Swamp Cooler vs Air Conditioner

Swamp Cooler

   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
  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

   PROS
  • Cools air in humid areas
  • Removes moisture from the air
  • Easy to install window units
  • Precise temperature control
  • No daily or monthly maintenance
  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. An area where there is already a lot of moisture in the air is not an ideal place to install this type of appliance.

Air conditioners work by condensing and removing the water that is already in the air. A chemical, which easily converts from gas to liquid and back to gas, pulls moisture from the air, and this change of state cools the surrounding air. This cooler air is then blown out of the compressor, while warm air is circulated back outside. Air conditioners give you more precise control over the temperature in your home and can lower the temperature to a greater degree. They’re also ideal for areas with higher humidity levels, as they lower humidity while cooling the air.

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. Below are the most common types of units for both, as well as their average costs.

  • Window air conditioning units cost between $345 and $1,190 and typically come with a DIY installation kit.
  • Ductless air conditioning units have a starting cost of around $1,800, with an installed unit costing on average $2,500 depending on the amount of work that needs to be done.
  • Central air conditioning units, large enough to cool a 1,400 to 1,800 sq.ft. home, cost an average of $1,245 for the unit and about $5,000 to $7,000 installed.
  • Window swamp coolers cost between $400 and $1,000 and typically require no professional installation.
  • A direct air swamp cooler, which can be placed anywhere in the home, typically costs between $700 to $900 and has no associated installation costs.
  • A whole-house, roof-mounted swamp cooler, large enough to cool a 1,400 and 1,800 sq.ft. home, will cost around $1,750 to $1,850 for the unit and around $3,900 installed.

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

Swamp coolers emit fewer levels of greenhouse gas or CO2 emissions than air conditioning units. This is because a swamp cooler uses only water to cool the air, while an air conditioning unit uses a refrigerant or cooling chemical. As the chemicals in the AC unit convert to liquid or gas, they give off greenhouse gasses, including CO2 emissions, which are bad for the environment and the air you breathe.

Noise

Swamp coolers are much quieter in operation than air conditioners. This is because the condenser in the air conditioner produces noise as it converts the chemicals from liquid to gas.

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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
Albuquerque, NM
-14%
Athens, GA
-9%
Atlanta, GA
+24%
Augusta, GA
-13%
Austin, TX
+13%
Bakersfield, CA
-6%
Baltimore, MD
+12%
Birmingham, AL
+6%
Boston, MA
+40%
Brockton, MA
+38%
Brooklyn, NY
+16%
Buffalo, NY
-1%
Charlotte, NC
+6%
Chesapeake, VA
-6%
Chicago, IL
+40%
Cleveland, OH
+7%
Colorado Springs, CO
-3%
Columbus, OH
+5%
Conway, AR
-26%
Dallas, TX
+10%
Denver, CO
+1%
Detroit, MI
+16%
El Paso, TX
-28%
Fort Lauderdale, FL
+2%
Fort Worth, TX
+6%
Highland, NY
+3%
Houston, TX
+24%
Indianapolis, IN
+6%
Jacksonville, FL
-1%
Jersey City, NJ
+23%
Kansas City, MO
+4%
Lancaster, PA
+3%
Las Vegas, NV
+7%
Loma Linda, CA
-1%
Long Beach, CA
+16%
Los Angeles, CA
+11%
Lowell, MA
+36%
Mesa, AZ
-2%
Miami, FL
+1%
Minneapolis, MN
+25%
Montgomery, AL
-10%
Muskegon, MI
-3%
New Bern, NC
-19%
New Orleans, LA
+35%
New York, NY
+77%
Norwalk, CT
+46%
O Fallon, MO
-1%
Oklahoma City, OK
-12%
Old Bridge, NJ
+36%
Orlando, FL
+2%

Labor cost in your zip code

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