While they’re not the most recent invention, swamp coolers have been gaining popularity in the last few years as an effective alternative to air conditioners and electric fans. This is partly because of the increasing popularity of eco-friendly alternatives to everything else. They are also more affordable.
There are so many options on the market now when it comes to swamp or evaporative coolers, it might be hard to choose one that will fit your needs the best. From different device types to a variety of brands, finding the right solution requires a lot of research.
In this article, you can find all the essential information about swamp coolers (or evaporative air coolers, as they are also called) and things to consider when buying one. All the research you might need to do can be found right here in this guide. But first, let’s find out what exactly is a swamp cooler.
What Is a Swamp Cooler and How It Works
What is a swamp, or evaporative, cooler? You’ve probably heard at least one of these terms, and what both of them mean is a cooling device that uses water as a natural cooling agent. This is a cooling appliance used to make the air feel cooler by using the regular procedure of water evaporation.
Many people now use swamp coolers because they are affordable, low-maintenance, and eco-friendly in contrast to standard air conditioners. They have become an alternative to air conditioners.
The working mechanism of the coolers is pretty simple:
- First, you fill up a container inside the cooler with clean water.
- There are moisture pads in the cooler that will soak up the water.
- A fan inside the device evaporates the moisture.
- As a result, you get air that has been cooled down thanks to the water.
The coolers are different from fans or ACs because they don’t just spread air around but leave the air cooled down for a long time.
Benefits of using a swamp cooler
Swamp coolers provide a lot of benefits in terms of their efficiency, power consumption, affordability, and other properties.
Unlike an AC (traditional, wall-mounted, or portable), swamp coolers don’t need a lot of energy to service the fan that evaporates water and cools down the temperature around the device. A high-quality evaporative unit can help you save up to a quarter of your monthly energy bill.
When an AC is working, it needs refrigerants and compressors. These will consume a lot of energy and eventually increase the bills. But a swamp cooler only requires a few pennies every hour to run effectively, as it uses only water, a pump, and a fan. They are highly cost-effective and energy-efficient.
Unlike a fan, swamp coolers lower the temperature in a room by as much as 17 degrees C (27 degrees F). It might be a difficult process to understand if you’re not into physics, but evaporating water cools down the air (of course, if it’s not hot water).
This makes a swamp cooler different from typical ACs that only provide cooled air to a space, because it cools the existing air in your space. It can also double as a heavy-duty fan whether you’re using it inside or outside without water.
Swamp coolers use an additional source of water, so they don't evaporate water from the air but from water pads inside the device. Thus, they humidify your space, which makes them so good for a dry climate. Remember that the optimal humidity for the indoors is from 40% to 60%.
The reason they are good at humidifying air is because of the natural evaporative cooling process. If you use a swamp cooler, you don’t have to worry about the effects of dry air, like itchy eyes and skin or a scratchy throat. Even when you use a portable evaporative cooler, they are good at humidifying the air.
Free of chemical refrigerants
Chemical refrigerants are only relatively safe and only as long as they are contained within a device. In the case of any leaks, you risk accidental poisoning, since refrigerants are odorless. If your AC is faulty and the refrigerants are leaking, you won’t be able to notice it either.
However, evaporative coolers use water as a safe and effective alternative. They don’t require any chemicals before they can function effectively and do not pose any harm to your health or that of your family.
Easy and don’t require installation
Residential swamp coolers are portative and work from any place that has a working plug socket. Some models can be plugged into a power bank via a USB port or 12V car adapter, or they can even work on a battery.
If you get a swamp cooler, you don’t have to pay extra money to a handyman to install it. You also don’t have to worry about how to remove it if you’re moving to a new house. They are very easy to plug in without any installation process. There are also portable evaporative coolers that are heavy duty, so they can be easily taken from place to place and used in tough conditions like warehouses.
You can find a good evaporative cooler for under $200, which is easily a third of the price of a ductless mini-split AC system (without taking into account the cost of installation).
If you do consider the cost of installation, you will realize that swamp coolers are way cheaper than air conditioners.
Swamp coolers are also very eco-friendly. If you want to cool your home but are looking for an alternative that is safer for the environment, an evaporative cooler will be a better choice. When you use it, no heat is exhausted during the evaporation process like with air conditioners.
Also, these coolers don’t use any Freon-like liquids like some air conditioners, and they also allow you to reduce the amount of energy you use, whether in your home or office.
Types of Swamp Coolers
There are different types of swamp coolers you need to consider when buying one.
In this section, we focus mostly on direct and residential swamps coolers, as they are the most mobile and convenient for the vast majority of people living in a dry climate. However, when you are busy choosing the best device for your space and needs, it’s good to know about all the types so you don’t confuse your options. Instead, you can go for the right type straight away.
All swamp coolers can be categorized as follows.
- Direct. This type is installation-free and ready to plug in right out of the box. Just add water into your device's water tank, power it, and it will start working a fan that vaporizes moisture to lower the temperature. Direct coolers also humidify the air, but not to the point of dampness, as it’s not the same process you’d get when boiling water.
- Indirect. Unlike the previous type, this one uses a heat exchanger to evaporate water and almost doesn’t affect the humidity. However, indirect evaporative coolers require installation and work on two fans, thus consuming more energy.
- Two-stage. This is a hybrid between indirect and direct cooling that uses both a heat exchanger and a water pad to cool down the air passing throughout the device.
By the field of application:
- Residential. This type is made to service homes and thus is smaller in size with more portable options and can work from a power plug or a portable energy source such as a power bank or battery. Residential coolers can be indoor or an indoor/outdoor hybrid for cooling patios or camping sites.
- Commercial. These are more powerful constructions meant for use on sports fields, farms, construction sites, hangars, and other large spaces.
The main differences in the types of coolers lie in the type of technology that vaporizes water and the size of the area they’re meant to cool down, but they also vary in the size of the device itself and the set of features it comes with.
By the place of use:
When buying an evaporative cooler, you also have to consider whether you’re using it indoors or outdoors. There are different coolers that can be used indoors while others are more suitable for outdoor use.
- Indoors. Some portable evaporative air coolers are more ideal for use indoors than anywhere else. Keep in mind that they can only be used in very hot and dry environments. If the climate is humid or there are no windows or fresh air sources, don’t use an indoor swamp cooler.
- Outdoors. Other evaporative air coolers are more perfect for outdoor use than indoors. They work harder to cool the air because they are being used outside, so using them inside might be too much. They can be used in backyards, decks, tailgates, and covered patios.
- Semi-outdoors. There are also swamp coolers you can use for semi-outdoor spaces irrespective of the humidity level. They offer heavy-duty use and immediate cooling, and they are good for places like covered porches and garages. It’s also important to have a fresh air source when using semi-outdoor evaporative coolers.
Swamp Cooler Features
All residential direct swamp coolers have a water tank, moisture pads, and controls to power the device, but there’s also a set of optional features that some models can have. Here are the most common features intended to enhance your experience as a user of an evaporative cooler.
- Cooling speeds. This refers to the force with which a fan inside a swamp cooler accelerates air throughout the device. Most models that have this feature offer three speeds.
- Digital controls. As opposed to mechanical controls, digital ones offer you more control over how your device works. For example, you can set the temperature you want or set a timer, not just turn the device on and off or change speeds.
- Remote control. Some swamp coolers have a typical remote control like in AC units, but more modern options use a Wi-Fi connection to control the device. You just need to download the manufacturer’s app and sync your device to your phone.
- Fill design. This refers to the water tank — some devices, especially the smaller ones, have a removable tank. In others the water can be poured in, and some models can be hooked to a direct source of water via a hose.
- Timer. This is also an optional feature and a handy one if you go to sleep with your cooler on and want it to switch off automatically or if you want it to switch on while you’re out so you can come back to a fresher home.
- Air filtration. Some devices have additional filters that stop a portion of dust, smoke, and other particles from escaping back into the air, thus making it cleaner.
What to Consider When Buying a Swamp Cooler
Aside from the availability of features you might need in a particular device, there are also some factors up for consideration, defined by your room capacity and personal preferences. It’s important to check all these features before buying one so that you make the right decision. Let’s dive deeper into the topic and see what you should decide for yourself before buying an evaporative cooler.
Swamp coolers vary in size and weight, and those two characteristics don’t always coincide with how powerful a device is. Some lightweight options can effectively cool down a small room or your personal space, while some of the bigger models are just wasting space.
This point comes down to how portable you need your device to be. So if you want something you can carry around from one room to another or bring in a car to work or camping, go for a portable evaporative air cooler with a smaller size. In this case, be mindful of a device’s power (how much space it can cool down) or look into other points to help narrow down your choice.
Swamp coolers are fairly easy to maintain, but you do have to be diligent about it. So when you’re choosing a model, look at the instruction manual and the product details to decide:
How easy it is to clean
Most devices are prone to a buildup of bacteria, so you need to clean them regularly with a mild soap solution and sometimes even opt for an antimicrobial spray. Some models are made of high-quality materials that don’t cause bacteria buildup, so rinsing them with just water every time you refill the water container is enough.
What kind of filters it uses
Swamp coolers commonly use cellulose, fiber, or carbon filters. Cellulose filters are the least effective in filtering the air and need frequent changing, as they are organic and can get moldy if you don’t replace them on time. Fiberglass filters are a better option for trapping particles like dust that can cause allergies and affect the quality of the air. They can be washed but still require regular replacements.
Last but not least, some evaporative coolers use carbon filters meant to trap unpleasant odors in the air. As with the previous type, they need to be cleaned often and replaced regularly to maintain a good quality of air.
As you can see, most swamp coolers need to be washed quite often and need regular filter replacements. That’s why we have developed and patented evaBreeze — a non-organic material that offers a better surface for evaporation and doesn't allow for a buildup of mold or bacteria. Thus, it is easier to clean and can provide a better quality of air for a longer time.
Space That Needs Cooling
The next thing you need to consider is the space you want to cool down. All direct residential swamp coolers can be roughly split into three categories by their intended placement.
- Indoor: personal, living space, bedroom, den, etc.
- Outdoor: patio, sunroom, garage
- Other: car, camping
So if you want a device that will cool down just your personal space and one that you can carry around anywhere, a personal evaporative cooler that works from a power bank is fit for practically any situation. But if you want one for your garden, there are also options created specifically for the outdoors that you can leave in the open for extended periods.
Finally, you need to properly size the unit to your needs. Sizing refers to the power and cooling capacity of a device. You might have heard of a BTU rating, which is a means of measuring an AC’s efficiency. However, swamp coolers use CFM value for that.
How to calculate CFM
CFM stands for cubic feet per minute. To measure it, you need your room’s square footage, ceiling height in feet, and cubic feet.
Cubic feet = square footage * ceiling height
CFM = cubic feet / 2
So if your square footage is 50 feet and your ceiling height is nine feet, you need a CFM value of 225.
Swamp Cooler Capacity
Here, we mean the cooler’s water capacity, which you would need to know if the manufacturer didn't specify CFM. Residential coolers rarely can be hooked up to a water source, so you can choose by capacity and the space that needs cooling.
- For small to medium spaces you need three to seven gallons
- For large spaces — seven to 12 gallons
- For outdoors — 12 to 16 gallons
Coolers that have a 16+ gallon water capacity are usually used for commercial purposes and aren’t intended for homes.
How to Use Swamp Coolers
It’s quite straightforward to use a swamp cooler, so you can operate it in just a few steps.
Locate the Cooler Control
When you first get your swamp cooler, the first thing you need to find and understand is the control panel. There are different variations depending on the brand, so you need to look at the panel to understand how to operate it. Some also feature digital thermostats and manual controllers.
Put on the Pump
The next thing to do is turn the pump on. The pump will wet the pads before the fan turns on. If your swamp cooler uses a manual control, you have to turn on the pump yourself five minutes after the pads get wet. You can also choose whether you want the fan to be high or low so that it will start circulating the air in your home. On the other hand, if your cooler features a digital thermostat control, you can automatically put the pump and fan on by selecting a particular temperature that will start cooling your home once the temperature is reached.
Close the Windows
When using a swamp cooler, it’s important to always leave the windows closed. This is because the cool air needs to stay inside home.
With these few steps, you can easily turn your swamp cooler on and properly operate it. Some models also feature a remote control, which makes them easier to operate.
Best Swamp Coolers
Evapolar portable swamp cooler
- Perfect for cooling personal spaces (home, office, car, etc.)
- Decreases the temperature by 17 degrees C
- Purifies and humidifies the air
- Has a cartridge with a better surface area for evaporation, which makes it more effective than the alternative personal coolers
- Patented evaBreeze® material for filters doesn’t build up mold or bacteria
- It is made from high-quality plastic and doesn't smell.
- It has a high cooling power considering it’s a personal cooler.
- It has a cool lightweight design that fits any interior and allows you to carry it around anywhere you wish.
- It is reasonably priced (starting from $99).
Bonaire Durango window-mounted swamp cooler
- Meant to cool big spaces (1900 feet²)
- Has three speed settings
- A good option for a garage or sunroom
- Easy to install
- Works from a remote control
But also some cons:
- Has to be connected to a water source
- Costs more than a lot of swamps coolers ($598)
- More suitable for houses rather than apartments
- Requires all doors to be open for the cooled air to circulate further
Portacool outdoor swamp cooler
- Manufactured for outdoors
- Meant for cooling 300 feet²
- Has a water tank or can be connected to a water source
But also some cons:
- Costs more than a lot of swamp coolers ($399)
- Quite bulky (weighs 50 pounds)
So, What Is the Best Option?
Evaporative coolers are an effective alternative to other cooling appliances if you live in a dry, hot climate (or if you have dry summers) and a good option for the outdoors if you reside in a more humid climate. They purify, humidify, and effectively cool down any space while using a safer alternative to chemical refrigerants — water. It all comes down to your preferences in size, capacity needs, and features that will make your experience exceptional.
If you’re looking for a portable option you can transfer from one room to another, you don’t even need to calculate each room’s CFM and decide which of the values to look for — an optimal choice would be to cool down just your personal space, and Evapolar is up for that job. With Evapolar evaporative devices you can effectively cool down the space around you without growing mold, and you can easily carry them around to find relief anywhere you go.