During the hot summer months, keeping your home cool and comfortable is a priority. However, choosing the best tool that allows us to relax and escape the heat is not always easy. Portable air conditioners and evaporative coolers are marketed as cost-effective solutions for cooling a living space, but which one is right for you?
There are several main evaporative cooling and climate differences to consider. Knowing these differences will help you decide which cooling device will best meet your needs.
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Air conditioners use chemical refrigerant to cool and dehumidify the air inside.
Homes are cooled by removing hot air and adding cold air. An AC unit—whether it’s a central unit, a portable unit, or a window unit—is inside a loop of different coils, or ducts, that run continuously from the inside to the outside of the home. Chemical heating circulates through this cavity. Heat from inside the home is absorbed by the heater and released outside. When this happens, the AC unit also releases cool dry air to lower the indoor temperature and reduce humidity.
Air conditioning is a closed system. For the unit to work properly, the windows and doors of the home must be closed. Opening windows or doors lets cold air out and more hot air in, forcing the air conditioner to work harder to maintain a constant indoor temperature.
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It quickly cools rooms of 450 square feet down to 61 degrees Fahrenheit.
Air conditioners use water to humidify and cool rooms.
They are air cooled, but they work differently than air-conditioned units. Also called a swamp cooler, an evaporative cooler uses water and a fan to lower the temperature in a room. Think about how your body feels when you get out of the shower. As the water evaporates from your skin, you will feel better. This principle can explain how a portable evaporative cooler works.
In evaporative cooling, the plates are immersed in water. This, in turn, draws warm air from outside onto the moist evaporative cooling surfaces. As water evaporates from the surfaces, the air temperature drops. The fan in the cooler pushes this cool air into the rest of the room.
The effectiveness of evaporative cooling varies depending on the starting outside temperature. The higher the temperature, the greater the temperature drop. For example, if the outside temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit, an efficient evaporative cooler can lower the indoor air temperature by 20 to 30 degrees.
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This evaporative cooler contains 4.8 gallons of water that can cool and dehumidify a room or outdoor area for 3 to 4 hours. Its garden hose adapter and drip tray can be used immediately without worrying about flooding or drying up the water tank.
Air conditioners bring fresh outdoor air into the home and improve indoor air quality, but indoor air conditioners are better for allergy sufferers.
Air conditioners are open systems. This means that some doors or windows must be open during use to allow warm air to escape. Cooling and keeping doors and windows open will allow more fresh air into the home and can improve home air quality.
Although more fresh air is said to be beneficial for swamp cooling, it is not ideal for allergy sufferers. People who suffer from pollen and other indoor allergies may do better with a portable air conditioner that operates with the windows closed.
Additionally, if you live in an area where air pollution or fireplace smoke is a common concern, choosing an air conditioner may be a better option. In these climates, it’s best to leave windows and doors closed, as evaporative cooling can draw air pollutants such as smoke into your home.
Air conditioners are ideal for climates where evaporative coolers lose their effectiveness in humid conditions.
One of the most important differences between portable air conditioners and evaporative coolers has to do with the features they favor. While an air conditioner may work well in dry or humid weather conditions, the same is not true for evaporative coolers.
As mentioned above, the temperature in the room is reduced by passing warm air over the humidifying surfaces. As the water evaporates, the internal temperature drops. However, evaporating water increases the humidity inside. In dry climates, such as those in the Southwest, more moisture is a good thing.
However, in climates with higher humidity, such as on the East Coast, more moisture can enter the air, making the occupants feel less comfortable. Increased humidity in these areas can cause mold or mildew to develop.
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Evaporative coolers are less expensive to purchase, install, and operate than air conditioners.
The upfront cost to purchase an evaporative cooler is significantly less than the cost of purchasing a refrigerated cooler. Savings are even greater on a non-portable unit, with the average cost of installing an air conditioner between $3,810 and $7,480—higher than the average high-end evaporative cooler installation estimate of $3,500 .
Another difference between swamp cooling and air conditioning lies in the operating costs of both units. Evaporative coolers are more efficient than air conditioners, using up to 80 percent less energy.
However, keep in mind that an evaporative cooler has a shorter lifespan than an air conditioner, especially if it’s a whole-home unit. Most evaporative cooler manufacturers usually offer a 5-year warranty on their units. Compare this to the 10-year lifespan of a portable air conditioner and the 12- to 17-year lifespan of a central air conditioner.
In general, greenhouse gases produce more CO2 and noise to cool the swamp.
Evaporative cooling is more environmentally friendly than air conditioning cooling. Due to the design of evaporative coolers that rely only on water and electricity, these units have low carbon emissions.
Although the refrigerants in today’s climate are safer than those used years ago, they are still toxic chemicals. Refrigerant leaks can affect health and the environment, and an AC’s higher energy needs can cause more CO2 emissions than evaporative cooling. For this reason, those looking to reduce their carbon footprint may decide that evaporative cooling is the best option for their needs.
In addition, it is easier to keep the swamps calm when dealing with air conditioners.
Air conditioners require more maintenance than air conditioners.
Although the installation and operating costs of swamp coolers are lower, the difference between evaporative air coolers and air coolers is related to the maintenance that each unit requires. Although the evaporative cooler is small it requires regular maintenance. As water flows through the unit, it can deposit minerals and sediment that can interfere with proper operation. The evaporative cooler should be cleaned at least once every cooling season—perhaps more often, depending on usage and air temperature. Also, check its various components throughout the cooling season, including the pump, filter, and reservoir.
To prevent the evaporative cooling water tank from getting too dirty and causing bacteria to grow, it should be sterilized and cleaned at least twice a week. Evaporative cooling pads should be replaced at least twice a season or monthly where the unit is in continuous use. Floors should be rewashed at least once a month.
While air conditioners require maintenance, they don’t require the same maintenance as evaporative coolers. Generally, scheduling an annual HVAC inspection with a professional is sufficient, along with some maintenance and upkeep required for portable air conditioning. The water collection tray of the AC unit needs to be drained regularly.
Portable air filters should be checked regularly—usually about twice a month—to keep them clean and free of blockages. Always clean the coils, vents, panels, and other dust-collecting crevices on a portable AC.
Portable air conditioning units are meant for indoor use only, but portable evaporative coolers can be used outdoors.
You can’t hear the wind outside. This is because air conditioners can only be used indoors with the windows and doors closed.
The difference between an evaporative cooler and an air conditioner is that you can use an outdoor evaporative cooler. The result of setting up an evaporative cooler outside is like sitting by the lake with the cool breeze of the water blowing against you. An evaporative cooler may not lower the outside air temperature as much as it can inside, but it can still help cool the surrounding air by more than 10 degrees.
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