My First Low Tech Evaporative Cooler

I figured out many years ago that the air in a room could be cooled much faster by evaporating cold water long before I knew swamp coolers even existed and rigged up my own low tech version of this idea using just a regular fan, some water and some ice. Here’s how I did it.

It was when I was much younger and couldn’t afford to buy air conditioning for my place that I was sweating out yet another hot summer evening with a big noisy fan blowing over me that it dawned on me that I might be able to feel cooler by bouncing that fan-created wind off some water. Earlier that day I had been down at the park feeding ducks with my young cousins and noticed that it always felt a little cooler by the duck pond when there was a breeze blowing in my direction.

Why Did the Breeze Feel Cool?

I figured the breeze must have been picking up some of the coolness from the water but didn’t think on it much until later that evening when I was at home sitting with the fan blowing air around the room and the idea came to me. The fan’s frame could be tilted up or down to direct the wind where you wanted it as well as side to side.

I grabbed a big plastic tub from the kitchen sink that was shallow and wide and half-filled it with water. Then I placed the water in front of the fan on the floor, angled it down and turned it on. The wind was now blowing at around a thirty degree angle at the water and kind of bouncing off it up at me.

Amazingly, the wind it was blowing felt a lot cooler on my skin than it did without the water. I was intrigued and pretty stoked by my amazing discovery and decided that if regular tap water could make the fan’s wind feel cooler, would adding ice to the water make it even better?

Water and Ice

I grabbed every ice cube I had in the freezer and dumped a pile of them in the tub with the water. I smiled a very wide smile because almost right away the reflected wind got colder and I felt like I was sitting in front of a real portable air conditioner!

For the first time in a long time, I was feeling real comfortable on this hot evening indoors. I moved the fan and the ice water just off to one side of the TV facing me and sat down to watch the game in comfort!

Just as I sat down, another thought entered my head. I guess I was pretty full of ideas in those days but this one was important. Go in the kitchen and refill all the empty ice cube molds with water and put them back in the freezer for later!

Best Sleep Ever

OK, the idea as simple as it was worked and I was able to keep cool and enjoy a couple hours in front of the TV that evening. I figured if I could feel great watching TV, why not see if it would help me sleep in more comfort.

During the hot summer, going to bed was never much fun because the bedroom was always so hot. I couldn’t leave the windows open because the room would just fill up with mosquitoes and other unwelcome night-flying insect guests that would keep me awake worse than the heat!

That and the air never seemed to move at night anyway, so even if I did leave windows open, I still felt hot and got eaten alive by insects too. I kept the windows closed!

But this evening was going to be different. I moved my makeshift swamp cooler into my bedroom and set it up on a low table away from the foot of the bed so the air would blow at me from that direction.

It was more difficult to get the angle of air movement right because the laws of physics meant the surface of the water had to be horizontal. Whatever I did, the air blew in an upward direction and only cooled my feet (the bed got in the way of air movement if I set the water/fan on the floor).

Unexpected Humidification

What I didn’t figure was the “why” part of while the air felt cold if it was blowing right on me, it didn’t seem to cool the ambient temperature in the room down by much. I didn’t feel any cooler without the breeze on me as I lay in bed. The best I could get was a slight cooling with some experimentation of the fan’s angle so I got some of the breeze that wasn’t bouncing off the water while the room’s air temperature was reduced by a few degrees only.

Whatever, it was better than before. Another thing I noticed was at some point in the night the room’s temperature began to climb again and I felt real sweaty. Later I discovered the reason for this: my great invention was raising the humidity in the room to 100% and there was no way for the very moist air to ventilate out because I had all the windows closed!

I did some figuring out and fitted some fly-screen mesh to the windows so I could leave them open. It defied the AC logic where you had to have all the windows closed, but it worked and I was able to stay cool without air conditioning using my low tech swamp fan setup!

Chalk that one up to experience, but it was my first venture into the power of evaporative coolers in the most simplistic way. And it worked!

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