Thinking of Installing a Swamp Cooler?
Read This Buyer's Guide. Everything You Need to Know, Including Costs
Swamp coolers, also known as evaporative coolers, cool the air by evaporating water. They’re an effective and less expensive alternative to traditional air conditioners, which cool by compressing vapors or using refrigeration. However, swamp coolers are only effective in some climates - and the swamp is not one of them.
The technology behind swamp coolers has been around since Ancient Egypt, but swamp coolers are still pretty rare in the United States, despite their advantages. Swamp coolers are energy efficient, cheap and good for the environment. They make a good alternative to window air conditioners and, in some cases, central air.
Pros and Cons of Swamp Coolers
Evaporative coolers combine the powers of evaporating water and moving air to lower indoor temperatures by as much as 30 degrees. They push warm air outside through open windows. The moisture keeps the inside of the home from drying out, and the water-filled pads keep the air clean by removing allergens and dust. Other advantages to swamp coolers over traditional air conditioning include:
- No harmful refrigerants that damage the ozone
- A natural breeze that makes the air feel even cooler
- Dramatically lower electricity usage
- Lower purchase and installation costs
- Lower maintenance costs
The greatest downside is that swamp coolers are only effective in regions with low humidity. They’re most often found in very hot and dry climates - particularly in the Southwest region of the United States. Despite the name, swamp coolers are not at all effective in humid and/or rainy climates. Additionally, swamp coolers are not as easy to control as regular air conditioners. They also use a significant amount of water, which is troublesome if your water costs are high.
Types of Swamp Coolers
There are many types of swamp coolers, from portable versions to whole-house units. The most common types include:
- Portable coolers designed for a single, small room
- Window or through-the-wall units, which can cool just a single room or the entire house, depending on their CFM rating
- Side discharge coolers that are installed on the side of the building, which can cool the entire house
- Down discharge coolers, which are installed on the roof and also cool the entire home
All swamp coolers use damp pads to cool the air. The air coming in passes through the pads, where the evaporation happens. There are two types of pads: fiber and rigid media. Fiber pads cost less, but they require replacement more often. Rigid pads cost more, but they can last for years at a time. The decision comes down to cost versus hassle - are you willing to pay more upfront to do less maintenance?
How Much Do Swamp Coolers Cost?
Basic metal swamp coolers that you can buy at a big box store sell for around $1,000. More robust plastic units that are recommended and installed by professional contractors cost up to $3,000. The operating costs are about one-fourth to one-third of traditional air conditioners, but make sure you choose a unit that is water efficient. Some newer models use as little as a gallon per day.
Although more robust models and professional installation will cost more upfront, this is typically the smarter choice in the long term. DIY installation or installation by an unexperienced handyman can lead to significant problems down the road. Swamp coolers should always be installed to code, and many municipalities require a permit for the project, which adds to the total cost.