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Mechanism of Action // Air Cooler v/s Air Conditioner

The terms air cooler and air conditioner are often used interchangeably. However, they are two different entities and should not be confused with each other. Their names say it all, if understood in the true sense. Their mechanisms of action are also different. The cooler works on the principles of water evaporation and just helps cool the surrounding air. As the name indicates, it is an air cooler. However, the conditioner works very differently, and true to its name, “conditions” the air.

The common notion is that air conditioner is supplying cooler air. The actuality is that the warm air in the room (or surrounding space) is absorbed into the conditioner, run through a cycle that will make it pleasant, and introduced back into the room at a more optimum temperature. It uses a refrigerant that will cool the air and circulate it, so the surrounding is kept at a pleasant temperature. The mechanism is quite similar to a refrigerator, minus the insulated box, of course. There is a noninflammable gas that is used as a coolant. Freon is the most common gas used in refrigerators and conditioiners as the coolant. The air conditioning unit has a closd system to include a compressor, a condensor, an expansion valve, and a thermostat. Additonally, there is a motorized fan that helps to circulate the "conditoned" air, while the heat generated inside is dissipated away by the metal fins in the unit. The entire unit becomes quite heavy, as the pressure generated inside the entire unit is quite high. The compressor houses the coolant (freon usually) and conditioning of air happens here. The basic functioning of an air conditioner can be understood with the below-noted diagram. In simple terms, mixed with a small amount of oil to help in lubrication, freon is compressed in the compressor of the conditioner and run through a set of coils. When this happens, because of the extreme pressure, freon gets converted into a liquid (any heated liquid when put under pressure will convert to a liquid, example boiling water under pressure becomes steam). Then this liquid passes through an expansion valve, in the process becoming cold, freon gas at a reduced pressure. When this passes through a set of coils, it absorbs heat from the surroundings and thus the air becomes cooler and more pleasant. So, contrary to popular belief that the air conditioner supplies cooler air, it works by just absorbing the air from the room, reducing its temperature by absorbing it to heat the freon, and circulate it to your surroundings, making the summer bearable. Cool, ain't it??

In addition to supplying cooler air in the rooms, the air conditioners also dehumidify the air, keeping the air more clean. Because a cooler uses water to cool the air, the humidity of the room increases. The air conditioner solves this problem in that it reduces the humidity of the surroundings. The air conditioner will contribute to approximately 5% of the utility bill but is more efficient and ideal for internal use like homes, offices, computer server rooms, etc. The air conditioner has its own set of disadvantages too, like every other appliance, and methods are being evolved to overcome the same.

One of the problem with the air conditioner, however, is that they need to be installed for the entire building, and irrespective of whether all the rooms are being used or not, at any given point of time, the temperature control happens for the entire building. You do not have the option to keep the unused spaces off the temperature control system. This translates into considerably larger levels of energy consumption, huge power bills, and wastage of electrity. With the aim to reduce power consumption and utility bills and avoid wastage of electricity growing globally, air conditioners that would have limited use in terms of space and time were introduced. These are the portable air conditioners, and which soon became a viable and feasible option. Cooling happens only in the area you desire, and controlling it is extremely easy. Another disadvantage of the regular air conditioner is their tedious installation process, best done during the construction of the building. If your office of home is quite compact, then installing an air conditioner does not sound too economical either. The portable air conditioners again appear here as a boon, giving you the ease of just moving it into a room or space that you are in, be it a porch or a lawn. Imagine a situation, where you are having a small party, and you could even rent one of these just for the time of your party. These make summers easily bearable and come with a host of benefits, with economics and ease of use being the most popular ones.