Swamp Cooler  vs  Air Conditioner

Swamp Cooler
(average cost in a 1,500 sq.ft. home, installed)
Air Conditioner
(average cost in a 1,500 sq.ft. home, installed)
Cost to install a swamp cooler or an air conditioner varies greatly by region (and even by zip code).
Find out how much your cooling system will cost
Swamp Cooler
Swamp Cooler
+ Cools air in dry climates
+ Adds moisture to dry air
+ Energy efficient
+ Environmentally friendly—less CO2 emission
+ Easy to install window or direct air units
+ Less costly to run and maintain
+ Quiet
+ No chemicals
- Cannot be used in humid areas
- Does not lower temperature as much as AC
- Requires regular water source
- Requires daily, monthly, and yearly maintenance
Get free advice and estimates from pros in your city.
(average cost in a 1,500 sq.ft. home, installed)
Air Conditioner
Air Conditioner
+ Cools air in humid areas
+ Removes moisture from the air
+ Easy to install window units
+ Precise temperature control
+ No daily or monthly maintenance
- Cannot be used in very dry areas
- May dry the air to an uncomfortable degree
- Uses chemicals that emit CO2 emissions
- More expensive to maintain
- More expensive to run
- Noisy
Get free advice and estimates from pros in your city.
(average cost in a 1,500 sq.ft. home, installed)

If you live in a climate that sees a number of hot days every year, you may want to invest in an appliance that will help lower the temperature inside your home. Depending on where you live, your climate, and your needs, you may find that one method of cooling your home works better than another. There are two basic cooling appliances to help lower the temperature and make your home more comfortable, evaporative coolers, also called swamp coolers, and air conditioners. Both will cool your home but in very different ways.

Cooling Method

Swamp coolers are ideal for cooling the air in a home located in a low humidity area. They work by passing air over a wet pad. The water in the pad evaporates into the air, cooling the air and adding some moisture, or humidity, at the same time. The water needs to be carefully controlled and continuously added to the swamp cooler to ensure that it is working properly, so may not be suitable for areas where water is in short supply.

An area where there is already a lot of moisture in the air is not an ideal place to install this type of appliance. In fact, they’re only effective in areas where the humidity is around 15%. Once the humidity gets to 30% or higher, the swamp cooler will struggle to have any effect, meaning that air conditioners are the better choice for more humid places.

An air conditioner works by transferring heat out of your home. They make use of a special cooling agent or 'refrigerant', which is contained in a closed system inside the A/C unit. Heat from the home is drawn in through a vent and absorbed by the refrigerant, which changes from a liquid to a gas and travels along the system towards a compressor. 

This compressor uses high pressure to raise the temperature of the refrigerant and push it further along the system. It passes to something called a condenser, which is usually located outdoors or on the back of the unit, where it is exposed to the outside air, which absorbs the heat. As the refrigerant cools, it turns back into a liquid and then flows back around to the start of the system, ready to absorb more heat again and start the process all over.


Swamp coolers can add moisture to the air in dry climates, which may make your home feel more comfortable. A swamp cooler would not be the best appliance to run in areas with high humidity levels, as it will increase these levels even more, which could lead to problems with mold or mildew growth.

The opposite occurs when using an air conditioner, which removes moisture from the air. In a high humidity area, air conditioning can also make the home more comfortable by drying it out slightly. In areas of already low humidity, an air conditioner may make the air too dry, causing problems with your eyes or skin.


Both swamp coolers and air conditioners have a range of installation options depending on the type and size of the unit you purchase, and where it is being installed. Window and portable air conditioning units may require little to no professional installation, while a central air conditioning unit will require professional hookup. If the unit requires ductwork, the ducts may need to be added or reconfigured to accommodate the unit. A ductless system can be used to retrofit a home without ducts, but it will require the services of a carpenter and electrician to install the unit.

Portable and direct air swamp coolers, as well as window unit swamp coolers, require no professional installation and only need to be placed near a water hookup or hose. Whole house units may require professional installation to install ducts or to place the unit on the roof and anchor it into place.


Both swamp coolers and air conditioners have a range of costs depending on the type of unit, where it is installed, and whether or not professional installation is necessary. The total price you spend on either a swamp cooler or A/C unit can therefore vary quite a lot.

Portable swamp coolers can be found for as low as $100 and go as high as $1,500 or more in some cases. Mounted swamp coolers, meanwhile, can cost around $500 to $1,500, while window swamp coolers vary from around $300 to $1,000. Installation can vary from as low $100 for a simple freestanding unit to $1,000 for a mounted cooler.

Overall then, a swamp cooler can cost anywhere from $100 to $2,500, depending on the size and type of unit you buy.

For air conditioners, a portable unit can be found for $200 to $700, while a window unit can cost from $300 to $1,200 and both of these types can be installed by yourself or for $100 to $800 professionally. Central units, used for cooling a whole home of up to 2,000 sq. ft. can cost around $1,500 on average, with installation costs ranging from $2,000 to $5,000.

Overall for air conditioners, the cost can vary from $200 to $6,500, depending on whether you want a simple portable unit for just one room or a fully installed central unit.

Energy Efficiency

Swamp coolers are a more energy-efficient means of cooling your home. They use roughly 15 to 35 percent of the electricity needed by an air conditioner of the same size and require no chemicals. They do, however, require a constant supply of water. In areas of drought or water restriction, they may be less efficient. They may also not cool the air as effectively as an air conditioner in all weather conditions.

Climate Considerations

Swamp coolers work best in very hot and dry climates, such as those found in the desert regions. This is because they add moisture to the air. In a humid climate, a swamp cooler could lead to excess humidity, along with mold and mildew growth.

Air conditioners work well in nearly all climates, but they also dry the air. This makes them more comfortable in humid climates. In an already dry climate, an air conditioner could make the air too dry, leading to skin and eye problems.


Swamp coolers require daily, monthly, and yearly maintenance to help them function at their best. This includes keeping them filled with water and changing the pad when needed. Most maintenance can be done by the homeowner, or a yearly service can be performed for about $100. If the cooler is located outdoors, a cover may be necessary during the cooler months. While the work is normally easy to do, swamp coolers do need more maintenance than air conditioners do.

Air conditioners require yearly maintenance, which may include cleaning, changing the filter, and charging the chemicals. This maintenance costs around $70 to $100 yearly. However, they have more parts that can fail, which may cost between $250 to $2,000 in yearly repairs, making them more expensive to maintain overall.

CO2 Emissions

In terms of CO2 emissions, you don't need to worry about either a swamp cooler or air conditioner directly giving off any greenhouses gases or CO2 into the surrounding environment. However, both types of cooler need electricity to run, and most electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Since swamp coolers are more energy efficient in general than A/C units, they're a little bit more eco-friendly in this aspect.


The noise levels between swamp coolers and air conditioners can vary from one model to the next, and it's possible to find relatively quiet versions of both. However, if you compare a window air conditioner with a standard swamp cooler, the swamp cooler will be much noisier as the fan will be right there in the room with you. With a window air conditioner, a lot of the noise escapes outside so won't bother you at all.

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