Are Swamp Coolers Effective & Energy-Efficient?

May 04, 2023

In the intense heat of summer, you’ll do just about anything to keep your house cool. And if you don’t have central air conditioning, you may be tempted to use a swamp cooler to get some quick relief.

Swamp coolers are typically cheaper to install than air conditioners. But don’t focus solely on the costs—there are several factors to consider when deciding between a swamp cooler or AC unit.  

Are swamp coolers effective? Are they energy-efficient? And how do swamp coolers work, anyway? Take a closer look at the differences between swamp coolers and central air conditioning, and why AC is often a better option for most people.  

What Is a Swamp Cooler?

Let’s start with a quick definition: Also known as an evaporative cooler, a swamp cooler uses water to cool the air through the process of evaporation. Similar to the way you feel cooler by blowing a mist of air over your body on a hot day, a swamp cooler lowers the temperature of the air by turning liquid water into vapor.

Swamp Cooler vs. Air Conditioner

A swamp cooler differs from an air conditioner in many ways. An AC draws heat from the air in your home, then circulates the now-colder air to cool the house down.  The heat is absorbed by a refrigerant, which turns from a liquid into a gas as it travels toward a compressor.

In contrast, a swamp cooler operates using evaporation to add humidity and cool the existing air. This adds condensation to areas of your home and can even corrode electrical systems.

AC units are typically safe for everyone, but swamp coolers are not ideal for people who have asthma. This is because the system does not have adequate filtering to keep pollutants from the air out of the house. 

Do Swamp Coolers Work?

So, do swamp coolers work?

Swamp coolers can effectively cool a room, but they are only recommended in low-humidity climates of 15% humidity or less. Areas with 30% or more humidity are not ideal for swamp coolers since they will struggle to accomplish the evaporation process in a more humid climate.

Whereas annual maintenance is recommended for air conditioners, swamp coolers require frequent attention to keep them functioning properly. They will not operate unless they are always filled with water and have a fresh pad. They also require a cover and will need to be turned on and off if located outside. 

How Swamp Coolers Work

A swamp cooler operates using six main parts, including:

  • Evaporative pads: These pads are installed on the inside of the swamp cooler to keep the air clean and cool.
  • Water distribution lines: Water travels from the pump and through these tubes to keep the evaporative pads wet.
  • Water supply valve: A valve connects the swamp cooler to a copper tube, which supplies water for the appliance.
  • Pump: The pump sends water into the water distribution lines.
  • Float: This device rises to the top of the water in the swamp cooler to shut off the supply valve when water levels get too high.
  • Blower: This fan forces cool air into the ductwork of the home to provide a cooling effect.

These six parts work together in four steps. Here’s how it works:

  • The water supply valve takes water to the bottom of the swamp cooler.
  • The pump sends water into the cooling pads.
  • The blower pulls warm air through the evaporative pads.
  • The blower forces the cooled air through a vent to cool down the house.

Where Are Swamp Coolers Located?

Swamp coolers are often installed in window units, but this setup will only cool one room or select area of a house. Alternatively, swamp coolers can be connected to ductwork to distribute air to different areas of a larger home. These down-flow swamp coolers are usually installed on the ground or roof of the house.

Smaller swamp coolers are also available in portable appliances, which can be easily transported from room to room. However, these devices are not as effective and only offer a minimal cooling effect.

Are Swamp Coolers Energy-Efficient?

Now that you’ve learned more about how swamp coolers work, you may be wondering: Are swamp coolers energy-efficient?

These appliances are technically considered to be efficient since they use less electricity than an air conditioner to operate. However, swamp coolers are not as effective as AC units since they do not lower the temperature as much as an AC. They also typically require more frequent maintenance to keep them in operating order.

Swamp coolers are also a poor choice for areas of drought or water restriction, since they need a constant water supply to run properly.

Swamp Cooler Cons

There are many downsides to using a swamp cooler. Here are just a few swamp cooler cons to consider before having one installed at home:

  • Roof stains. Swamp coolers installed on top of the house can cause stains to the roof since condensation may occur around the unit. These stains are difficult to remove and are typically permanent.
  • Leaking: Because swamp coolers require water to operate, there is always the risk of them leaking, especially when the bottom of a rooftop unit starts rusting. A swamp cooler can even overflow if the float stops working.
  • Fall freeze: Unlike an AC, a swamp cooler must be turned off before the first freeze of the year. Frozen pipes can expand, contract, and even burst, causing serious damage to a home.
  • Threat of injury: Maintaining a swamp cooler can be dangerous, especially if the unit is installed on the roof.
  • Frequent maintenance: Swamp coolers require much more frequent maintenance than air conditioners to be effective at cooling a home.
  • Noise: Window unit swamp coolers can be very loud and distracting since they sit right inside the room.
  • Uses water resources: Swamp coolers are not recommended for areas with water restrictions or droughts since they require a constant water source to work properly.

Choose a Swamp Cooler Alternative

Swamp coolers simply can’t compare to the effectiveness and ease of air conditioning. They require frequent maintenance, use precious water resources, and can damage a home with condensation and leaking.

Instead, opt for a swamp cooler alternative by hiring Yes! to install central air conditioning in your home. For additional information on HVAC services, call our team at 844-216-9300 and speak with a technician today.

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Last Updated: May 18, 2023