Introduction – The Difference Between an Air Conditioner and a Refrigerator
The typical American home has more than one piece of equipment that uses the principles of cooling to keep its interior at a comfortable temperature.
Both appliances use coolants, refrigerants, or some other type of coolant to reduce the ambient temperature from its normal range. These two pieces of equipment are air conditioners and refrigerators. They are different in their primary purpose, the scope of operation, and even their physical appearance.
However, they also have several points in common, so much so that many people mistakenly assume they are essentially the same machine with different applications. Both devices involve heat transfer and gas compression to achieve the desired end result.
In this article, we’ll explain the major differences between an air conditioner and a refrigerator, including how each operates and what kinds exist for residential use.
Differences between AC and Fridge
One of the biggest differences is that refrigerators are designed for cooling food, beverages, and other perishable items at a safe temperature. In other words, a refrigerator is designed to keep food from spoiling.
An air conditioner, on the other hand, is designed to lower the ambient temperature in a room or space. ACs are also used to reduce indoor humidity in arid regions. These are the primary differences between an air conditioner and a refrigerator. Both appliances can be set to different temperatures, but their basic functions differ greatly.
A refrigerator contains a compressor, a condenser, and an evaporator. It is designed to remove heat from the inside of the refrigerator itself, then compress that heat into a liquid before circulating it through the refrigeration coils.
The cooled-down liquid is pumped back into the refrigerator where the evaporator releases the heat and sends it outside. An AC uses the same type of refrigerant to remove heat from inside a house and then exhaust it to the outside.
Air Conditioner (AC)
In the simplest terms, an air conditioner is a device that lowers the temperature in space by evaporating water into the air. Many people use the term air conditioner to refer to a unit that both cools the air and removes indoor humidity.
A typical air conditioner is connected to the home’s central HVAC system, and it can be controlled remotely via a thermostat. It has an indoor unit, which includes the condenser, compressor, and coils, as well as a fan and an external unit, which houses the evaporator. Air conditioners come in several different types.
These include window units, mini split systems, central air conditioning units, and ductless mini split systems. Each type of AC is designed with a specific set of conditions in mind.
Central ACs, for example, is best for large homes, while mini splits are designed for smaller spaces. Air conditioners are designed to cool indoor air, but they can also reduce humidity.
A refrigerator is designed to keep food and beverages at a safe temperature. The interior of a modern fridge is cooled by circulating a fluid that has been pressurized. This fluid is pumped through a coil in the back of the fridge and then back into a compressor in the unit’s interior.
When the compressor is running, the pressurized fluid boils at a low temperature (just above room temperature). The resulting evaporated liquid is sent back to the compressor, where it is compressed into a much hotter fluid.
The hot fluid is sent to the inside of the fridge and is cooled as it flows through the coil. The refrigerator coils and fins are designed to release the heat that builds up in the interior of the fridge and transfer it outside.
How They Are the Same
It sounds like air conditioners and refrigerators have very little in common, but there are a few shared features. A central feature of both appliances is their use of a liquid that, when boiled, produces a vapor that is easier to transfer than a solid or a gas.
This is especially apparent when you see the coils that condense and evaporate the refrigerant in an AC or fridge. Both appliances also use electricity to operate. When you use a remote to change the temperature in your home, you are actually adjusting the AC’s thermostat.
And when you pull out a tray of ice cubes, you are activating the compressor in your fridge. Both appliances also rely on a semi-permeable membrane of some kind to control the flow of a fluid (water in the AC and refrigerant in the fridge).
How They are Different
There are a number of ways in which an AC and a fridge differ significantly. The most obvious difference is their intended application.
A refrigerator is designed to keep food and beverages at a safe temperature while an air conditioner is meant to cool indoor air. The two appliances also differ in how they achieve this. In a fridge, a refrigerant circulates through the coils and refrigeration system and is cooled to a low temperature before being emitted as a gas.
In an AC, the refrigerant is cooled to a low temperature before being compressed and sent out to the back of the unit. A refrigerator has one coil, while an AC has multiple coils. Additionally, refrigeration is an endothermic reaction, meaning it absorbs heat from the surroundings, while air conditioning is an exothermic reaction, meaning it releases heat into the surroundings.
Lastly, but most importantly, refrigerators are designed to operate in a controlled, indoor environment, while air conditioners must operate in all kinds of weather.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that an air conditioner and a refrigerator are different appliances with different functions. They are designed to cool indoor air or keep food and beverages at a safe temperature, respectively.
Although these appliances have some things in common, including the use of a liquid to transfer heat more efficiently, they are very different appliances.