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How AC Works

How Commercial Air Conditioning Works

The entire process of heating and cooling a commercial or industrial building is usually referred to as HVAC – heating, ventilation and air conditioning. It is important to select the right type and size of HVAC system for your commercial building. If your system is not appropriate for your building, it will not be able to keep the space cool. Too large, and it may allow uncomfortable humidity to build up, making the air feel clammy.

Without a good cooling system, commercial buildings can become overheated and suffer from dangerous indoor air quality (IAQ) particularly in warm, desert climates such as Palm Springs and La Quinta. And in humid climates, such as the beach cities of Orange County, an HVAC system will moderate any possibilities of mold growth. Without an adequate system, worker productivity may suffer and customers and employees will be uncomfortable.

No matter the size of the building, an air conditioner works by pulling heat out of indoor air. Generally, this is done by running a coolant or refrigerant through an HVAC system that includes a compressor, a condenser and an evaporator. As the coolant moves through the system, it is compressed from a gas to a liquid, cooled, and then converted back to a gas, pulling heat from the air at the same time. Other parts of the system move the cooled air through the entire building via ducts, blowers and fans.

Using the principles of expansion and compression of gas and liquid, there are different ways to cool commercial buildings depending on the climate, size of the space to be cooled and the age and type of the building.

Refrigerants & Cooling Towers

In a commercial building, it is common to use both a chemical refrigerant as a coolant that evaporates and also chilled water to lower the temperature of the coolant. Many large buildings have cooling towers that work in conjunction with the cooling system.


Refrigerant enters the air conditioner’s compressor in the form of a cool gas, where it is compressed to a hot gas, and then moved over a series of coils that condense the gas to a liquid while dissipating the collected heat into the outside air. The cooler liquid is then forced through a small opening into another set of coils where it draws heat out of the air as it evaporates. Fans blow this cooler air into the room as the refrigerant, again a liquid, begins the loop again.

Air Handlers / Fan Coils

Air Handlers are key to the commercial HVAC system because they are the device that moves the cooled air throughout the building. This is accomplished by fans pushing the air through a series of ducts inside the walls, ceilings and floors. An efficient air handler will move significant amounts of air quickly throughout the building.

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