What is the difference between sensible and latent heat?
Two forms of heat are relevant in air conditioning:
- Sensible heat
- Latent heat
When an object is heated, its temperature rises as heat is added. The increase in heat is called sensible heat. Similarly, when heat is removed from an object and its temperature falls, the heat removed is also called sensible heat. Heat that causes a change in temperature in an object is called sensible heat.
All pure substances in nature are able to change their state. Solids can become liquids (ice to water) and liquids can become gases (water to vapor) but changes such as these require the addition or removal of heat. The heat that causes these changes is called latent heat.
Latent heat however, does not affect the temperature of a substance - for example, water remains at 100°C while boiling. The heat added to keep the water boiling is latent heat. Heat that causes a change of state with no change in temperature is called latent heat.
Appreciating this difference is fundamental to understanding why refrigerant is used in cooling systems. It also explains why the terms 'total capacity' (sensible & latent heat) and 'sensible capacity' are used to define a unit's cooling capacity. During the cooling cycling, condensation forms within the unit due to the removal of latent heat from the air. Sensible capacity is the capacity required to lower the temperature and latent capacity is the capacity to remove the moisture from the air.