Swamp Cooler Vs. Air Conditioner

While both air conditioners and swamp coolers serve to chill the ambient temperature, they use completely different cooling techniques.  Home air conditioners work as dehumidifiers, drawing moisture out of the air, while swamp coolers cool the environment by adding humidity. Hence, swamp coolers are most commonly found in homes located in hot, dry climates.

Technique of Swamp Coolers and Air Conditioners

Swamp coolers draw outside hot air and send it through a cooler, where the air temperature is lowered by passing through the wet pads. The water in the pads evaporates thus cooling the air, which is pumped back into the hot room by an air-circulation system. In effect, the temperature is lowered by 20 degrees F. This process can sometimes lead to too much humidity, creating a “swamp” feel, because the swamp cooler humidifies the air before it enters the home.

Air conditioners have a different work principle — they exploit phase conversion by forcing refrigerants into a cycle of evaporation and condensation in refrigerant-filled coils. When hot air flows over the cold, low-pressure evaporator coils, the refrigerant inside the coils goes from a liquid to a gas state, while absorbing heat. The air conditioner has to convert the refrigerant back to a liquid state again to keep cooling efficiently. To convert refrigerant to a liquid state, the gas gets compressed under high pressure. The extra heat that is being created in the process is sent outdoors by the use condenser coils and a fan.

Swamp Cooler Vs Air Conditioner: Cost to Purchase

Air conditioners are significantly more expensive to purchase than swamp coolers. For instance, a quick check of the Internet in June 2012 found swamp cooling units capable of cooling 350 square feet that were priced as low as $177. An equally capable AC units were priced at $566.

Cost to Operate

Pumps and fans used by a swamp conditioner are easily accessible. Swamp cooler uses the simple process of evaporation of water into the air to provide cooling comfort. Because they use evaporation to cool the air, swamp coolers use 75% less electricity compared to an air conditioner for the same sized room.

Air conditioners are significantly more expensive to purchase than swamp coolers. For instance, a quick check of the Internet in June 2012 found swamp cooling units capable of cooling 350 square feet that were priced as low as $177. An equally capable AC units were priced at $566.


Repair and maintenance of air conditioning systems should be left to trained HVAC technicians. In addition, repair parts are more expensive for AC units than swamp coolers. Further, the swamp cooler can be serviced by any home owner with a minimum of mechanical knowledge using simple tools such as screwdriver and an adjustable wrench.

Besides requiring a constant supply of water (3.5 to 10.5 gallons), swamp coolers will need regular maintenance. Its pads need regular cleaning or changing to avoid that “swampy” feel associated air quality problems. A properly maintained pads should be wet; not soaking. The pads should not be excessively caked with mineral deposits or torn. Importantly, the water to the swamp cooler should be turned off during the winter months or the lines will crack and freeze.

Swamp Cooler Vs Air Conditioner: Environmental Considerations

The swamp coolers score high on environmental performance criteria because they imitate the natural way of chilling, while air conditioners provide cooling due to the effective yet energy-intensive system. A standard air conditioner takes as much as four times the energy to run than a comparable swamp cooler. The electricity saved by swamp coolers prevents the emission of billions of pounds of CO2 and saves millions barrels of oil annually. That translates to savings on your energy bill too.

Your Comfort and Health

How an air conditioner or swamp cooler affect the environment of your residence is governed by the way each circulates the air. The a/c  unit is closed system — it re-circulates the same air, yet this is useful in keeping common allergens such as pollen in check. On the other hand, the swamp cooler is an open system and open windows are necessary when running a swamp cooler. This can be an advantage to some and a disadvantage to others (that depends on your preferences or needs)—evaporative coolers supply a flow of clean air into the residence while air conditioners recirculate the same air.

Did you know?Two-stage evaporative coolers offer the advantage over traditional swamp coolers because hot air is pre-chilled indirectly without added moisture. As a result, they do not produce humidity levels as high (50-70% humidity) as those produced by traditional evaporative coolers (80% humidity). They are most often used in areas with daytime temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Swamp Cooler Vs Air Conditioner: Final Considerations

Swamp coolers use a large amount of water to provide cooling, and are thus ideal for dry climates. High humidity levels may cause condensation and accelerate corrosion. Also, the operating conditions for swamp coolers should be not only warm, but dry as well. As the wet-bulb temperature (the lowest temperature that can be reached by the evaporation of water only) approaches the dry-bulb temperature (temperature measured by a regular thermometer) the difference between the two gets smaller, followed by the cooling effect of the evaporating water. A wet-b­ulb temperature above 70 degrees Fahrenheit indicates that the swamp cooler will not be effective in adjusting the temperature as much as necessary to maintain it in the comfort niche. This temperature may vary based not only on humidity but also on individual preference and activity.


Learn More:

Are Swamp Coolers Effective?

What is a HVAC Technician?

How Can I Detect a Gas Leak in My Home?


Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on RedditShare on FacebookPin on PinterestDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Speak Your Mind