Learning Objectives: Recognize and understand different types of cooling towers, compressors, and controls. Understand basic maintenance requirements for cooling towers.

In this section, cooling towers and compressors which are the two major components of an air-conditioning system are discussed. In addition, the major control elements of an air-conditioned system are also covered.


Cooling towers are classified according to the method of moving air through the tower as natural draft, induced draft, or forced draft (figs. 7-19 and 7-20).

Figure 7-19.—A package tower with a remote, variable speed pump.

Figure 7-20.—Paralleled package towers.

Natural Draft

The natural draft cooling tower is designed to cool water by means of air moving through the tower at the low velocities prevalent in open spaces during the summer. Natural draft towers are constructed of cypress or redwood and have numerous wooden decks of splash bars installed at regular intervals from the bottom to the top. Warm water from the condenser is flooded or sprayed over the distributing deck and flows by gravity to the water-collecting basin.

A completely open space is required for the natural draft tower since its performance depends on existing air currents. Ordinarily, a roof is an excellent location. Louvers must be placed on all sides of a natural draft tower to reduce drift loss.

Important design considerations are the wind velocity and the height of the tower. A wind velocity of 3-miles per hour is generally used for a design of natural draft cooling towers. The natural draft cooling tower was once the standard design for cooling condenser water in refrigeration systems up to about 75 tons. It is now rarely selected unless low initial cost and minimum power requirements are primary considerations. The drift loss and space requirements are much greater than for other cooling tower designs.

Induced Draft

An induced draft cooling tower is provided with a top-mounted fan that induces atmospheric air to flow up through the tower, as warm water falls downward. An induced draft tower may have only spray nozzles for water backup, or it may be filled with various slat and deck arrangements. There are several types of induced draft cooling towers.

In a counterflow induced draft tower (fig. 7-21, C), a top-mounted fan induces air to enter through the bottom of the tower and to flow vertically upward as the water cascades down through the tower. The counterflow tower is particularly well adapted to a restricted space as the discharge air is directed vertically upward, and if equipped with a inlet on each

side, requires only minimum clearance for air intake area. The primary breakup of water may be either by pressure spray or by gravity from pressure-filled flumes.

A parallel-flow induced draft tower (fig. 7-21, A) operates the same way as a counter-flow tower, except the top-mounted fan pulls the air in through the top of the tower and pushes it out the bottom. The airflow goes in the same direction as the water.

Figure 7-21.—Types of induced fan cooling towers.

Comparing counterflow and parallel-flow induced draft towers of equal capacity, the parallel-flow tower is somewhat wider but the height is much less. Cooling towers must be braced against the wind. From a structural standpoint, therefore, it is much easier to design a parallel-flow than a counterflow tower, as the low silhouette of the parallel-flow type offers much less resistance to the force of the winds.

Mechanical equipment for counterflow and parallel-flow towers is mounted on top of the tower and is readily accessible for inspection and maintenance. The water-distributing systems are completely open on top of the tower and can be inspected during operation. This makes it possible to adjust the float valves and clean stopped-up nozzles while the towers are operating.

The cross-flow induced draft tower (fig. 7-21, B) is a modified version of the parallel-flow induced draft tower. The fan in a cross-flow cooling tower draws air through a single horizontal opening at one end and discharges the air at the opposite end.

The cooling tower is a packaged tower that is inexpensive to manufacture and is extremely popular for small installations. As a packaged cooling tower with piping and wiring in place, it is simple to install and may be placed wherever there is a clearance of 2 feet for the intake end and a space of 10 feet or more in front of the fan. The discharge end must not face the prevailing wind and should not be directed into a traffic area because drift loss may be objectionable.

In some situations, an indoor location for the cooling tower may be desirable. An induced draft tower of the counterflow or cross-flow design is generally selected for indoor installation. Two connections to the outside are usually required—one for drawing outdoor air into the tower and the other for discharging it back to the outside. A centrifugal blower is often necessary for this application to overcome the static pressure of the ductwork. Many options are possible as to the point of air entrance and air discharge. This flexibility is often important in designing an indoor installation. Primary water breakup is by pressure spray and fill of various types.

The induced draft cooling tower for indoor installation is a completely assembled packaged unit but is so designed that it can be partially disassembled to permit passage through limited entrances. Indoor installations of cooling towers are becoming more popular. External space restrictions, architectural compatibility, convenience for observation and maintenance all combine to favor an indoor location. The installation cost is somewhat higher than an outdoor location. Packaged towers are available in capacities to serve the cooling requirements of refrigeration plants in the 5- to 75-ton range.

Forced Draft

A forced draft cooling tower uses a fan to force air into the tower. In the usual installation, the fan shaft is in a horizontal plane. The air is forced horizontally through the fill and upward to be discharged out of the top of the tower.

Underflow cooling towers are an improved design of the forced draft tower that retains all the advantages of the efficient parallel-flow design. Air is forced into the center of the tower at the bottom. The air is then turned horizontally (both right and left) through fill chambers and is discharged vertically at both ends. By forcing the air to flow upward and outward through the fill and leave at the ends, operating noise is baffled and a desirable reduction of sound level is achieved. All sides of the underflow tower are smoothly encased with no louver openings. This blends with modern architecture and eliminates the necessity of masonry

walls or other screening devices oftentimes necessary to conceal cooling towers of other types.


Redwood has been the standard construction material for cooling towers for many years. Though cypress, as well as treated fir and pine, has been used occasionally, these materials have not enjoyed a wide application. Casings are constructed of laminated waterproof plywood. Such casings, as well as other noncorrosive materials at critical points, are essential in areas having a highly corrosive atmosphere. Nails, bolts, and nuts of copper or aluminum are almost standard practice for cooling tower construction.

Cooling towers of metal coated with plastic or bituminous materials that have air intake louvers and fill made of redwood have met with only limited success. The limited success is primarily because of the high maintenance cost as compared to wood towers.

Packaged towers with metal sides and wood fill are reasonably common. Some manufacturers have used sheet aluminum for siding for limited periods of time. Plastic slats have been used for fill material but have not proved satisfactory in all cases.

Fire ordinances of a large city may require that no wood be used in construction of cooling towers. With steel or some other fireproof casing and without fill, a cooling tower will comply with the most restrictive ordinances.


Recently, cooling towers have been linked to the spread of Legionnaire's disease. Several precautionary measures are recommended to help eliminate this problem. These include placing of cooling towers downwind and use of chloride compounds as disinfectants on a monthly maintenance schedule.

Water treatment is an important part of the operation of a cooling tower. The evaporation of water from a cooling tower leaves some solids behind. Recirculation of the water in the condenser cooling tower circuit, and the accompanying evaporation, causes the concentration of solids to increase. This concentration must be controlled or scale and corrosion will result.

Though draining the system from time to time and refilling with fresh water is one method of control, it is not recommended. Soon after refilling, the dissolved solids again build up to a dangerous concentration. A more common practice is to waste a certain amount of water continually from the system to the sewer. The water wasted is called blowdown. Blowdown is sometimes accomplished by wasting sump water through an overflow. A better practice, however, is to bleed the required quantity of blowdown from the warm water leaving the condenser on its way to the cooling tower. A mineral salt buildup (calcium bicarbonate concentration) of 10 grains per gallon is considered the maximum allowable concentration for untreated water in the sump if serious corrosion and scaling difficulties are to be avoided.

Cooling towers evaporate about 2 gallons of water every hour for each ton of refrigeration. A gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds, and about 1,000 Btu is needed to evaporate 1 pound of water. Thus, to evaporate a gallon of water, 8.3 x 1,000 or 8,300 Btu is required.

In many instances, the makeup water contains dissolved salts in excess of 10 grains per gallon. It is obvious, then, that even 100 percent blowdown will not maintain a sump concentration of 10 grains. If the blowdown alone cannot maintain satisfactory control, then chemicals should be used.

Makeup water for a cooling tower is the sum of drift loss, evaporation, and blowdown. The drift loss for mechanical draft towers ranges from 0.1 percent of the total water being cooled for the better designed towers to as much as 0.3 percent. In estimating makeup water for a cooling tower, the higher value of 1.3 percent for drift loss is suggested. If the drift loss is actually less than this, the excess makeup water supplied is merely wasted down the overflow. This does, in effect, increase the amount of blowdown and is favorable from the viewpoint that the concentration of scale-forming compounds in the tower sump will be somewhat lower.

Redwood is a highly durable material; however, it is not immune to deterioration. The type of deterioration varies with the nature of the environmental conditions to which the wood is exposed. The principal types of deterioration are leaching, delignification, and microbiological attack.

Algae and slime are present in water and must be controlled chemically or the rate of heat transfer in the condenser will be materially reduced. Condenser tubing, cooling tower piping, and metal surfaces in the water-circulating system must be protected from scale and corrosion.

Using too much of a chemical or using the wrong chemical is known as overtreatment. It can materially reduce the performance or the life of a cooling tower condenser circuit.


A compressor is the machine used to withdraw the heat-laden refrigerant vapor from the evaporator, compress it from the evaporator pressure to the condensing pressure, and push it to the condenser. A compressor is merely a simple pump that compresses the refrigerant gas. Compressors may be divided into the following three types—reciprocating, rotary, and centrifugal. The function of compressing a refrigerant is the same in all three general types, but the mechanical means differ considerably. Rotary compressors are used in small sizes only, and their use is limited almost exclusively to domestic refrigerators and small water coolers. Centrifugal compressors are used in large refrigerating and air-conditioning systems (fig. 7-22).

1. Centrifugal compressor with 5-inch impeller.
2. Refrigerant cooled motor.
3. Control center. 
4. Chiller section.
5. Condenser section

Figure 7-22.—High-speed (36,000 rpm) single-stage centrifugal chiller.

Reciprocating Compressors

Reciprocating compressors are usually powered by electric motors, although gasoline, diesel, and turbine drivers are sometimes used. In terms of capacity, reciprocating compressors are made in fractional horsepower for small, self-contained air conditioners and refrigeration equipment, increasing in size to about 250 tons or more capacity in larger installations. Reciprocating compressors are furnished in open, semisealed, and sealed (hermetic) types.

OPEN.—An open type of compressor shaft is driven by an external motor. The shaft passes through the crankcase housing and is equipped with a shaft seal to prevent refrigerant and oil from leaking or moisture and air from entering the compressor. Pistons are actuated by crankshafts or eccentric drive mechanisms mounted on the shaft. Discharge valves are usually mounted in a plate over the pistons. Suction valves are usually mounted either in the pistons, if suction vapors enter the cylinder through the side of the cylinder or through the crankcase, or in the valve plate over the pistons, if suction vapors enter the cylinder through the head and valve plate.

Figure 7-23 shows a cross section of a typical open type of eccentric shaft compressor with suction valves in the valve plate of the head. Most belt-driven open type of compressors under 3 horsepower use a splash feed lubrication, but in larger size compressors, forced feed systems having positive displacement oil pumps are more common. The oil pump is usually driven from the rear end of the main shaft. Oil from the crankcase is forced under pressure through a hole in the main shaft to the seal, main bearing, and rod bearing, and through a hole in the rod up to the piston pins. Hermetically sealed compressor units used in window air conditioners are quite common in commercial sizes (under 5 horsepower) and are even made by some manufacturers in large tonnage sizes.

Figure 7-23.—Cross section of an open type of reciprocating compressor.

SEMISEALED. —Semisealed compressors are sometimes made in small sizes, but large tonnage units are always of the semisealed type. The primary difference between a fully sealed and a semisealed motor compressor is that in semisealed types the valve plates, and in some units the oil pump, can be removed for repair or replacement. This type of construction is helpful in larger sizes that are so bulky they would cause considerable trouble and expense in shipping, removing, and replacing the unit as a whole. Figure 7-24 shows a small semisealed compressor.

Figure 7-24.—Small semisealed compressor.

Sealed or semisealed units eliminate the belt drive and crankshaft seal, both of which are among the chief causes of service calls. Sealed and semisealed compressors are made either vertical or horizontal. The vertical type (fig. 7-25) usually has a positive displacement oil pump that forces oil under pressure of 10 to 30 psi to the main bearings, rod, or eccentric and pins, although they are sometimes splash oiled.

Figure 7-25.—Vertical semisealed compressor.

Although oil pumps for forced feed lubrication are also used on horizontal hermetic compressors, oil circulation at low oil pressure may be provided by slingers, screw type of devices, and the like. Splash and other types of oil feed must hot be considered inferior forced feed. With good design, they lubricate well. It is most important to maintain the proper oil level, use a correct grade of oil, and keep the system clean and free of dirt and moisture. This is true for all compression refrigeration systems, especially those equipped with hermetically sealed units whose motor windings may be attacked by acids or other corrosive substances introduced into the system or formed by the chemical reaction of moisture, air, or other foreign substances.

HERMETIC. —The term sealed or hermetic unit merely means that the motor rotor and compressor crankshaft of the refrigeration system are made in one piece, and the entire motor and compressor assembly is put into a gastight housing that is welded shut (fig. 7-26). This method of assembly eliminates the need for certain parts found in the open unit. These parts are as follows: motor pulley, belt, compressor flywheel, and compressor seal. The elimination of the preceding parts in the sealed unit similarly does away with the following service operations: replacing motor pulleys, replacing flywheels, replacing belts, aligning belts, and repairing or replacing seals. When it is realized there are major and minor operations that maintenance personnel must perform and the sealed unit dispenses with only five of these, it can be readily seen that servicing is still necessary.

(A) Motor rotor
(B) Motor stator
(C) Compressor cylinder
(D) Compressor piston
(E) Connecting rod
(F) crankshaft
(G) Crank throw
(H) Compressor shell
(I) Glass sealed electrical connection.

Figure 7-26.—Reciprocating hermetic compressor.

Rotary Compressors

Rotary compressors are generally associated with refrigerators, water coolers, and similar small capacity equipment. However, they are available in larger sizes. A typical application of a large compressor is found in compound compressor systems where high capacity must be provided with a minimum of floor space.

In a rotary compressor (fig. 7-27), an eccentric rotor revolves within a housing in which the suction and discharge passages are separated by means of a sealing blade. When the rotating eccentric first passes this blade, the suction area is at a minimum. Further rotation enlarges the space and draws in the charge of refrigerant. As the eccentric again passes the blade, the gas charge is shut off at the inlet, compressed, and discharged from the compressor. There are variations of this basic design, some of which provide the rotor with blades to trap and compress the vapor.

Figure 7-27.—Rotary compressor: A. Part identification; B. Operation.

Centrifugal Compressors

Centrifugal compressors are used in large refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, handling large volumes of refrigerants at low-pressure differentials. Their operating principles are based on the use of centrifugal force as a means of compressing and discharging the vaporized refrigerant. Figure 7-28 is a cutaway view of one type of centrifugal compressor. In this application, one or two compression stages are used, and the condenser and evaporator are integral parts of the unit. The heart of this type of compressor is the impeller wheel.

Figure 7-28.—Cutaway view of one type of centrifugal compressor.

Scroll Compressors

A scroll compressor has two different offset spiral disks to compress the refrigerant vapor. The upper scroll is stationary, while the lower scroll is the driven scroll. Intake of refrigerant is at the outer edge of the driven scroll, and the discharge of the refrigerant is at the center of the stationary scroll. The driven scroll is rotated around the stationary or "fixed" scroll in an orbiting motion. During this movement, the refrigerant vapor is trapped between the two scrolls. As the driven scroll rotates, it compresses the refrigerant vapor through the discharge port. Scroll compressors have few moving parts and have a very smooth and quiet operation.


Controls used in air conditioning are generally the same as for refrigeration systems—thermostats, humidistats, pressure and flow controllers, and motor overload protectors (fig. 7-29).

1. Compressor breakers.
2. Compressor starters
3. Fan cycle controls.
4. High-pressure controls.
5. Oil failure controls.
6. Solid-state staging thermostat.

Figure 7-29.—Packaged air-cooled chiller controls.


The thermostat is an adjustable temperature- sensitive device, which through the opening and closing of its contacts controls the operation of the cooling unit. The temperature-sensitive element may be a bimetallic strip or a confined, vaporized liquid.

The thermostats used with refrigerative air conditioners are similar to those used with heating equipment, except their action is reversed. The operating circuit is closed when the room temperature rises to the thermostat control point and remains closed until the cooling unit decreases the temperature enough. Also, cooling thermostats are not equipped with heat-anticipating coils.

Wall type of thermostats most common for heating and air conditioning in the home and on some commercial units use a bimetallic strip and a set of contacts, as shown in figure 7-30. This type of thermostat operates on the principle that when two dissimilar metals, such as brass and steel, are bonded together, one tends to expand faster than the other does when heat is applied. This causes the strip to bend and close the controls.

Figure 7-30.—Bimetallic thermostat.

As an air-conditioning technician, you may be required to make an adjustment that sets the temperature difference between the cut-in and cutout temperatures. For example, if the system is set to cut in at 76°F and cut out at 84°F, then the differential is 8°F. This condition prevents the unit from cycling continually as it would if there were no differential.


A room "humidistat" may be defined as a humidity-sensitive device controlling the equipment that maintains a predetermined humidity of the space where it is installed. The contact of the humidistat is opened and closed by the expansion or contraction of natural blonde hairs from human beings, which is one of the major elements of this control. It has been found that these types of hairs are most sensitive to the moisture content of the air surrounding them.

Pressure-Flow Controllers

Pressure-flow controllers are discussed in chapter 6. The purpose of these controllers in air conditioning is to act as safety switches for the system, so if either the head pressure is too high or suction pressure too low, the system will be secured regardless of the position of the operating switches.

Refrigerant-Flow Controllers

The refrigerant-flow controllers used with air conditioners are also similar to the ones discussed in chapter 6. These controllers are either of the capillary type or externally equalized expansion valve type and are usually of larger tonnage than those used for refrigerators.

Motor Overload Protectors

When the compressor is powered by an electric motor, either belt driven or as an integral part of the compressor assembly, the motor is usually protected by a heat-actuated overload device. This is in addition to the line power fuses. The heat to actuate the overload device is supplied by the electrical energy to the motor, as well as the heat generated by the motor itself. Either source of heat or a combination of the two, if too much, causes the overload device to open and remove the motor from the line.

Figure 7-31 shows a thermal-element type of overload cutout relay. It is housed in the magnetic starter box. On current overload, the relay contacts open, allowing the holding coil to release the starting mechanism, thereby stopping the motor.

Figure 7-31.—Thermal overload relay.

An oil failure cutout switch is provided on many systems to protect the compressor against oil failure. The switch is connected to register pressure differential between the oil pump and the suction line. Figure 7-32 shows a typical oil failure cutout switch. The switch contains two bellows, which work against each other, and springs for adjusting. Tubing from the oil pump is connected to the bottom bellows of the switch. Tubing from the suction line is connected to the upper bellows. When a predetermined pressure differential is not maintained, a pair of contacts in the switch is opened and breaks the circuit to the compressor motor. A heating element with a built-in delay is in the switch to provide for starting the compressor when oil pressure is low.

Figure 7-32.—Oil failure cutout switch.

The water-regulating valve used with a water- cooled condenser responds to a predetermined condensing pressure. A connection from the discharge side of the compressor to the valve transmits condensing pressure directly to a bellows inside the valve. High pressure opens the valve, allowing a greater flow of water; low pressure throttles the flow. Use of such a valve provides for a more economical use of water for condensing. Figure 7-33 shows a typical water-regulating valve. When condenser water is supplied by a cooling tower, water-regulating valves are not customarily used because the cooling tower fan and circulating pump are wired into the compressor motor control circuit.

Figure 7-33.—Water-regulating valve.

Step Controller

The step controller contains a shaft upon which is mounted a series of cams. Rotation of the cams, in turn, operates electrical switches. Through adjustment of the cams on the shaft, the temperature at which each switch is to close and open (differential) is established. In addition, the switches may be adjusted to operate in almost any sequence (fig. 7-34).

(A) Step controller with modulating motor, single-pole double-throw mini switches, and mouse trap relay assembly;

(B) Pressure sensor that controls the step controller.

Figure 7-34.—Step controller and pressure-sensor configuration.


Table Z of appendix II is a troubleshooting chart generally applicable to all types of air conditioners. Most manufacturers include more detailed and specific information in publications pertaining to their units. If you find that there is no manual with the unit when it is unpacked, write to the manufacturer and request one as soon as possible.

Questions for Lesson 3

  1. How are cooling towers classified?
  2. A wind velocity of 8 mph is generally used to design natural draft cooling towers. True /False
  3. Counter flow, parallel flow, and cross flow are types of what class of cooling tower?
  4. What type of cooling tower is installed indoors? Forced draft underflow towers retain the advantages of what other type of cooling tower?
  5. Air intake louvers and fill are made of what material?
  6. Cooling towers evaporate approximately how much water every hour for each ton of refrigeration?
  7. Rotary compressors are used in what type of units?
  8. Semisealed and sealed compressors have reduced service requirements because of the elimination of what part?
  9. What control is temperature sensitive and controls the operation of the cooling unit?
  10. What device maintains humidity at a predetermined point?
  11. What causes a motor to shut down when a motor is too hot?