Sunday, October 5, 2014

Condenser Subcooling

What happens to the refrigerant subcooling when condenser airflow or water flow are reduced? Many people instinctively say that the subcooling would decrease if the airflow across the condenser decreased. After all, the air is what is cooling the refrigerant – if you have less of it, the refrigerant will not be cooled as well – so you might expect subcooling to decrease when airflow decreases. The only problem with this is that it is exactly backwards. In fact, decreased airflow in an air cooled condenser usually causes an increase in condenser subcooling. Remember subcooling is just telling you the difference between the condenser saturation and the liquid temperature leaving the condenser. Condenser pressure and saturation temperature both increase with reduced airflow. Most techs understand that. While the condenser saturation temperature increases a lot, the liquid temperature does not rise as quickly. The increased condenser pressure also contributes to increasing the compression ratio, so the compressor moves less refrigerant. The increased compression ratio and the increased saturation temperature cause the condenser to hold more liquid refrigerant than normal. The liquid sits longer in the condenser and has longer to be cooled below saturation temperature. Since the liquid is starting at a higher temperature compared to the air circulating over it, it tends to lose temperature faster than it normally would. All this adds up to increased subcooling. 

This is easy to verify. Start a unit, let it run a while, and check the subcooling. Now block the condenser airflow and watch the condenser pressure and liquid line temperature. You should see a big increase in the high side pressure while the liquid line temperature stays about the same or increases just a little. One caveat – don’t let the unit run too long with a blocked condenser – unless you want to run the “what happens when the compressor overheats” experiment. Monitor the compressor temperature to be on the safe side. I am not responsible for you destroying your unit while checking this out. Better to use one at school. (After asking the instructors of course)

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