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Evaporative Coolers: How They Differ

From Other A/C Units

Sweltering heat may be great if you’re at the pool or the beach, but what do you do when those
temperatures start to creep inside? If you’re like most people, you probably crank up your air
conditioner and grab an ice-cold drink.
There are many ways to cool down your home with air conditioning being the most widely used
method. However, there are different types of air conditioners from which you can choose from,
all with their own set of pros and cons. This can make your decision somewhat complicated and
confusing.
Below, we will take a closer look at evaporative coolers, one of the most popular types of air
conditioners used by homeowners during the hot summer months, and how they differ from other
A/C units. Let’s breakdown and compare how each cooling system works, the climates they work
best in and the advantages of choosing one over the other.

AC Units vs Swamp Coolers: How Do They Work?


While both of these appliance are designed to cool your home, the do it in very different ways.
Below, we’ve highlighted a quick rundown on how each of these cooling appliances work.
 Air Conditioners:
An air conditioning unit is a box-like appliance that intakes hot air, cools it, expels heat and
blows out cold air, all in the same unit. This is accomplished by a condenser coil that cools
the air and an exhaust hose that expels the heat. This cooled air is pushed out into your
living environment, providing you with the relief you need on a hot day. This cooled air is
then circulated throughout your home, eventually finding its way back into the air
conditioning unit to be cooled again. This process repeats itself until your desired
temperature is reached, or the unit is turned off.
 Evaporative Cooler:
An evaporative cooler, sometimes referred to as a swamp cooler, utilizes water-soaked
pads to cool the air. This process works because a fan pulls hot air into the unit, sending it
through a series of pads that helps evaporate the liquid into a gas which then blows out
cooler than it was when it entered the unit. The evaporation process works similar to the
effect of rubbing cold water on your skin on a hot day.

How Do They Differ In Cooling?


While air conditioners draw moisture out of the air, swamp coolers cool with the opposite effect
by adding humidity to the air it blows out. The fan also continuously circulates air, creating a
slight breeze, which will help make your body feel cooler.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Best Climates For Evaporative Coolers


An air conditioner is best used in an area that has closed, continuous circulation, such as a home
or office. Since they cool by dehumidifying the room, these systems work great in humid
environments. The air will be more comfortable in a room that has had the humidity reduced,
making an air conditioning unit the best choice for anyone living in humid areas. It’s also
important to keep the area closed-off. Using an air conditioner in your garage, for example, is not
a wise idea as the room is not completely closed off and the cooled air will simply drift outside.
For those in dry environments, like the desert climates of the southwestern Untied States, an
evaporative cooler can be an effective method of cooling yourself down on a summer day
because they add moisture back into the air through evaporation. The drier air will absorb the
cool moisture, resulting in cooler temperatures in your environment.
In humid areas, evaporative swamp coolers are nearly ineffective because the air is already filled
with moisture. Adding more moisture to the air is not recommended in humid climates.
While an evaporative cooler will indeed cool down your home, it’s important that you keep
the relative humidity levels below 50% in your home. Even if you live in the hottest, driest
environment in the world, there are many problems that can arise if you have too much
humidity in your home.

Photo Credit: Honeywell

The Benefits of Air Conditioners


There are many benefits to buying an air conditioner instead of an evaporative cooler, especially
for those living in humid climates. This is because the A/C unit reduces the humidity levels at the
same time it cools the air in very humid environments. Another benefit of air conditioners are the
wide variety of types and flexible placement options.
Before we get into the benefits of evaporative coolers, let’s quickly review the benefits of other
popular types of air conditioning.

 Central Air Conditioning:


The most common air conditioner found in homes today, central air conditioners, also
referred too as HVAC units, are great at cooling down your entire home at once. Expensive
to install, replace and run on a regular basis, but a great A/C system for cooling down a full
house of people.
 Portable Air Conditioners:
Ideal for those on the move, portable air conditioning units are a great way to quickly cool
down small homes, or just individual rooms within your home instead of your entire home.
This strategic cooling method will not only cut your energy bills, but also save you lots of
money in the process. Not to mention that it’s portable and can be moved from room-to-
room at your leisure.
 Window Air Conditioners:
One of the most energy efficient types of air conditioning available, window units have
many of the same benefits as their portable counterparts. They can help cut your energy
bills and save you money. However, unlike portable units, they are more difficult to
install and unable to be moved from room-to-room whenever you’d like.
 Through-the-Wall Air Conditioners:
These are essentially the same type of air conditioner as window units. However, instead of
being installed in a window, they are actually installed within the wall. While very efficient
and effective at cooling your home, through-the-wall units require a professional to install,
as you will need to have a hole cut out of the wall in your home. This increases your overall
initial costs.
 Mini-Split / Ductless Air Conditioners:
This type of air conditioner has been growing in popularity these days. Mini-split ductless
units work much like HVAC units, but are more effective at regulating the temperature from
room-to-room while lowering your overall energy costs and saving you money. The
downside is that installation requires a professional, and they are more expensive than
other types of A/C units.

The Benefits of Evaporative Swamp Coolers


Swamp coolers, on the other hand, use the exact opposite methods of the air conditioners listed
above to cool. Therefore, they have very different benefits associated with their use.
In uncomfortably dry climates, evaporative units can serve to make conditions more livable by
reducing some of the dryness from the air. Not only does this help make the air “feel” cooler, but
may also help relieve some of the symptoms associated with itchy eyes, dry skin and sore
throats.
If you are on a budget, a swamp cooler will also be an appealing option, as they are typically a
cheaper option than air conditioners. In fact, you could even build your own swamp cooler with
the right tools. If you’re concerned about the environment, the natural process that occurs when
using an evaporative cooler means they are very energy efficient with little-to-no emissions.

Maintenance Tips for Evaporative Coolers


One thing you should always know before you make a substantial purchase is the amount of
maintenance that is going to be required. No matter what kind of appliance you buy, whether it’s
an air conditioner or evaporative cooler, there are still some maintenance requirements that must
be met in order to ensure that your unit operates in an efficient manner.
First, each system comes with a venting kit that allows the hot air to leave the room through an
exhaust hose. This is often done through a window, drop ceiling or wall, making this is a big
factor in which system to purchase.
In an evaporative cooler, the amount of maintenance depends on the type of system. A window-
mounted unit requires simple measures in spring and fall to prepare for use and storage. In a
portable unit, the filters and water curtains require cleaning every few weeks in addition to
draining at the end of the season. Properly maintaining your unit will result in a longer-lasting
machine and faster cooling during use.

Final Buying Tips


The decision of whether you should buy a swamp cooler or a more advanced air conditioner is a
personal decision that will vary from person to person. It’s impossible for one person to say one
is better than the other, as there are too many factors to consider within each of our lives.
However, this choice greatly depends on where you live, how much work you’d like to do and
what your housing situation is. Portable, window, or wall mounted air conditioners are strongly
recommended for anyone living in humid climates because they create a drier, cooler room.
Since an evaporative cooler’s main function is to add moisture to the air, they an affordable
option for dry climates with low humidity levels, but even still, may not provide the level of relief
that other types of A/C units can.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you determine which model is best for your home. The summer
heat can be miserable; I’m from Texas, I know this all too well. By picking the right A/C unit for
your home, you will keep your home at cool and comfortable temperatures, allowing you to relax
throughout the hot summer months.