Swamp cooler: What is it?

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You know living in Atlanta requires more cooling options than placing a fan in the window. Many options...

You know living in Atlanta requires more cooling options than placing a fan in the window. Many options are available for cooling your home during the hot days, such as a swamp cooler. This cooler, also called an evaporative cooler, works differently than an air conditioner or fan. An air conditioner, for example, constantly blows cold air into your home. This feels great when you enter your room from the outdoors. However, stay in the room too long and you may need a sweater. Using a fan in the window is akin to opening an oven while cooking. It just gives you a whoosh of hot air. Instead, an evaporative cooler cools the interior air by about 20 degrees. This way, you can enjoy the cool breeze without constantly turning the unit on and off when the room cools down. The cooling temperature is just one important fact you need to know about a swamp or evaporative cooler.

How does an evaporative cooler work?

The easiest way to explain how the evaporative cooler works is with a little test. Pour water on the back of your hand. Now, blow on the back of your hand. Did you notice how your skin's surface felt cooler? This is how evaporative cooling works. Of course, no manual labor is involved on your part.

The cooler is similar to an exterior air conditioning unit. The cooler comes in a large boxed frame. However, the cooler has water-wetted pads on each side. The pads, typically made of cellulose or cedar shavings, surround a huge fan. When turned on, the fan pulls in the hot air from the outside into the unit through the pads. These pads are continuously soaked because of a water pump inside the unit. The fan then pushes through a vent into your home.

Thus, the cooler lowers the temperature in your home via a combination of an air moving system and evaporating water. Since the unit relies on airflow, you must open a window to let the cooler push the warm air outside.

Types of evaporative coolers

You have five options when purchasing this type of cooling system. The type of cooler you choose depends on the type of pads used and where it is installed. Your choices include:

  • Down discharge
  • Mobile
  • Portable
  • Side discharge
  • Through-the-wall or window unit

A down discharge unit is installed on your home's roof. The cooled air enters your home downward. The mobile cooler, typically for larger areas such as garages, are installed outside on patios. The portable unit cools smaller areas like individual rooms. It generally works in areas up to 300 square feet.

The side discharge cooler is installed in the side of your property. If you have a house, the cooler is installed in the side of your home where the attic is. Like the down discharge unit, it cools the entire property. The window or through-the-wall cooler is installed in these areas. The unit cools one room, your whole home or your garage.

The evaporative cooler uses pads to cut the heat from the air. The unit you choose uses one of two pads:

1. Fiber

2. Rigid media

Fiber pads, constructed of materials such as cellulose, synthetic and aspen wood shavings, are the most affordable. However, they do need regular maintenance and/or replacement. If you buy the aspen wood shavings, which are the most durable, they are available in the exact sizes needed. You may have to cut the synthetic and cellulose pads down to size.

Rigid media pads made of arranged grooved sheets require less maintenance. They last longer than the fiber pads. However, they are more expensive too.

How installation affects maintenance

Whether you go with the popular option, a down-flow cooler unit, or another option depends on your needs. Both have advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the unit that cools horizontally (wall-mounted or window) is less popular. However, it makes maintaining the unit more convenient since you don't have to get on a ladder or roof for maintenance work. Also, it eliminates the chances of roof leaks that the down-flow cooler unit has.

General advantages to using an evaporative cooler

A swamp cooler is extremely popular for many reasons. For instance, the cooler adds moisture in the air, which helps cut much of the humidity. Thus, it makes humid air bearable.

The cooler is inexpensive when compared to other cooling options such as an air conditioning unit. It uses less electricity as a refrigerator. However, if you are a do-it-yourselfer, you may like the cooler because it's easy to maintain. You can still have a professional keep up and service the cooler as needed.

Whether you buy a whole-house or room cooler, routine maintenance is required. Always follow the manufacturer's directions on care and maintenance in your owner's manual. Most manufacturers require inspecting the unit at least once a month. Typical maintenance includes draining water and adjusting water levels and the fan belt. Also, you must inspect and replace the pads as instructed.

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