through the coil
  • Condenser Coil: The coil is made from copper tubing and aluminum fins that condense the gas refrigerant, turning it into a liquid and dispersing the heat.
  • Condenser Cabinet: The cabinet houses all the parts that make up the condenser.


How Does an AC Unit Work?

A chemical called refrigerant is the key component of every AC unit. The refrigerant runs through a cycle in which it changes from a liquid to a gas phase repeatedly. This process involves absorbing heat which causes the liquid refrigerant to evaporate into a gas and releasing that heat to return to a liquid. 

When your AC begins the cooling process, the refrigerant is passed through an evaporator coil where it mixes with warm air that’s been pulled from the home. The warm air heats up the refrigerant, which evaporates into a gaseous state and absorbs the heat from the air.

The refrigerant gas is transferred to the outdoor unit, where it’s pressurized by a compressor so that the gas becomes superheated. The condenser turns the gas back into a liquid as the absorbed heat is released from the refrigerant and into the air outside the home. The condenser coils then pass the liquid refrigerant back into the system to continue the cooling cycle.

How Does a Condenser Work?

Once the refrigerant has absorbed heat, it needs to be transferred outdoors so it can release the heat outside. The compressor pressurizes the refrigerant gas, consolidating the heat trapped inside the gas and releases the refrigerant gas through the condenser coils (also known as the heat exchanger).

As the gas moves through the condenser coils, the condenser fan blows ambient temperature air on it to reduce the temperature of the refrigerant gass which causes it to return to its liquid form. Once the refrigerant has cooled enough to return to its liquid form, it is returned to the evaporator coils for another cooling cycle.

The condenser performs the same job during the heating process, but in reverse. Instead of receiving heated gas from the evaporator coil, the condenser pushes heated gas to the evaporator coil, where it functions the same exact way but disperses the heat into the home rather than outside. That’s why the condenser is a critical component for both heating and cooling.

Is There a Problem with Your Condenser?

Condenser problems are highly noticeable because your AC will not cool your home efficiently or it will stop cooling your home altogether. Due to the critical role the condenser plays in the heating and cooling process, your AC unit can fail entirely if the condenser malfunctions.

Condenser issues are typically caused by:

  • Dirty or clogged condenser coils
  • Damaged condenser coils
  • Malfunctioning condenser fan
  • Malfunctioning compressor

When any of these parts fail, the condenser may continue working but at significantly diminished performance. You might notice the following scenarios if you have a broken condenser:

  • Cool Air Not Blowing: Your condenser won’t be able to produce cool air if any of its components are broken, and it’s the most noticeable indicator that the condenser is malfunctioning. The condenser is integral in dispersing latent heat, and it may not be able to remove heat properly if the coils are blocked or damaged. A broken condenser fan will also prevent the dispersion of heat.
  • Unusual Noises: There could be a problem with the compressor or condenser fan if you hear unusual noises coming from your AC. In some cases these defects could be hazardous. A malfunctioning fan motor, for instance, may cause excessive friction between moving parts.
  • Leaking: If you notice water or refrigerant leaking from outdoor unit, you should have an HVAC technician inspect your AC unit as soon as possible. Leaking refrigerant or excessive condensation can severely impact the performance of your AC unit and cause major damage to its components.
  • Higher Energy Bills: When your condenser isn’t working efficiently, your AC will need to work harder to cool your home, using more power to create the same results. This will be reflected in higher electricity bills.
  • Irregular Pressure: You might notice that the gauges on your AC unit display irregular pressure. This may indicate a refrigerant blockage, poor air flow, or a broken compressor.

How to Keep Your Condenser in Optimal Shape

The best way to keep your AC condenser in good health is to schedule regular maintenance once or twice per year. During an AC tuneup, a licensed HVAC technician will inspect all of the parts inside the condenser and may perform a cleaning of the coils or fans. Regular AC servicing will prolong the lifespan of your AC unit and keep your AC unit running at peak performance. Servicing can also prevent your unit from breaking down and requiring high repair costs.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Condenser

Property owners can get the most out of their condenser by cleaning and maintaining the area around the AC’s outdoor unit. Leaves, grass, mulch, and other types of debris can get sucked into the unit by the condenser fan and cause clogs that prevent adequate air flow, which will reduce the efficiency of the condenser or cause it to fail. Try to keep trees and bushes trimmed back 2-3 feet away from the condenser to minimize the risk that debris will get sucked in. Heavy foliage also reduces air flow around the condenser, which makes it more difficult for the unit to draw in outside air during the heating process.

Call Hurricane AC to Schedule an Inspection

Call Hurricane AC if you’re noticing symptoms of a condenser malfunction or if you haven’t had your AC inspected in more than a year. Our licensed HVAC technicians perform comprehensive AC tune-ups and emergency repairs for residential and commercial properties in Southwest Florida. During an inspection, we’ll identify problem areas if they exist and make recommendations on how you can prevent impending breakdowns and keep your AC unit and condenser working efficiently.

Condenser FAQs

What is the main function of the condenser?

The condenser’s main function is to disperse the heat that’s been absorbed from your home. The condenser receives heated refrigerant gas from the evaporator coils and compressor and releases the heat trapped inside which causes the refrigerant to return to its liquid state. During the heating process, the condenser performs the same role, but in reverse. It passes heated refrigerant gas to the evaporator coils so heat can be dispersed inside of the home.

What is the difference between an air conditioner and a condenser?

An air conditioner refers to your entire AC system, while the condenser is only a single component of your AC system. The condenser plays a critical role in your AC unit by assisting in the heat transfer during the heating and cooling cycles. When the condenser fails, the entire AC system may stop working.

What is an example of a condenser?

You may have noticed a large, metal box on the outside of your home with a fan inside. This is the condenser unit of your AC system. The box is known as the “condenser cabinet.” The fan is the most noticeable component, but there’s additional machinery inside such as the coils and compressor.

Is an AC compressor and condenser the same thing?

The compressor is one part of your AC’s condenser unit, which also includes the condenser coils and condenser fan. The compressor pressurizes the refrigerant gas so it’s properly consolidated before it’s passed through the coils.

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    What is included in AC servicing?
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