What Are The Pros And Cons Of The 3 Common AC Compressor Types?

The compressor in an air conditioning system pressurizes refrigerant, then pumps that refrigerant out into the condensing coils. The coils then change the refrigerant into liquid, pass the liquid inside the house to the evaporator coils, and the evaporator coils then change the liquid back to gas to provide the cooling needed for your home. When choosing a new air conditioning system, it's important to know what type of compressor is in the system and to understand the pros and cons associated with that vital part. 

Rotary Compressor

Rotary compressors are among the most powerful types of compressors available and thus are used most often in central air conditioner systems for larger homes. The compressor features two rotating gears or screws that move counter one another to pressurize passing air. The setup allows a rotary compressor to pressurize more air faster, which means the compressor is at less risk of becoming hot or overheating than other compressor types.

A downside of all the moving parts is that there are more parts that can fail in a rotary compressor. Failure is more likely with less frequent use, which can cause the parts to essentially atrophy. So a rotary compressor is best in a system that is going to be used often.

Reciprocating Compressor

Reciprocating compressors work similarly to the air compressor in a vehicle engine. The compressor has pistons that compress the refrigerant and then push the compressed refrigerant into a storage tank. A reciprocating compressor has limited cooling abilities, which makes the compressor one of the more affordable options but also only suited for window air conditioners and very small central systems.

A reciprocating compressor is durable due to the limited number of parts and  is easier to replace or repair than some of the more advanced compressor types. The compressor is noisier during operation, which can be a deciding factor for a window air conditioner in your bedroom or living room.

Scroll Compressor

Scroll compressors might not be the most powerful compressor, but the scroll type does offer the greatest cooling capacity. The scroll compressors are energy efficient and smaller in size, which makes the scroll a good choice for window air conditioners or smaller central air conditioning systems.

The sheer cooling power of the compressor means that the scroll type becomes hotter during operation than other types of compressors. If there's another imbalance in the condensing unit such as dirty coils or an inefficient fan, the heat of the scroll compressor can lead to the system overheating and shutting down.

Scroll compressors are also one of the more expensive types of compressors, which can inflate the overall price of the unit. But you might consider the upfront cost worth the lowered energy costs over time.

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