Affordable Ways to Cool Your Home

Are you looking for a more affordable way to cool your home? Unfortunately, many people these days can’t afford to spend the money it takes to get air conditioning installed, much less the cost of operation. Fortunately, there’s an affordable solution!

Have you seen the new breed of “Evaporative Cooler” (aka “Swamp Cooler”) on the shelf at your favorite hardware store recently?

I just saw one of these at Hills Flat Lumber, the Essick Air “MasterCool”, a window-mounted evaporative cooler in the $500 to $600 range depending on the size.

What’s great about these relatively new designs?

Well, first off, it uses about 1/3 the electricity of a window air conditioner. Using just the fan alone (no water), or evaporative cooler depending on how cool it gets at night, the unit can be used overnight to help cool down your home, scrubbing out and dumping the days accumulation of heat, reducing the need for cooling during the day.

Why do these new designs work better?

The old-style swamp coolers use thin inefficient aspen pads (basically wood shavings), or a thin synthetic material. In contrast, the new designs use a very different type of pad that passes the air over a larger wetted surface area. It’s a much thicker pad, providing more contact of air and water, which, because it takes heat out of the air to evaporate water, drops the air temperature further than the old style pads do.

How can you get the most benefit out of an evaporative cooler?

This type of cooling doesn’t recirculate indoor air like a furnace or air conditioner does. It relies on large quantities of outside air moving through the cooler, so it needs lots of open windows on the other side of the space you’re cooling for the air to exit. Not having enough open windows will actually make the inside air less cool and more humid. Because air moving across your body amplifies the cooling effect, whenever possible open windows on the opposite side of the room from where the air is coming in (cross-flow ventilation).

You’ll want to consider a few other factors when finding the best window to put one of these in. They move a lot of air, so pick a location where a strong breeze won’t be an issue. The fan is a little loud on high speed, so that’s another consideration, but the low speed is relatively quiet. While you can get a cover for it, you’ll probably want to remove it during the winter months. It also helps if it’s in a location with a hose bib nearby.

Evaporative coolers can provide comfort cooling for about one third the price of air-conditioning the vast majority of the summer.

They work great when the air is really hot but relatively dry outside. There are usually just a few hot and humid days every year where I’d characterize the comfort they provide as “just tolerable as long as there’s some air movement and you’re lightly dressed”. All in all they’re a great way to stay cool on a tight budget!


Ray Darby is President of Sustainable Energy Group Inc., a Grass Valley company offering solar power and energy efficiency for residential and commercial buildings, from comparing the alternatives through installation and servicing of energy systems of all types.  You can reach him at 530-273-4422, via email, or visit their web site at