A/C Compressor and A/C Condenser: The Top Differences

Compressor VS Condenser

From the names itself, the compressor compresses, and the condenser condenses. But their roles in processing the AC refrigerant are distinct from each other. The refrigerant will travel to the compressor, and after this journey, the condenser comes into play.

What is the difference between an A/C compressor and a condenser? The A/C compressor is a mechanical device that reduces the volume of gas to add pressure while the A/C condenser takes in the pressurized gas turning it into a liquid-vapor.

Learn more about the difference between the A/C compressor and the A/C condenser as you read through this article.

The A/C Compressor

Compress means to reduce in size, volume, or quantity. But, to further understand how the A/C compressor works, you must first know, “how does refrigeration work?”

To make it short, refrigeration allows air-conditioners to remove heat inside your home and carry it outside. This process cools down or warms your indoors, depending on the time of the year.  

Your A/C compressor increases air temperature and adds pressure to the air that leaves the evaporator coil. Raising the pressure of the vapor refrigerant is essential to create a pressure difference.

The pressure difference is a must to have a smooth flow of the refrigerant.

The increase of pressure from the compressor will also increase the temperature inside your home. A high-temperature substance to a lower temperature substance is the direction of heat transfer.

The lower temperature is in the evaporator coil, and the hotter temperature is in the compressor and condenser.

The compressor compresses the heat collected from inside your home by the refrigerant that traveled the evaporator coil. The compressor squeezes the heat allowing it to move to the condenser and be released to the outdoors.

It is also the most energy-sucking part of an air-conditioner or heat pump. Yet, how a compressor works may even vary depending on its type. HVAC compressors are categorized into five types in air-conditioning; Reciprocating, Rotary, Centrifugal, Screw, and Scroll.

5 Categories Of A/C Compressor

All A/C units have a compressor inside. The compressor has a vital role in compressing the refrigerant entering the machine to increase temperature. The cooling process begins when the compressed air from the compressor steps foot in the condenser.

All A/C compressors have the same roles, but they work in varying ways. Below are the list and explanation of the five A/C compressor categories and how they compress heat.

Reciprocating A/C Compressor

The reciprocating type is used in home appliances, refrigeration, air-conditioning refrigeration, light commercial air-conditioning, and commercial air-conditioning. This type of compressor is among the most widely used and popular types of A/C compressor.

This type of A/C compressor compresses air by a piston that moves up and down inside a cylinder, making a vacuum effect that sucks in the refrigerant is created as the piston moves down.

When the piston moves up, the compressed gas travels to the condenser and is soon released outdoors.

The reciprocating type of compressor is very efficient. Air-conditioning units can have eight cylinders within this type of compressor.

Rotary A/C Compressor

The rotary air-conditioning type of compressor is widely used in appliances and residential air-conditioning units. They are popularly used in places where noise is a concern because it is small and quiet. 

This type of A/C compressor has a shaft inside that contains many blades attached to it. Its shaft rotates inside a graduated cylinder while pushing the refrigerant through the cylinder to be compressed.

Centrifugal A/C Compressor

Centrifugal A/C-type compressor is used for commercial A/C systems. This compressor is usually reserved for XL HVAC systems.

The name itself, this type of compressor, uses centrifugal force to pull the refrigerant gas, and it then spins it continuously and compresses it with an impeller.

Screw Air-Conditioning Compressor

This type of A/C compressor is used for commercial A/C, industrial applications, and refrigeration. Aside from that, it is very efficient in doing its job.

However, it is used in places with a vast amount of air. A large building is an excellent example of a place that requires rapid cooling.

The screw A/C compressor has two helical rotors. The helical rotors are oversized and move air from one end to another, and space gets smaller as the refrigerant moves through the screw compressor.

Scroll A/C Compressor

One fixed coil in the center is called the “scroll,” and another coil rotates around it. The scroll A/C compressor is used in refrigeration, industrial applications, and commercial A/C, and it is the newest compressor in air-conditioning.

The second scroll compresses the air by pushing the refrigerant to the center. Scroll A/C compressors do not have several moving parts making them more reliable and popular as reciprocating compressors.

How Much Is An HVAC Compressor?

Now let’s talk about the price ranges of an HVAC compressor.

The average home A/C compressor costs around $1,000. Replacing the compressor with a typical one may range anywhere from $850 to $3000. Plus, small parts of the compressor and labor – would be anywhere between 30%-50% of the price.

Yes, A/C compressors have warranties that may last 3-10 years, but they only cover the price of parts for about a year or two.

Average Cost In Replacing An A/C Compressor    

The average cost of replacing an A/C compressor is $1,200. The highest cost it can get is $3000, and the lowest would be $700, excluding labor, shipping, and parts.

The labor cost in replacing the residential A/C compressor is $400-$1,200. HVAC specialists have a rate of $50-$150 per hour, depending on your state and the repair.

Residential A/C Cost By Size And Type

Size 1, being the smallest size, may cost around $800-1,450. Size 2 and 2.5, cost $900 to $1700. A 3 and 3.5 would cost $1200-$2300. And the biggest sizes are 4 and 5, the average cost of these large sizes is $1500-$3000.

The compressor of a window unit type of A/C has a material cost of $100-$200. The central A/C unit’s material cost is $300-$1600, and the mini-split A/C unit’s compressor material cost is $400-$1,800.

The A/C Condenser

An A/C condenser is designed to turn heat from a working fluid to a secondary fluid, and it relies on the heat transferred during phase change.

The vapor enters the condenser at a temperature higher than the secondary fluid. The vapor then cools down as it reaches the saturation temperature, transforms into a liquid, and is released outdoors.

The condenser is your A/C or heat pump’s external unit that receives the compressed heat from the compressor. The heat exchange and heat transfer occur, releasing or collecting heat, depending on the season.

Condenser coils are made of either copper tubing with aluminum fins or all-aluminum tubing. The most vital part of the condenser is the fan, and the condenser fan helps to circulate the air through the coil to facilitate the transfer of heat.

Water-cooled, air-cooled, and evaporator condensers are the three types of A/C condensers, and they each work differently from one another.    

Types Of A/C Condenser

Air-Cooled Condenser

  • Natural convection air-cooled condenser
  • Forced convection air-cooled condenser

The natural convection air-cooled condenser transfers heat from the condenser in induced natural convection and radiation buoyancy. This type of air-cooled condenser is used in a domestic refrigerator, and it can only carry small capacity refrigeration for freezers and refrigerators.

Forced convection air-cooled condenser works by air circulation over the surface maintained using a fan or a blower. It usually uses fins to provide better heat transfer.

Water-Cooled Condenser

  • Tube-in-tube or double-tube water-cooled condenser
  • Shell and coil water-cooled condenser
  • Shell and tube water-cooled condenser

The tube-in-tube or double-tube water-cooled condenser is used for refrigeration with only up to 10 TR capacity. Shell and coil water-cooled condenser can be used in refrigeration with up to 10 TR of capacity, and the shell and water-cooled condenser can be used from 2 TR to 1,000 TR capacity.

Evaporative Condenser

The evaporative condenser is the combination of a water-cooled condenser and an air-cooled condenser. The utilized principle of this condenser is to reject heat by the evaporation of water into air steam.

Major Components Of An A/C Condenser

The Condenser Coil

The condenser coil handles heat removal from the refrigerant. After the compressor pressurizes the gas refrigerant, it enters the condenser coil.

Two things happen in the condenser coil. The gas refrigerant transfers its heat, simultaneously cooling and turning it into liquid. The air in the coil will start to heat up and blow out of the whole unit.

The condenser coil sits behind the condenser fins. The condenser fins are the thin metal wiring that shelters your outdoor A/C unit.

To make sure that the long life span of your condenser coil, have it maintained regularly. Over time, the coil will collect dirt and dust that will affect its job performance.

A dirty condenser coil will reduce overall unit efficiency. When the coil has reduced efficiency, the unit will work harder than usual and cause higher energy bills: higher energy bills but lesser efficiency.

The Condenser Fan

The condenser fan is the motor part in your HVAC system that blows air across the condenser coil. It has a set temperature that makes the operation safe and efficient. The condenser fan is located inside the condensing unit.

Condenser fans overheat due to a bad motor, poor maintenance, poor airflow, over-ramping, and incorrect motor size.

You can tell if your motor fan is overheating by placing your hand on top of the condenser unit. If it’s warm, it’s okay, but it’s overheating when it’s extremely hot.

Regular maintenance by an HVAC specialist will prevent your condenser fan from overheating. Lubrication is required with some designs or models of condenser fans at least once a year.

The Condenser Unit

The condensing unit is placed outside your home, and it is a temperature-control device installed in air-conditioners, heat pumps, chillers, and refrigerators.

They safely move energy in the form of refrigerant and then pump it across a system of coils, and it then uses the air around the coils to provide a reasonable temperature.

A/C Condenser Cost, Repair And Maintenance

The repair and maintenance of an A/C condenser vary depending on the repair needed and your location. The ballpark on the cost is $900-$300, excluding labor costs.

Condenser Coil Replacement

The cost will vary depending on the size of the condenser coil of your A/C condenser.

  • 5.0 Ton = $1000-$3000
  • 4.0 Ton = $800-2500
  • 3.0 – 3.5 Ton = $750-$2300
  • 2.5 – 2.0 Ton = $600-$2200
  • 1.5 Ton = $500-$1500

Condenser Motor Repair

When the motor of your condenser needs repair, prepare at least $300 to $650. When a motor needs replacement, the run capacitor will be too; the cost of this is around $150 to $350.

Price Parts Of An A/C Condenser

Regardless of the repair needed, the trip fee is $100 alone. Parts cost is around $50 – $600 – excluding labor for repair and maintenance. 

Condensate unit fan motor

  • Average Cost: $200
    • Cost including labor: $200-$280

Condenser relay switch, circuit breaker, and fuse

  • Average Cost: $170
    • Cost including labor: $170-320


  • Average Cost: $110
    • Cost including labor: $110-150

Condensate pump

  • Average Cost: $170
    • Cost including labor: $170-$270

Condenser fan motor

  • Average Cost: $300
    • Cost including labor: $300-$550

Circuit breaker service

  • Average Cost: $100
    • Cost including labor: $90-$150


  • Average Cost: $150
    • Cost range including labor: $170- $300

Fan motor

  • Average Cost: $220
    • Cost range including labor: $225-$400

Condenser relay switch, fuses & circuit breaker

  • Average Cost: $170
    • Cost including labor: $170-$350

Circuit breaker service

  • Average Cost: $100
    • Cost including labor: $90-$150

Yearly tune-up & troubleshooting

  • Average Cost: $100
    • Cost including labor: $100-$250

Drain pan

  • Average Cost: $400
    • Cost including labor: $400-$600

Powerpack booster

  • Average Cost: $420
    • Cost including labor: $400-530

Easy A/C Condenser DIY Repairs And Maintenance

To keep an efficient A/C system, one must do regular and standard maintenance. While some A/C issues require repairs and maintenance from HVAC specialists, here are some easy DIY repairs and maintenance.

  1. Testing the condenser – Switch the power on and set it to run. Observe for leaks, smell, or other red flags.
  2. Checking the fan blades – Make sure the fan blades don’t strike anything
  3. Clean debris – Make it a routine to clean any dirt or debris near your condenser.


In conclusion, the A/C condenser and the A/C compressor work as a team to provide proper temperature to your home. The compressor compresses the heat, while the condenser transforms the compressed heat from a gas form to a liquid-vapor.

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