Air conditioners have been quite the revolutionary invention and it is often thought that they use water. This idea comes from people witnessing leaking units or outside dripping from the back of the unit. While this is an easy assumption, do air conditioners actually use water? The continuous innovation of the design of air conditioners has transpired some newer models rising up.
Residential air conditioners do not use water, however, commercial units are known to use water. The use of water in these units tends to be more costly and requires more maintenance and the overall installation of them is just not practical for in-home usage.
There are three types of these units that require water for use, the tube-within-a-tube, the shell and coil, and the shell and tube.
All three units have a slightly different design, but the thing has in common is the use of water. These units are considered to be more efficient than regular air-cooled air conditioning technology.
The first design, the tube-within-a-tube is basically just as it sounds; a smaller tube within a large tube. These tubes are shaped like a coil and are helpful as they are a space-saving design.
The operation of this design allows water to flow through the small tube which aids in cooling the refrigerant that is simultaneously passing through the larger outer tube. Often times, the small inner tube will be manufactured with groovers lining the interior.
While this seems irrelevant, it is in fact quite beneficial as it increases the amount of heat transferred between the water and the refrigerant. This particular design is most desired as it is the cheapest method to produce.
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The second design, the shell, and coil which is a copper coil within an outer shell. This outer shell houses hot gas refrigerant and water is processed through the copper coil inside of it, thus creating a cooling effect.
This method requires that the refrigerant enter the shell through the top and continuously be cooled as it passes around the inner coil. Once the gas has reached the bottom, it is considered to be completely condensed and cooled.
The third option for water-cooled units is the shell and tube which is a steel outer shell enclosing quite a number of small copper tubing. This method is only advised to be used in high capacity units due to the expense of which it costs to run.
The water flows through the copper tubing, once again cooling the refrigerant flowing from the top of the shell. The liquid refrigerant is then dispensed out of this condenser design to be used within the next stage of cooling.
These forms of condensers can be used in conjunction with cooling towers and have their own set of rules of how it works. When condensers are used in the cooling towers, hot water is deflected away from the condensers into the cooling tower.
Once the cooling tower has produced cool enough water, the water is then fed back into the condensers. Once again, this is primarily for industrial uses.
How Much Water Does an Air Conditioner Use?
It is estimated that a water-cooled air conditioner can use around 720,000 gallons of water per year. While this seems like quite a large amount, studies have shown that traditional air-cooled systems require utilities to push out approximately 500,000 gallons of water per year on top of the 250,000 kWh (kilowatts an hour) that they already use in energy. This shows that air-cooled systems can create up to the additional measurement of 30,000 in waste.
With those stats, it seems like smaller units work a lot harder to do a similar job of their larger counterparts! However, in the long run, water-cooled units are still not energy-effective or cost-effective for homeowners to use. This is why window units and central air units continue to be more practical for the everyday household.
Do You Need Water for Air Conditioning?
Typically, water is not needed for air conditioning and air-cooled usage for residential purposes is fine enough. Throughout the years of innovation though, there have been water-cooled portable air conditioners designed that a homeowner might consider as a cooling option. These devices basically force the heat from an area and then transfers it to water.
This then is processed through a drain pipe and water is distributed to the unit through a flexible hose that connects directly to a water source such as a sink.
These portable versions of their larger counterparts are best utilized in small spaces. Most commonly, businesses will use such devices in rooms like server rooms where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees in a small area.
The most important aspect of using such units is to ensure the area is completely sealed. Since the unit does not rely on an evaporator coil to cool air, the cool temperatures can escape more quickly.
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Is A/C Water Harmful?
When water is used for air conditioners or is leaking out of a residential unit, can this water be reused? Some people question whether or not the collected A/C water can be repurposed. Repurposing items is commonplace these days for those wishing to be more efficient. But the biggest concern with this practice is if A/C water is harmful.
A/C water from this source can contain bacteria if the unit is clogged or developing any mold on the interior side. While it is not stagnant (which is considered unsuitable for consumptions), it is not advised that the water be repurposed for the manner of drinking water. However, it can be used for such things as watering gardens or plants.
When considering to use any a/c water for plants or gardens, it is important to note that if the a/c unit has undergone any sort of chemical cleaning treatment, it should NOT be used for watering. When there is a clog or mold build-up in the evaporator coil and cleaning must take place, the chemicals can still linger for a bit. It is advised to wait at least 2 weeks before collecting up another round of water deposits for the plants.
Why Do Residental A/C Units Leak Water?
Even though residential air conditioners do not use water, knowing why they leak water is important.
Unlike the industrial water-cooled conditioners, residential window units rely on an evaporator coil to produce cool air. Any warm air that passes through this coil is then cooled down for entry into whatever space it is trying to cool. This process of cooling creates condensation and in turn results in water droplets from exiting the unit.
Typically, the water will exit through the back of the unit on the outside of the house. However, there are times when disaster strikes and water is flowing on the inside of the home. Some people think this is due to the air conditioner not being tilted far enough out of the window.
This is a common misconception and the real culprit behind the puddles of water is due to a clogged condenser drain line. If this line is clogged, the water has nowhere to exit and produces the overflow of internal waters.
It can become clogged for various reasons, but the main ones include the build-up of dirt or dust and even mold. This can happen to stationary central air conditioners for residents or window units. This problem requires a clean out which can be done at home or by a handyman.
How Much Does It Typically Cost to Hire a Service Tech to Clean a Clogged Line?
Tackling the task of cleaning the drain isn't for everyone. It does end up being a little bit of a process in the long run, although not many things are required to do so.
Hiring a service tech to clean a clogged line can be a recommended method and even though prices vary, they generally cost up to $200. This is just for cleaning or unclogging of a drain pipe.
In the case of central air conditioning units for residential homes, the water can back up into the house as well, however, this is more common when it comes to window units.
While the price seems a little steep, sometimes the cost to keep our appliances running their best does get sort of high. This is why ensuring that any appliance, especially air conditioners, are maintained with routine checks and cleanings. These preventive measures will help to keep evaporator coils in top condition as they'll less likely to clog or become covered in mold.
As with most appliances, the assumption that they can just be plugged in and ran is a naive move. Any kind of insight into how things work is not only helpful but also an enriching learning experience.
In the case of air conditioners, water plays such a large part in commercial versions of these powerful machines. Moreover, homeowners can understand a bit better about how water is not a part of their residential unit's overall function. When it comes to technology, modern advances sure sheds new light on everyday appliances!