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Swamp Cooler  vs  Air Conditioner

Swamp Cooler

$3,900

(average cost in a 1,500 sq.ft. home, installed)

 

VS

Air Conditioner

$5,000

(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).
To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.

Swamp Cooler

comparison guide 1 Swamp Cooler
finger up green   PROS
  • 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
finger down grey  CONS
  • Cannot be used in humid areas
  • Does not lower temperature as much as AC
  • Requires regular water source
  • Requires daily, monthly, and yearly maintenance
$3,900

(average cost in a 1,500 sq.ft. home, installed)

Get free advice and estimates from air-conditioning and heating contractors in your city.

Air Conditioner

comparison guide 2 Air Conditioner
finger up green   PROS
  • Cools air in humid areas
  • Removes moisture from the air
  • Easy to install window units
  • Precise temperature control
  • No daily or monthly maintenance
finger down grey  CONS
  • 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
$5,000

(average cost in a 1,500 sq.ft. home, installed)

Get free advice and estimates from air-conditioning and heating contractors in your city.


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 1, 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.

Moisture

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.

Installation

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.

Costs

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.

Maintenance

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.

Noise

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.


Our Top Picks


Whether you’re buying a swamp cooler or air conditioner, you’ll have many models to choose from. In order to help save you time and narrow down your search, here are a few of our top picks for both categories:


Portable Swamp Coolers


BEST OVERALL: Champion Cooler 6500




If you're looking for a strong and powerful swamp cooler that can handle large spaces, this model from Champion Cooler is a terrific option. Offering 6,500 CFM of power, this down-draft roof cooler has been specially designed to work in dry and arid areas. It can cool down spaces of 2,400 sq. ft. and can be used with either a 1/2 or 3/4 HP motor.


BEST VALUE: Briza Cool Evaporative Air Cooler


Available at a terrific price and shipping in black, white, and dark wood styles, this freestanding swamp cooler comes at a fraction of the cost of most air conditioners yet offers highly impressive performance ratings. It can add up to 5% humidity to the air, as well as cleaning and filtering it too with its built-in aspen wood filters.


ALSO CONSIDER: DUOLANG 2657 Indoor/Outdoor Swamp Cooler




Ideal for use in individual rooms like the bedroom or living room, this 2,647 CFM swamp cooler offers enough cooling for spaces of over 320 sq. ft. It can also be used as a fan, humidifier, purifier, and air conditioner, and is perfectly adaptable for use in outdoor locations like patios and yards too. It only consumes a small amount of power and features three speed settings and a remote control.


Portable Air Conditioners


BEST OVERALL: LG LW1019IVSM




Direct from one of the best brands in the business, this LG 9,500 BTU dual inverter window air conditioner offers enough cooling power to tackle spaces of up to 450 sq. ft. The powerful dual inverter technology keeps the noise levels low in this unit while also delivering the cool, refreshing temperatures you need, and it can even be hooked up with smart home devices like Alexa, Google Assistant, or your own phone for ease of use.


BEST VALUE: BLACK + DECKER BPACT08WT



Delivering 8,000 BTUs of power, this portable air conditioning unit from BLACK + DECKER is also available in more powerful models right up to 14,000 BTUs, as required. The standard model is just right for apartments, small homes, or individual rooms, keeping them nice and cool when the warm weather sets in. It offers a sleep mode, 24 hour timer, and LED digital display for your convenience, as well as coming with an included window kit for simple installation.


ALSO CONSIDER: RolliCool Portable Air Conditioner




Last but not least, we have this portable 14,000 BTU air conditioner from RolliCool. This state of the art model is Alexa-enabled, allowing you to connect it with smart home devices powered by Amazon Alexa or simply hook it up to your phone for easy and convenient controls. It can cool, heat, dehumidify, and circulate air around your home, perfect for use in all four seasons, and features wheels on the base for easy maneuverability.


Our experts independently research and recommend the best products. Retailers cannot influence or pay for the placement, reviews, or ratings of products. Fixr.com participates in the Amazon Services, LLC Associates Program and other affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn commissions on qualifying purchases made using our links to retailer sites.

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Remodeling Terms Cheat Sheet

Definitions in laymen's terms, cost considerations, pictures and things you need to know.
See full cheat sheet.
1 Swamp coolers: A system for cooling the air in a home by passing warmer outdoor air over wet pads. This causes the moisture on the pads to evaporate, cooling the air. The cooler, moister air is then directed into the house

Cost to install a swamp cooler or an air conditioner varies greatly by region (and even by zip code).
To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.

Labor cost by city and zip code

Compared to national average
Anchorage, AK
+35%
Ashland, NH
+22%
Athens, GA
-9%
Aurora, CO
+10%
Bakersfield, CA
-6%
Baltimore, MD
+12%
Boston, MA
+40%
Boulder, CO
-4%
Bronx, NY
+32%
Brooklyn, NY
+16%
Chicago, IL
+40%
Cincinnati, OH
+6%
Cleveland, OH
+7%
Coldwater, MI
-21%
Colorado Springs, CO
-3%
Columbus, OH
+5%
Dallas, TX
+10%
Denver, CO
+1%
Detroit, MI
+16%
El Paso, TX
-28%
Florissant, MO
+17%
Fort Lauderdale, FL
+2%
Fresno, CA
-6%
Hartford, CT
+23%
Houston, TX
+24%
Huntsville, AL
-17%
Indianapolis, IN
+6%
Jacksonville, FL
-1%
Kissimmee, FL
-20%
Las Vegas, NV
+7%
Laurel, MT
-12%
Littleton, CO
+2%
Los Angeles, CA
+11%
Miami, FL
+1%
Milwaukee, WI
+12%
Minneapolis, MN
+25%
Modesto, CA
-12%
New York, NY
+77%
Oklahoma City, OK
-12%
Pensacola, FL
-19%
Philadelphia, PA
+40%
Phoenix, AZ
0%
Pittsburgh, PA
+9%
Portland, OR
+11%
Reno, NV
0%
Richmond, VA
+4%
Riverside, CA
+13%
Sacramento, CA
+8%
Saint Louis, MO
+16%
San Antonio, TX
-4%

Labor cost in your zip code

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