Do Swamp Coolers Really Work?

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Conventional air conditioners—window models, central air, even these clunky transportable models with the massive ugly hoses—are nice instruments for eradicating the warmth from a room. Though utilizing AC does successfully depart you feeling cooler than earlier than, it’s additionally an energy-intensive course of. Air con prices cash, and it additionally results in a type of self-fulfilling prophecy: All that power use contributes to international warming, which suggests we have to use extra air-con, which makes use of extra power, which prices more cash, and so forth ceaselessly. And that’s earlier than we even get into the sophisticated contributions of chemical refrigerants.

Evaporative cooling (PDF) is a refrigerant-free various that makes use of a lot much less power. There are lots of alternative ways to benefit from pure evaporative processes, however one frequent answer is to construct or purchase an evaporative cooler. Also called a swamp cooler, this system makes use of a fan to recirculate the room’s air throughout a cool, moist pad (aka a wick) after which expel that freshly dampened air into the room. these little spray bottles with the fan mounted on prime that individuals use to spritz water of their faces whereas they’re ready in line for a curler coaster within the useless of the summer season? It’s principally that, on a bigger scale.

However do these swamp coolers really work? And in that case, why isn’t everybody utilizing them?

Evaporative cooling is loosely based mostly on an historic, time-honored course of often called sweating. You’ll have heard of it. Our our bodies mechanically cool themselves down by releasing moisture by the pores and skin; the moisture will get picked up by a nice breeze and brings us again right down to a extra snug temperature. A fast run by a sprinkler has the identical impact. That’s primarily what a swamp cooler does to the air in a room. However, as we present in testing, your beginning ambient environmental circumstances play an enormous half in how properly this works to make you are feeling cooler.

We examined two transportable business swamp coolers, the Frigidaire EC200WF and the Frigidaire EC300W-FA, towards our transportable air conditioner picks to see how they stacked up. Slowly however certainly, the swamps did cool the room, although not almost in addition to the (famously inefficient) transportable ACs. However for each 1 diploma swamp coolers dropped the temperature within the room, additionally they added about 2% to three% to the humidity. On a really technical stage, this is sensible; in spite of everything, it’s what they’re designed to do. In contrast, transportable and window air conditioners really de-humidify an area as a part of their cooling course of, and we noticed that in our exams as properly (that’s additionally why that second-floor window AC is at all times dripping on you). Each strategies can assist hold you cool; they only use totally different approaches to attain that.

The Frigidaire EC200WF, one of the swamp coolers tested for this review, in a bedroom setting.
The Frigidaire EC200WF lowered the temperature and raised humidity by sending moisture out through an oscillating fan that may cowl as much as 350 sq. ft per minute. Picture: Michael Hession

However in a testing atmosphere just like the one we have been utilizing—within the coastal Northeast, on a day when the humidity exterior was already above 50%—we have been primarily setting these swamp coolers as much as fail. With the air as saturated because it was, the machines couldn’t do a lot besides over-humidify the room, making it danker with none vital cooling or consolation. It was the identical disagreeable feeling you get when your sweat gained’t evaporate on a muggy day. In a drier atmosphere, nonetheless, humidifying the air because it handed by a fan might have made a critical distinction. In accordance with the US Division of Power (DOE), an evaporative cooler can efficiently cut back the ambient temperature by 5 to fifteen levels—however even the DOE is fast to make clear that this course of works solely in areas with low humidity.

In different phrases, a swamp cooler isn’t an excellent selection for a spot like Boston (the place we ran our preliminary exams). However if you happen to reside in a heat, arid local weather, significantly within the western US, it may be a dependable and cost-effective technique to convey some chill into your summer season. One Amazon reviewer based mostly in Arizona gave 5 stars to the Frigidaire EC300W-FA we examined, saying that “an additional bonus for me is that I can take it into my workshop or put it subsequent to me on my porch—locations the place an air conditioner wouldn’t work.” One other reviewer stated that though the Frigidaire EC300W-FA dropped the temperature by just a few levels, “it additionally elevated the relative humidity within the room from 13% to 40%.” There are many different reviewers, in locations like Las Vegas and Boise, Idaho, who additionally talked up the cooling sensation they bought from their swamp coolers, whereas additionally acknowledging {that a} cool feeling just isn’t at all times the identical as precise air-con.

The Frigidaire EC200WF's water tank, placed next to the swamp cooler so that the wat
er and ice pack inside it are visible.
The Frigidaire EC200WF’s 1.8-gallon tank additionally comes with an ice pack to convey the water temperature down and (briefly) chill the air that passes by it. Picture: Michael Hession

If you wish to save much more cash—and also you’re feeling artful—you may as well vogue your personal swamp cooler utilizing a 5-gallon bucket (video), a Styrofoam cooler (video), and even an previous pc fan in an empty milk carton (video). These DIY evaporative cooler initiatives all depend on the identical primary components: an electrical fan, a container or pump to offer the water, and a wick or aquarium tube to hold the water to the fan. You could want some primary instruments for slicing, and a few of these MacGyvered swamp coolers advocate utilizing extra piping to maintain the airflow going sturdy. However in the appropriate local weather, an hour of labor and 100 bucks might get you an honest various to purchasing an entire new air conditioner. One DIYer even stated his home made swamp cooler “takes some time to chill an entire room, but it surely lowers my room common from 25 °C [77 °F] to 16 °C [60.8 °F] by the day.”

However, in fact, time is cash, and it may be simpler to purchase a premade swamp cooler. The Frigidaire EC200WF we examined will value you solely about $80 greater than a home made mannequin. And for about $70 on prime of that, the bigger Frigidaire EC300W-FA offers you almost thrice the tank measurement and almost twice the fan energy. The EC300W-FA can be used outdoor so as to add a mild misting breeze to your patio. Even within the worst-case situation, you may nonetheless use any swamp cooler as an enormous fan. And on a sizzling summer season day, that’s higher than nothing.

It’s Chill Week at Wirecutter! Learn extra about methods to chill down and get essentially the most out of summer season.

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