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What Is A Central Air Conditioner Condenser Coil?

Curious about what your AC’s condenser coil does?

Here’s what it does in a nutshell: A central air conditioner’s condenser coil collects the heat from your home’s warm air and releases it outside.

Want to know more? In this article, we’ll explain a condenser coil’s function in greater depth and cover common problems you could face if it gets dirty.

To better understand how a condenser coil works, let’s start by looking at a basic overview of how your AC cools your home...

How your AC cools your home

A diagram of a central air conditioner

To cool your home, your AC removes heat from inside air (return air), blows cool air back into your home (supply air), then releases the collected heat outside in a continuous cycle.

First, it’s important to understand that your air conditioner cools your home by removing heat from your indoor air.

That heat removal process involves refrigerant, which is a liquid/gas that absorbs heat from your home’s air (think of it like a sponge).

An evaporator coil in an air conditioner

As air passes over the evaporator coil (pictured above), the copper refrigerant-filled coils absorb heat and moisture.

Refrigerant soaks up all the heat and moisture from your home’s warm air at the evaporator coil and then releases all that heat outdoors at the condenser coil.

But that’s a very barebones explanation of your condenser’s role within the AC process. Let’s take a look at how your condenser dumps heat into the outdoor air.

For a more in-depth look at how your AC works, read our article, “What Does an Air Conditioner Actually Do? (And Why it Matters).

A closer look at the condenser coil

A condenser coil in an air conditioner

An AC condenser unit

Once the refrigerant reaches your outdoor condenser unit (pictured above), it’s already in a hot gas form. In order for the refrigerant to cool down to a liquid state and repeat the cooling process, the heat needs to escape into the air outside. And this is exactly what your condenser coils are responsible for.

The inside of a condenser coil unit

Condenser coil (inside view)

Your condenser coils sit directly behind the condenser “fins”—the thin metal wiring that covers your outdoor AC unit (see the picture above). As refrigerant travels to your outdoor unit, it fills the many condenser coils, increasing its surface area so that heat escapes faster.

A condenser unit fan

Condenser unit fan

The condenser unit fan (pictured above) blows air across the condensing coil, which helps push the heat into the outdoor air. Once the majority of the heat is squeezed out of the refrigerant, it cools, returns to a liquid form and travels back to your indoor unit. Then the cooling process repeats all over again.

So your condenser coils are essential to helping your home stay cool. But, if they’re dirty, you’ll run into problems...

Problems caused by a dirty condenser coil

A dirty outdoor condenser

Dirty outdoor condenser unit

If your outdoor AC unit is dirty like the one above or obstructed by shrubbery like the one pictured below, then heat can’t escape into the outdoor air as easily, which can cause AC problems down the road.

A condenser unit obstructed by a plant

Bush around outdoor unit AC

Let’s look at a few of these AC problems...

  • Higher electric bills: If your condenser coil is covered in dirt/debris or blocked by shrubbery, the coils can’t dump heat into the outdoor air. And that means your AC has to work harder and longer to cool your home. In fact, according to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) study, your AC can require 30% more energy to cool your home if the condenser coil is dirty.
  • Decreased comfort: Dirty condenser coils can’t dump heat into the outdoor air properly, which forces heat to travel right back into your home. This means you’re left uncomfortable and sweating in your own home.
  • Higher risk of an early breakdown: If your AC can’t produce cold air because your condenser coil is dirty, it’ll run much longer which adds wear and tear to your air conditioning system. The more wear and tear you add, the greater risk you’ll shorten the lifespan of your AC.

How to clean a dirty condenser coil

If your outside condenser unit is dirty, try this DIY cleaning method:

  1. Remove debris like leaves and sticks from the condenser unit
  2. Use a hose on a gentle setting to clear off dirt/debris (you can also use a condenser coil cleaner to clean off most debris)
  3. Cut back any surrounding shrubbery at least 3 feet from your outdoor unit

When to hire a professional:

If you can see that your condenser coil is covered in a thick layer of dust(which is common in desert climates like Arizona), then it’s time to call a professional to clean it.

A professional has the right cleaning equipment to remove dust buildup from your condenser coils without damaging them in the process.

To learn more about getting your condenser coils cleaned, read our article, “Dirty AC Condenser Coils: Why You Need Them Cleaned in Phoenix.

Need your condenser coils cleaned?

Contact George Brazil to schedule a cleaning appointment. One of our trusted technicians will clean your condenser coils so your AC can be back in tip-top shape.

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