How Does Reverse Cycle Air Conditioning Work?

December 05th, 2022
Heating and cooling concept: Outline of a house with cooling on one side, heating on the other, and a hand pressing AC controller in the middle

Imagine a world where you had to choose between heating and cooling systems. You could have one or the other, but not both.

Would you choose a quality air conditioner and rug up in winter? Or would you sweat through summer and enjoy central heating in the colder months?

Of course, the best option in these hypothetical scenarios is always to look for a loophole. To solve your problem, you could install a reverse cycle system. These air conditioners offer excellent cooling performance, and they can also heat your home in the colder months. Problem solved!

Reverse cycle air conditioning isn’t only useful in hypothetical situations. There are many reasons to go for a one-system setup, from reduced installation costs to excellent energy efficiency.

But how do reverse cycle systems actually work? In this article, we’re going to find out!

Read on for insights and advice from our air conditioning experts in Melbourne

Heating and Cooling in One: Introducing Reverse Cycle Air Conditioning

The headline fact about reverse cycle air conditioners is that they offer effective heating and cooling in one system. 

Here are a few other facts worth noting about these systems:

    • Reverse cycle air conditioners heat and cool the home by absorbing the “heating energy” already present in the air. This is in contrast to conventional systems, which use electricity to directly generate heating and cooling.
    • The reverse cycle method for heating and cooling is much more energy efficient than conventional electric heaters. Think of it this way – it’s easier to absorb heat that already exists rather than burning fuel to create new heat from scratch!
    • The heat transfer or heat exchange process in a reverse cycle air conditioner is powered by a heat pump (more on this later!)
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    How a Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner Works: The Basics

    The most basic way to look at reverse cycle air conditioners is to think of them as systems that absorb hot air.

    To heat your home, they absorb heat from outdoor air and add it to your indoor air. To cool your home, the system absorbs heat from indoor air and expels that heat outside, leaving you with cooler air.

    Those are the basics. Now let’s get a bit technical.

    Reverse Cycle Systems Use Heat Pumps and Refrigerant

    To understand reverse cycle air conditioning, you need to understand refrigerant and heat pumps.

    Refrigerant is a special chemical used in air conditioners. It has the ability to easily change from a liquid to a gas. It can also transform into an in-between vapour state. While it is changing state, the refrigerant can absorb and move around heat energy (also known as thermal energy).

    The heat pump is used to move the refrigerant around and transform it from a liquid to a gas and back again. To achieve these steps, the heat pump uses parts known as the Compressor, Condenser, Evaporator, and Restriction Device.

    The heat pump is also used to change the direction the refrigerant moves in, which determines whether it cools or heats the home. To achieve this, the heat pump uses a part called the Reversing Valve

    Let’s take a closer look at the heating and cooling process.

    Reverse Cycle Systems in Cooling Mode

    When your reverse cycle air conditioner is in cooling mode, it draws in warm air from inside your home. Refrigerant is then pumped into the system in the form of a liquid, which then transforms into a vapour. The refrigerant passes over an evaporator coil and absorbs the heat energy from the indoor air. The fan in your system can then blow cold air back into your home.

    Following this, the refrigerant is passed through a compressor and transformed into a superheated gas. All the heat energy is then expelled outside the home using a fan and a heat exchanger.

    This allows the refrigerant to cool down and return to liquid form so it can repeat the whole refrigeration cycle again.

    So, in summary:

    • The refrigerant absorbs indoor heat
    • This results in cold air, which a fan pushes into your home
    • The refrigerant is heated into gas and all heat energy is expelled from your home
    • The refrigeration cycle repeats to achieve your target cold temperature

    Now, let’s switch our air conditioner into heating mode.

    Reverse Cycle Systems in Heating Mode

    In heating mode, a valve in the heat pump reverses the direction of the refrigerant flow.

    The liquid refrigerant now travels past an external coil and absorbs heat from the outside air. Even in the middle of winter, your system can absorb heat from outside.

    Once it has absorbed the heat from outside, the refrigerant is transformed into a vapour before being compressed, which causes it to superheat and transform into a gas. The refrigerant then travels past an evaporator coil and releases the heat energy. A fan pushes hot air out of your indoor unit or ducts, and it is circulated throughout your home.

    The refrigerant then cools down and returns to liquid form so it can repeat the whole cycle again.

    So, in summary:

    • The refrigerant absorbs outdoor heat
    • The refrigerant is compressed into gas, causing it to superheat
    • Hot air is created, and a fan pushes it into your home
    • The cycle repeats to achieve your target warm temperature
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    If the Refrigerant Absorbs Heat Energy From Outdoors, How Does It Work in the Middle of Winter?

    Reverse cycle air conditioners work according to the principle of heat exchange. This principle states that thermal energy moves from one object to another when a warmer object comes into contact with a cooler object.

    When we put out the bins on a bitter winter night, the breeze doesn’t warm us up because our bodies have a higher starting temperature.

    But the refrigerant is colder than the winter breeze, so it can still absorb plenty of thermal heat energy from the air.

    In Melbourne and Australia, winter temperatures are comparatively mild, so absorbing heat from the outdoors never really becomes a problem! Reverse cycle heating works effectively in temperatures as low as -10°C.

    What Are Some Pros and Cons of Reverse Cycle Air Conditioning Units?

    There are so many advantages of reverse cycle systems and very few drawbacks.

    The main potential disadvantage of reverse cycle air conditioning is that your heating and cooling are both linked to electricity. Therefore, rising electricity prices will result in higher heating and cooling costs all year round. However, compared to other systems, reverse cycle air conditioners still have much lower running costs.

    Another possible drawback is the quality of the heating. Some people think gas heaters just “feel” nicer than electric heaters. This is completely subjective, but if you feel this way, you may not be interested in reverse cycle heating and cooling.

    Here are just a few of the advantages of reverse cycle air conditioning systems:

    • The most energy-efficient and affordable HVAC systems in Australia – Most systems have high energy ratings
    • Environmentally friendly heating and cooling
    • Heating and cooling in one system for year-round climate control
    • There’s only one system to install and one system to maintain
    • Safer than standalone and portable heaters
    • Long lasting systems
    • No open flames and cool to the touch
    • Options for all households – including ducted systems and split systems! 
    • You could be eligible for Victorian Government Rebates when you upgrade to a reverse cycle air conditioner

    Should You Get a Split System or a Ducted Reverse Cycle System?

    Reverse cycle air conditioners are available as ducted systems and split systems, both of which have their advantages. In terms of the reverse cycle process, ducted and split systems are identical. The differences primarily come in the form of installation costs and the distribution of heating and cooling.

    Ducted reverse cycle systems come with higher installation costs and more complex installation requirements. You will need to install ductwork and vents in every room of the home, which makes ducted units more suitable for new builds and homes that are being renovated.

    In exchange, ducted systems offer central heating and cooling. Or in other words, these systems allow you to heat and cool every room of your home simultaneously.

    Reverse cycle split systems are much easier and more affordable to install. An indoor unit (or head unit) is installed high on the wall and an outdoor unit is installed on the equivalent outdoor wall. The two units are connected by a few wires and pipes, which is much easier than installing ductwork.

    While split system air conditioners are easier and more affordable to install, they are designed to heat or cool only the room in which they are located. This is referred to as space heating and cooling. You may wish to install split systems if you don’t have room for ductwork or you don’t want to go through the installation process. Split system air conditioners are also great for additional heating and cooling in bedrooms, home offices, and living rooms.

    Other factors to consider include:

    • Aesthetics: Ducted units are aesthetically seamless. The ductwork is fully concealed and the vents in every room are discreet. On the other hand, the indoor unit of a split system will be a prominent feature of the room.
    • Flexibility: If you don’t want to use your ducted system in every room at once, you will need a system with zoning. If you want to heat or cool multiple rooms with split systems, you will need either multiple systems (each with its own outdoor unit) or a multi-split set-up (where one outdoor unit powers multiple indoor units).
    • Lifespan: Ducted systems tend to last longer than split systems. Your average split system will last up to 10 years while a ducted unit can go 15 years or longer before major components need repairs or replacement.

    Whether you’re interested in split systems in Box Hill or ducted air conditioning in Dandenong, we can help you. Ask Australian Climate Systems to match you with the best reverse cycle air conditioner for your property.

    Contact Us Today
    Call Us for Your Air Conditioning Service
    Call us now to schedule your air conditioning service and enjoy uninterrupted comfort all year round!

    What Are Some Other Features of Reverse Cycle Heating and Cooling?

    As well as heating and cooling from one system, here are a few other features you can take advantage of with a reverse cycle air conditioner:

    1. Dehumidify the air on humid days with your AC’s Dry Mode

    2. Automatically maintain a comfortable temperature thanks to your Smart Thermostat and Auto Mode

    3. Put even more focus on money saving and energy saving with the Economy Mode

    4. Activate Sleep Mode to automatically adjust the temperature to suit different sleep phases throughout the night

    5. Filter and purify the air with advanced air purification technology

    Now You Know How It Works, It’s Time to Invest in a Reverse Cycle AC!

    You know the process, you know the benefits, and you know your options. Now it’s time to find the best reverse cycle air conditioner for you!

    Whether you’re looking for reverse cycle split systems in Pakenham or ducted reverse cycle air conditioning in Templestowe and the surrounds, our experts can help.

    For everything from system selection and installation to heating and cooling services and repairs, choose Australian Climate Systems. Call our team today on 03 9726 4444.

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