Evaporative Cooling Cost

In this guide

Evaporative coolers vs air conditioners
Size
Types
Types of pad
Labor
Enhancements
Additional Considerations

How much does it cost to install evaporative cooling?

Evaporative coolers, or swamp coolers, are an effective way of cooling homes in climates with very low humidity levels. They cool the air in dry homes by passing water over wet pads. The water evaporates into the air, cooling it down and adding humidity at the same time. This cooled air is then blown into  your home by means of a fan. To keep the balance of cool and warm air, while you operate your evaporative cooler, the windows of your home are left open; the warmer air gets pushed out the windows by the cooler air coming out of the fan.

For homes that are located in dry climates, evaporative coolers can make the air much more comfortable for a much lower cost than central air conditioning. Evaporative coolers only cost about half of what an AC unit would cost, and only use about a quarter of the energy to run, making them a cost effective cooling alternative.

There are several types of evaporative coolers, including those that use ductwork and those that sit in windows. This factor, along with installation, and the size of the unit will affect the final cost. On average, installing a swamp cooler for a 1,500 sq.ft. home costs about $3,900 for the cooler and installation.

Evaporative coolers vs air conditioners

Both evaporative coolers and air conditioners will cool the air in your home, but in two very different ways. Essentially, evaporative coolers work by adding moisture to the air, while air conditioners work by condensing or removing moisture from the air. Therefore, an evaporative cooler should only be used in areas with very low humidity levels; air conditioners are the better choice for areas that see higher humidity levels during the summer months.

Air conditioners cost roughly twice what an evaporative cooler costs to purchase and install - around $5,000 to $7,000 on average, making swamp coolers an attractive option for those who can use them.

Size

Like air conditioners and other HVAC systems, your evaporative cooler should be sized to your home. Many people mistakenly believe that the larger the unit, the better it will cool your home. This is untrue, however; oversized units will simply use more energy and will require more maintenance, often burning out faster than a unit that is correctly sized to your home. For a home that is 1,500 sq.ft. with nine foot ceilings, you will need a cooler that can handle 6,750 cubic feet of air per minute. To find out the size cooler you need, multiply your square feet by your ceiling height, then divide by two; you need a cooler that can handle at least this amount of air.

Additionally, the size of your cooler will be dictated by where it is installed, and how you will be using it to cool your home. Whole house coolers, which may be mounted on your roof, or on the ground outside your home, use ducts to ensure that the cooled air reaches all areas of the home. Central units are installed indoors in one room of the home, and are designed to reach areas within a compact home with an open floor plan. Some smaller units may even be used just to cool a single room in a home, rather than the whole space. Always go by the square footage of the area you intend to cool to make sure you get the properly sized unit.

Types

Originally, most evaporative coolers were installed on the roof of the home. This has several drawbacks, however, which has led to newer recommendations for installing coolers on the ground floor, in central locations, and in windows. The type of cooler you purchase will partially dictate its price, as well as installation costs, and maintenance:

Cooler TypeProsConsCost
Roof-Mounted Whole House Cooler

This type of cooler drains and cools efficiently

Uses top-down, or gravity flow

Leaks can cause roof deterioration

Can be hard to access for monthly maintenance

$1,750-$1,850
Ground-Mounted Whole House Cooler

Easy to access for regular maintenance

Effectively cools the whole house

Can be hard to find the space for$1,800-$1,900
Portable Direct Air Evaporative Cooler

Can be moved from room to room

Easy access for regular maintenance

No installation costs

Needs a hose to run, which can be a tripping hazard $400-$900
Window Evaporative Cooler

Easy install

No installation costs if ledge is available

Can be bulky and difficult to lift into windows

Requires a hose hook up

$400-$1,000
Direct Air Evaporative Cooler

Can be installed nearly anywhere in the home

No installation costs

Does not cool large areas if doors are shut$700-$900

Types of pad

Evaporative coolers work by passing air over a pad that is soaked with water. Depending on the type of cooler you purchase, it may have one of three different types of pad:

  • Aspen pads or fixed fiber pads are made of shredded aspen wood fibers and last one to two years. They cost between $20 and $40 per pad.
  • Rotating pad coolers are essentially pads sewn into a belt shape, which rotate or turn as they cool. They do not require a pump, and last about two to three years, costing $40 to $60 a piece.
  • Rigid sheet pads are made of corrugated material that is stacked tightly together. They last much longer than other pads if water quality is maintained - up to four to six years. They cost around $50 to $80 a pad.

Labor

Some types of evaporative cooler require no installation beyond hooking up a hose or water source. Portable and direct air units, as well as some window units can all be hooked up in minutes by the homeowner. Some window units will require a shelf or ledge to hold them in place. This can be installed by a handyman within one to two hours at a rate of around $100.

Roof and ground-mounted whole house coolers require more intensive installation, particularly if ductwork is needed. Installation of a cooler with existing ductwork costs between $700 and $1,000 for the unit, and takes around three to four hours if exchanging an old unit for a new one. If the unit is mounted on the roof, this may cost slightly more than the same unit mounted on the ground due to access issues.

The average cost of installing ductwork is around $2,000 if no ducts currently exist in the home. This will take an additional two to three work days to install, with a final cost of around $5,900.

Enhancement and improvement costs

  • You will need to purchase replacement pads every two to six years. The type of pad is directly correlated to the type of cooler you have; always check to find out what size and type of pad is required.
  • Whole house coolers are controlled by a thermostat 1, which can cost an additional $200 to $250 installed.
  • To help protect your cooler if installed outdoors, you may want to purchase a cover for when it is not in use. Covers cost $20 to $50, and are typically made to fit specific sizes and brands.
  • If you have poor air quality, you may want to invest in a pre-filter, which removes particles from the air before it enters the cooler. Pre-filters cost around $30 to $50.
  • A purge pump 2 can help keep mineral build up inside your cooler to a minimum, which can extend filter life and cut down on maintenance. They cost between $25 and $50.
  • Using a two-stage evaporative cooler can help lower the air temperature an additional 3.5 degrees. These coolers work by cooling the initial air intake through evaporation, then adding water before sending the air back out. They are larger, more expensive, and require more maintenance than a standard cooler, costing about $2,000 more than direct systems, for a total of around $5,900 installed.

Additional considerations and costs

  • Evaporative coolers require regular, daily, monthly, and yearly maintenance to keep them running properly. Most of this can be done by the homeowner, otherwise a service call costs around $100 to $150 if additional help is needed.
  • If the cooler is installed on the roof, it may cause leaks and deterioration of the shingles 3 and roof deck over time, which could lead to additional repairs and maintenance costs


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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 Thermostat: A device that senses and regulates temperature by turning heating and cooling devices on and off
2 Pump: A device used to move air, liquid, or gas by mechanical means
3 Shingles: A smooth, uniform, flat piece of construction material, available in a wide variety of materials and laid in a series of overlapping rows, used to cover the outside of roofs or walls to protect against weather damage and leaks.

Cost to install evaporative cooling varies greatly by region (and even by zipcode). To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.

Labor cost by city and zipcode

Compared to national average
Albuquerque, NM
-14%
Arlington, TX
+6%
Arvada, CO
-3%
Baltimore, MD
+12%
Boca Raton, FL
0%
Boulder, CO
-4%
Bronx, NY
+32%
Brooklyn, NY
+16%
Buffalo, NY
-1%
Chicago, IL
+40%
Chula Vista, CA
+8%
Cleveland, OH
+7%
Coarsegold, CA
-10%
Colorado Springs, CO
-3%
Columbus, OH
+5%
Dallas, TX
+10%
Denver, CO
+1%
Durham, NC
-1%
El Paso, TX
-28%
Erie, CO
-6%
Fort Lauderdale, FL
+2%
Fort Worth, TX
+6%
Houston, TX
+24%
Indianapolis, IN
+6%
Jacksonville, FL
-1%
Joplin, MO
-26%
Las Vegas, NV
+7%
Lebanon, PA
-16%
Los Angeles, CA
+11%
Memphis, TN
+11%
Miami, FL
+1%
New York, NY
+77%
Norfolk, VA
-6%
Oklahoma City, OK
-12%
Orlando, FL
+2%
Pasadena, MD
+5%
Philadelphia, PA
+40%
Portland, OR
+11%
Raleigh, NC
-3%
Richmond, VA
+4%
Sacramento, CA
+8%
Saint Louis, MO
+16%
Saint Paul, MN
+20%
San Antonio, TX
-4%
San Diego, CA
+11%
San Jose, CA
+33%
Scranton, PA
-9%
Tacoma, WA
-1%
Tucson, AZ
-19%
Vancouver, WA
-12%

Labor cost in your zipcode

Methodology and sources