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Below are a couple of good videos that show the sequence of operation on a split system air conditioner and give you a general idea on how they work. We call it a split system because the high side of the system (condenser, compressor and outdoor fan motor) are separate from the low side of the system (evaporator and blower motor).
Produced by HVAC Just the Facts
The definition of air conditioning is the process of treating air so as to control simultaneously its temperature, humidity, cleanliness and distribution to meet the requirements of the conditioned space.
An air conditioning system contains four major components: The compressor, condenser, metering device, and evaporator.
Compressor: A device that changes a low pressure and temperature vapor (gas) into a higher pressure and temperature vapor (gas). The temperature rise is due to the heat of compression process.
The compressor is also referred to as the "Heart of the system", because it pumps refrigerant through the air conditioning system.
When the refrigerant enters the compressor it is in a cold vapor state returning from the evaporator. It enters the compressor because it is literally being sucked into it by the compressor. That is why the side of the compressor where refrigerant enters is called the suction line.
As the name suggests, the compressor compresses this cool vapor. and changes the vapor from a low pressure, low temperature vapor (gas) into a higher pressure and temperature (gas).
Condenser: A device used to reject heat from the refrigeration system.
As this higher pressure and temperature vapor (gas) leaves the compressor it flows into a condenser coil. A Condenser fan and motor runs and pulls ambient outside air through the condenser coils which rejects the heat of the refrigerant to the outside atmosphere.
As this vapor cools it condenses and becomes a liquid and enters the liquid line as subcooled.
Metering Device: A device used to control the flow of refrigerant to the evaporator.
This liquid line goes to a metering device that controls the flow of refrigerant to the evaporator. This is considered the dividing point between the high pressure and low pressure sides of the system. As this high pressure, high temperature, subcooled liquid reaches the metering device, it is metered in and converted from a high pressure, high temperature refrigerant to a low pressure, low temperature refrigerant.
Evaporator: A device used to absorb heat into the refrigeration system.
After the refrigerant leaves the metering device it enters the evaporator coil (sometimes referred to as the Air Handler). This coil (just like the condenser coil) has a fan that pulls or pushes air through it.
As this low temperature refrigerant enters the coil, warmer air from the conditioned space is pulled through it. Heat is being removed from this air as it passes through the coils and this heat is being absorbed by the refrigerant. This is why we say that an evaporator absorbs heat.
The air leaving the evaporator coil is now cold and enters the conditioned space. The heated refrigerant returns to the compressor through the suction line and the process repeats.
Side Note: During the process of warm, humid air flowing over a cold coil, their will be moisture vapor suspended in the air that condenses on the cold coil. The resulting liquid water is called condensate, and it drips down the coil and into a water pan below the evaporator coil. This water then exits the pan through a condensate drain line that leads to the sewer or to the outside of the home.
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