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What Makes an Air Conditioner Work? Part 1: Cooling

What makes an air conditioner work? It’s the magical cold air that comes out of your wall whenever you feel too hot. How it gets cold in the first place is anyone’s guess.

Sometimes, the more we don’t understand something, the more we love it. Air conditioning may be one of those things, but we think knowledge is even more fun than mystery.

Let’s look at what makes an air conditioner work, simply and without all the tech talk we could go into. First, we need to understand cooling.

What Makes an Air Conditioner Work: Cooling

First, what is cooling, and what isn’t it? Cooling is a reduction of heat. Not adding cold – removing heat. There are a number of cooling methods, mostly based on the principle of expansion.

Here’s how that works.

If you have alcohol on one hand and water on the other, the hand with alcohol on it will feel cooler. That’s because alcohol evaporates faster than water. Evaporation takes place when particles move further from one another until they turn into vapor (gas). That’s what expansion is.

Everything (literally, everything) is made of bajillions of microscopic particles. They’re so small that you’d never spot the particles themselves, but you just see one solid object.

Okay, back to alcohol. As the alcohol on your hand evaporates, it soaks up heat from your skin. What you perceive as “cold” is just a lack of heat. This is key. Cold is not “made.” It’s just heat gone missing.

Everything contains some heat, even if it’s cold. Even the Antarctic isn’t as cold as outer space. And even space could still be colder. It would be, if it weren’t for all those trillions of stars floating around out there. Ice cubes feel cold to you because they’re colder than your hands. They’re absorbing heat from your skin.

So, let’s wrap it up with a rule of physics: heat moves to cooler places. Now click on over to [What Makes an Air Conditioner Work, Part 2: Operation].