Buying and Using a Swamp Cooler

My first experience with using and buying a Swamp Cooler was when I moved from Florida to New Mexico in the early 1990s. Being born and raised in the south I knew well what an air conditioner was, how to use it and take advantage of it’s cooling characteristic. An air conditioner is a foreign concept in New Mexico though. It’s hot there but it’s a dry heat. If you sat in a windy area the perspiration would dry as quickly as it popped up on your brow. Which, I might ad, is the whole concept behind the cooling effects of a Swamp Cooler.

We would run our Swamp Cooler during the day but never at night. The temps would drop low during the night and having that breeze flowing through the house would mean waking to frigid temperatures in the morning.

To begin with, dealing with the Swamp Cooler was fairly simple. There was a switch on the wall and when I wanted it on, I flipped the switch. When I wanted it off, I flipped the switch back. Like all good home appliances nothing ever runs smoothly for long though.

During our second year in New Mexico my husband took a business trip and left me alone… with the Swamp Cooler. Just my luck, I went to flip the switch one morning and nothing happened. No loud noise, no breeze…NOTHING. Being an independent woman who is tenacious when it comes to solving problems I immediately called my husband. That is when I got my first lesson in the operation and maintenance of the Swamp Cooler.

To my delight, the principle was as easy as simple physics. Good thing I was a Biology major! First he explained to me that dry air absorbs moisture through evaporation. When water evaporates, it absorbs heat. A special type of fan is used to increase the rate of evaporation and make the air cooler as it is pulled through pads that are soaked in water, as well as distributing the cool air through the house.

I suppose it would be easier to understand if you think about putting on a wet T-shirt and standing in front of a fan. If you live in a dry climate like New Mexico where the humidity is low you will feel instantly cool and sometimes downright chilly. Swamp Coolers are used in dry climates because cooling by evaporation is very efficient due to the dryness. A Swamp Cooler wouldn’t be worth a darn in the south where the humidity is high though.

One difference between air conditioning and Cooling with water evaporation is that you don’t close all the doors and windows to keep the cool air in. Doors and windows need to be open so that there is proper ventilation and airflow to distribute the cool air through the house and get rid of the warm, wet air through the open windows and doors.

The fan works in a way that allows centrifugal force to expel air from the housing in the cooler while fresh air flows in to fill an area of low pressure. The air that rushes in through the wet cooler pads is cooled by evaporation and flows throughout the house.

After my lesson on how the Swamp Monster, oops, I mean cooler, worked I had to find someone to service it and tell me if I was going to have to buy a new one. The house we lived in was at least 40 years old and I had a feeling the Swamp cooler was just as old. Sure enough, the fan was beyond repair and most of the other parts were becoming that way. That meant either dying from the heat during the day and waiting for my husband to come home and take care of the problem or venturing out on my own and purchasing a new cooler.

I decided to give it a go and headed out to some of the local cooling and heating stores. It turned out to be an easy process. Since our Swamp Cooler was the roof top kind I needed to measure the unit we already had for size and stick to one that would match the same space the old one rested in. The pads that are used in the cooler with water come in three sizes, 6″, 8″ and 12″ and since we had a comparatively small home I went with the 6″ pad. I was assured that the pad had been field-tested and would offer up to 90% more efficient evaporative cooling. Silly me, I was thinking it cooled because of the water, not because of the efficiency of the pad the water sat in. It would seem that it is also important to make sure that your Swamp Cooler is made out of material that has been treated to assure against corrosion. The one I ended up purchasing was made of treated polyester although it looked like tin or aluminum to me. It would seem that Swamp Coolers do have one thing in common with air conditioners and that would be the use of copper tubing throughout the unit and motor.

All in all, my experience with learning the workings of a Swamp Cooler and having to buy a new one was fairly painless. I think the idea behind evaporated coolers is a basic one and I’m sure there are many air conditioning repairmen here, in the Deep South who would love being able to work with such a simple appliance.

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