Cooling Your House – Air Conditioner or Swamp Cooler?

We all know, a human being who is warm in their house can open a window. Unless that person lives and work where the climate is warm or even hot, it usually doesn’t help. Opening a window can allow humidity to come into the home space – including your home office space – and stimulate dry (green) mould growth. Pretty much nothing a homeowner wants.

Home office air conditioning

photo credit: Jonathan Borba / Pexels

How to Prevent This Outcome

Of course, a homeowner would select some home-wide cooling system. These can vary based on climate. The most selected choices are either a swamp cooler or HVAC.

Let’s start with the basics. What is a swamp cooler? In short, it is an evaporating air cooler. Water passes over coils or a water-soaked pad, and behind it is a fan. The result? A mostly 75-degree temperature cooling air that is circulated a house or structure. This is especially useful in a dry climate. The dry climate does not promote the growth of dry mold from such a system.

How To Decide On An Ac Unit

When the decision is made to have an “air conditioner,” the homeowner is faced with three choices. The basic options are a window AC unit, a whole-house AC unit, and an HVAC unit. The HVAC unit has temperature-controlled heat, and the whole house’s air conditioner does not. The whole house AC unit that is not HVAC has “emergency heat,” which is just heater strips. This may or may not meet the heating needs of a large house regarding heating.

If a person considers an AC unit of any type vs a swamp cooler, it is important to understand BTU vs ton. One ton equals 12,000 BTU. A “window unit” will be rated in BTU, and a whole house system will be rated in 1-5 tons (usually). 12,000 BTU is equal to one ton.

Why Does This Matter?

A window AC unit of 12,000 BTU or one ton can cool about 500 square feet. Pretty much one room, two if they are small (and the homeowner pretty much doesn’t care if the other room is “a little hot”). Most homeowners will elect for some home-wide cooling system.

If the climate is hot and moist, homeowners will choose between an HVAC unit and one with just heating strips. If the homeowner lives in Florida, the heating strips may be enough in the winter. However, further north in the U.S., the ability to control the warm temperature may be paramount. Heating strips may never be enough.

– Note a swamp cooler will not have this offering. –

Where to Get Help

A licensed technician from an air conditioning company can help offer guidance about what would best fit the structure and provide maximum comfort. Many folks who select swamp coolers over whole-home air conditioning units (where the choice of either is an option) do so because it costs less.

Cost Difference

The cost difference for a swamp cooler starts at around $3000 fulling installed versus around $5000 for a whole-home air conditioning. This would be for an approximate 1000 square foot house. Of course, these costs can grow as the amount of house square footage to cover increases.

For this reason, a lot of people will look toward a window AC unit. These units are very reasonable; the 12,000 BTU unit previously mentioned will cost under $500. Anyone can easily install it, so you don’t need a licensed technician. The biggest drawback is that the window AC unit will render the window temporarily closed off.

Keep in mind that the power company does not recommend having your home cooled more than 20 degrees than the average outside temperature. Meaning if it is 100 degrees in the hottest summertime heat, the recommendation is that you only try to cool your home to 80 degrees. This is an easy task for a swamp cooler.

However, many folks who live in 100-degree climates wish for a cooler indoor temperature than 80 degrees. The best selection will likely be a whole-home air conditioner if the preference is to have the thermostat at 75 degrees or less.

Final Decision

This makes the final decision: heat strips or heat controlled by a thermostat. If the selection is not to spend a couple of hundred dollars more, the heat strips are fine in climates that do not have snow. A user turns them on when they want it hotter and off when it gets hot enough.

A user may set their thermostat with the HVAC unit, and the heating will maintain that constant temperature. Very convenient, and it provides maximum comfort.

Swamp coolers are best in the western and southwestern portions of the U.S., dry. HVAC units are recommendable anywhere else and especially where they can freeze. Window units can come with some ability to heat; however they usually need an upgraded electrical outlet, the 120-volt outlet is usually insufficient. Then again, if it is freezing outside, that open window will let a lot of cold air in, even with the heat working. A window AC uni would not be recommended where it freezes, even if the unit has heat.

The useful lifespan of a home cooling system (it doesn’t matter the type) is considered ten years. Once the age of the unit is beyond this point, they can become unreliable. Air conditioning repairs can be costly; getting into a situation where frequent repairs are needed is not economical.

It is also not economical to select the wrong type of cooling unit for the wrong climate. Take time and listen to the recommendations your potential installation technician makes. It will allow everyone to enjoy the home for years to come.


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