What would cause a refrigeration compressor to overheat?

Written by matthew munoz
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A compressor is a pump for refrigerant. It allows movement of refrigerant through the vapour-compression cycle. Although heat is a product of compression, overheating can occur. Compressors normally run into temperatures of 93.3 degrees C, so do not consider this overheating.

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Compressor Types

Compressor types consist of reciprocating, screw, centrifugal and scroll. Reciprocating creates pressure using pistons. Screw type uses two gears to pressurise the refrigerant. Centrifugal uses an impeller. Scroll type uses a scroll (picture a screwdriver).

Motor Internals

Compressors driven by motors may overheat due to a faulty motor. Bad windings or bearings may be at fault for creating excess heat. If these parts create excess resistance within the motor, overheating will occur.

Poor Ventilation

The most likely cause of an overheating compressor is improper ventilation or insufficient ventilation space. Compressors need to dissipate their heat. Refrigerators have a bar that ensure space between the compressor and the wall. Dehumidifiers will recommend a foot of space between the exhaust and the wall to keep the exhaust from damaging a wall and to keep the compressor cool.

Compression Ratio

A compression ratio refers to the difference in pressure between the suction and discharge port of a compressor. Since heat is a product of compression, then a high compression ratio will result in more heat, which usually results from an under-pressurised system.


A system that has too much refrigerant will have too-high pressure. With too much pressure, the compressor has a difficult time moving refrigerant. Therefore, the system cannot do its cooling function or cool its internals.

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