Thursday, July 16, 2015

DIY Cooler Air Conditioners vs Evaporation Coolers (Swamp Cooler)

For this blog entry I'm going to compare 2 different DIY air conditioners I've found on the internet.  I'll make each one and try them out in my hot garage/workshop.  The first one I'll make is the cooler air conditioner.

At the time I started working on these DIY air conditioners it was June in Arizona, and a heat wave had hit us rather early this year.  To fully enforce exactly how hot it is right now (117 degrees today), I'm throwing on a bunch of images which will hopefully make you, the reader, hot as well.

Now that you get the gist of how hot it is, I can carry on with this blog entry.
Recently I've had a number of projects I needed to do in my garage.  But working in there is brutal thanks to all this heat (see images above).  So I'm going to try cooling off the room with these cheap DIY air conditioners made out of Styrofoam coolers, ice, a fan and some PVC pipe.  Some people swear by these ingenious contraptions, claiming they cool off a room just as well as a conventional air conditioning and at a fraction of the cost.  Some people say they don't work.  I'm going to test it out for myself! Here's the list, and prices, of the stuff I bought:

A Styrofoam cooler, $2.27 at Walmart...

2 plastic shoe boxes (that fit in the cooler), $.87 each at Walmart...

a small fan, 6" diameter, $9.84 at Walmart

and a 2" diameter PVC elbow pipe, $1.98 at Lowes.  Other stuff I'll be using is a marker, a box cutter and some hot glue.

The very first thing I did was to fill up the plastic shoe boxes with water and place them in the freezer.  These will take a few hours to freeze.

Then I went back into the inferno (my hot garage) and took off the front grill of the fan carefully without breaking anything.

I then placed the grill on the top lid of the styrofoam cooler and traced the shape with a marker.  Since this is a rather small cooler and the lid is raised in the middle, the grill is slightly diagonal.

Then, using my box cutter, I cut away the shape I traced.

I reattached the grill to the fan, and placed it in the hole on the cooler lid.  I had to make some extra minor cuts to make sure the fan fit in the lid nicely without falling through.

Next I repeated the process of tracing and cutting for the PVC elbow.  First traced...

...then cut...

...then popped in place.

On the inside of the lid I applied some hot glue to keep the elbow in place.

Then the lid went on, and the fan is in place.  Now all I have to do is wait for the water in the freezer to turn to ice.

After a few hours it still wasn't ice...

So I kept waiting.

While waiting I drew a face on this thing.

I kept check and checking...

...but a watched pot never boils.  So while I'll wait, I tally up the cost of this thing so far.

Small Styrofoam cooler - $2.27
2 plastic shoe boxes - $1.74
Small fan - $9.84
 2" diameter PVC elbow pipe - $1.98

Not including tax or tools I already had, the total is $15.83.
Not bad at all!  So the internet is correct in saying that these things are cheap.  I let the water freeze overnight and in the morning I had 2 nice blocks of ice.

I took the ice out of the plastic shoe boxes and put them in the cooler.

Then I reassembled the top.

I cut a strip of tissue paper and taped it to the top of the pipe and then turned on the fan.

Immediately cool air came out - which was nice.  But it was not very powerful.  It's 7:03 in the morning....let's see how long this thing lasts and how cool my garage gets!

After sitting in front of the cool air from the DIY A.C, I then turned on my big workshop fan.

The fan is definitely more refreshing - plus it's bigger and more powerful than the fan on the cooler.  I checked in a little over 3 hours later.

It's still pretty damn hot in my garage.  The Cooler A.C. doesn't seem to have done much.  I opened it up to see how the ice looked, and it was about half way melted already.

I thought that maybe the angled lid with the fan was not making a good enough seal on the cooler, so I used a sheet of insulation foam and traced the shape of the lid onto it.  (I had more than one lid in case this whole thing didn't work).

I cut out the shape...

...and cut out a rabbet (groove on the edge)... make an extra tight seal for this new lid.

Then I cut out a hole for the fan and PVC.

Both the fan and pipe fit in very tightly to the new lid, not letting air escape.

Then I turned it back on...

...and NOTHING!  It feels warmer than it did before.  Plus, the strips of tissue are waving less than before.  

So, perhaps I'm not using a strong enough fan, or I totally messed up somehow while making it, but to answer the question if these DIY Cooler A.C.s work:  Not really.

Perhaps in a smaller, closed off room they work better, or if the cooler were bigger and the fan was more powerful but in my case they do not do a good job at all in my workshop.

But it's not a total loss!  I now have a cooler in my car for when I go food shopping and need to keep stuff cold...

...and my girlfriend now has a little fan for her vanity table.

Next Up - Evaporative Cooloer (aka Swamp Coolers).

The idea behind these is fairly simple - behind the fan is a cooler pad saturated with cold water which creates cooler air.  I already have 2 fans I use in my garage.

The one above is a super strong fan and I keep it closest to my primary work tables.  The purple box fan below I have on the other side of my workshop.  I'll be making my Evap. Cooler for this fan.

I found a 'tutorial' on which shows how to make it.  You can see the video by clicking here.

Then I went out and bought the material I needed for this build.  First up was a cooler pad - $9.

...a long planter - $15...

...2'x5' metal screen (also called hardware cloth) - $12...

...a 200GPH fountain pump - $12...

a 2' long piece of 1/2" PVC pipe, with a plug, a threaded coupling and a piece which should connect to 1/2" vinyl tubing - around $8.

The threaded coupling should fit the connector.

1/2" vinyl tube - $3, and...

some 2x3x8' wood studs.  I only need one for this build, but I bought 2 in case I want to make any changes - $4.50.

The total cost (not including the fan) is around $65 - much more expensive than the Cooler AC.

In the youtube video, the author doesn't state the dimensions of the wood he cut, so I had to eyeball it.

With my plans made, I started my measuring and cutting the wood.

I then drilled holes...

...and screwed together both ends of the rig.

Then I used a spade bit to cut out spots for the PVC pipe to fit in.

I then put the pipe in my clamp and began drilling holes approx 1 inch apart.

Then I connected the pipe to the 2 wood sides.

Next I unraveled the hardware cloth.  When you buy this stuff from the store it comes with a thin piece of wire wrapped around it.  Keep this!  We'll be using it later.

Next I cut and attached the hardware cloth to the wood sides using staples.

Then I cut the cooler pad...

...and placed it inside the rig.  Remember that wire I kept?  I used it to tie the cooler pad to the PVC pipe.  I also used some wire to hold the screens closer to the pad, as there was a good amount of space separating the pad from both sides of the screens.

At this point we're almost done!

Next I placed the pump inside the pot and filled with cold water.

I connected the vinyl tube to the pump and the PVC attachment.

My box fan fits on top of the planter which is nice.  I turned it on and it seemed to be working...

...but I only feel the cool air when I'm right in front of it.  I tried it with the more powerful fan to see if I could feel the difference from farther away.

I couldn't.  So I propped the box fan back on it and moved the whole jig to a different work table.

I then closed the garage door and kept the evap cooler on for a few hours to see if it made any difference.

After about 2 hours I went back in my garage.  It's still hot!  Even more upsetting is that the cold water in the planter pot turned into hot water!

I disassembled the whole thing and went back to the drawing board.

My new plan would make the whole thing sturdier, plus now the cooler pad and the screens are against each other, whereas before there was a noticeable gap between them.  I had a feeling that this gap prevented a lot of the moisture from being directed through the fan - thus making the air cooler.   The next day I used some wood from the disassembled first attempt, plus some of the extra wood I bought the day before, to build my new rig.  I used pocket holes & screws to make the whole thing stronger, and I attached the PVC pipe to the rig using zip ties so I can easily move the pipe around if needed.

The new rig also left more space for the fan to be propped up on the planter.  Once I turned the pump and the fan on I immediately felt a difference.  

I then closed the garage door and let the evap cooler do it's thing.  A few hours later I checked on it.  Was it cooler in the garage?  Yes, but only slightly and with the door closed.  As soon as I opened the garage door the whole room began heating up again.

Perhaps an evap cooler will work better in a small room that doesn't have a large gaping garage door that floods heat inside.

Thankfully these weren't overly expensive or long projects to work on.  But it looks like I'll be staying indoors this summer.  Or if I must work in my garage, I'll be sure to have the fans pointed at me and drink a lot of cold water!

In the end the evap cooler definitely works better than a cooler ac.  As mentioned before these would work well in small rooms.  But for large garages such as mine, these 2 projects do not do too much.

Thanks for reading!

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