Evaporative Cooler vs Air Conditioner: Differences

Since hot months cause physical disorders such as heat exhaustion and cramps, it is understandable why you may want to invest in a cooling system for your house. You’ll either choose an evaporative cooler or an air conditioner (AC). But, what are the differences and which one is the most suitable for you?

Below, I’ve explained how each works, their differences, and the pros and cons of a swamp cooler when compared to an air conditioner.

What is an Evaporative (Swamp) Cooler?

A swamp cooler is a device that depends on water for cooling off air transferred from the outdoors to the indoors. The cooling solution has been in existence for decades. For instance, frescoes from the bronze age have often shown laborers ventilating water jars to achieve chilly rooms.

Evaporative or swamp coolers function by relying on a fan and water. The system can operate since the cooling pads, having an expansive surface area, are drenched with water. The fan of the swamp cooler is designed to steadily attract and convey the warm, fresh air from the outdoors into the system via the damp pads.

Then, the warm air leads to water evaporation, eventually leading to the release of moist, refreshing moisture. That moisture is inevitably spread around in a building’s room/s via the vents and ducts system. Dispersal of the chilly air is done by the fan of the system.

What’s an AC and how does it work?

An air conditioner is a cooling solution for reducing a building’s inside temperature by expelling the available heat and warm moisture.

Working similarly to a standard refrigerator, AC relies on thermodynamics, which is why it is often referred to as a heat pump or a refrigerated cooler. The cooling system uses a chemical, unlike the evaporative cooler, to draw heat out of the room’s air and pump it outside.  

The working of an AC follows this simple process:

  1. The warm surrounding air is sucked into an AC system.
  2. The warm air drawn into the AC system is then flown across the chilly evaporator pipes. In return, the air is cooled down and extra moisture is discarded via dehumidification.
  3. In the meantime, the coolant that flows across the chilly pipes captures the heat from the air passing inside the AC system. The resulting cool liquid is then vaporized to yield a warm gas.
  4. The warm gas is ejected from the system as the coolant passes via the compressing and condensing components to achieve a chilly liquid.
  5. Room re-circulation of the chilly liquid ensues, mixing it with the available air to reduce the level of humidity and temperature.

Evaporative Cooler vs AC – The Differences

Having seen how an evaporative cooler and AC work, the vital question that needs an answer is, which cooling system should you purchase for your home? To aid your buying decision to be a bit easier and sound, below we explore the primary characteristics of the two cooling options and their distinct differences.

Cooling methods

Most cooling devices contain a chemical that, although vital in the air cooling process, can be harmful to your health and the environment. Unlike cooking gas, the refrigerants that ACs use do not have an odor. If you do not maintain your unit or replace a faulty unit, it is easier for you to be harmed without even understanding the underlying cause.

For evaporative coolers, there is no cause for concern since they primarily rely on water, a safe material, to cool a building.

Energy efficiency differences

AC systems are not regarded as luxurious devices. Still, ACs are an asset that not most people can comfortably afford. That is true especially if you factor in the need to install each in every living or working space of your building or home. Gradually, you will have to deal with pricey electricity bills, repair, and maintenance.

Apart from eating into your budget, high consumption of power can also increase your carbon footprint if there are no renewable energy sources. Destruction of the environment happens since more fuel is needed in the production of the high power consumed.

On the other hand, the functioning of evaporative coolers is not dependent on a substantial delivery of energy. The cooling alternative is great for keeping the environment safer and avoiding costly energy bills.

Climatic conditions

One of the main disadvantages of AC units is that they produce drier air that can irritatingly stiffen your skin and dehydrate you. So, if you reside in an area with a dry climate, the AC may not be the best option.

An AC can serve as an exceptional humidifier. But, in an area mostly experiencing hot, dry weather, you may have to buy an actual humidifier. Alternatively, so that you are not exposed to high temperatures, remember to adhere to appropriate safety tips such as staying hydrated, avoiding outdoor activities, and wearing sunscreen.

Unlike evaporative coolers, the main strength of AC units does not also lie in air purification. With an evaporating cooler, its application is possible outdoors and with windows opened. Evaporative coolers are suitable for use in dry habitats as they can moisten, filter, and humidify the local moisture.

Cost of installation

Another important factor to consider when you want to purchase either swamp coolers or AC units is the cost involved. High-quality evaporative coolers are relatively affordable while ACs are relatively expensive. You can purchase a swamp cooler for around $100. To buy an AC unit, you may have to spend from at least $300 to thousands of dollars, including the installation expense.

Noise levels

If you suffer from light sleeping or a shorter attention span compared to a goldfish, the noise level produced by any powered device should be a concern. ACs, when operating for a longer duration, are notorious for creating a loud noise that can disrupt your sleep and the normal daily indoor activities.

Fortunately, evaporative coolers make insignificant noises, allowing you to operate without attention diversion or sleep without any disturbance.


To clean the conventional AC, you need to follow various steps. The AC filters have to be cleaned per month and yearly subjected to a deep clean. Also, every year and when there is a season change, replacing the AC’s refrigerant should be overseen by an expert, further increasing the rinsing and maintenance costs.

You will find that the various steps of cleaning ACs are troublesome as they cost money and time.  

In contrast, cleaning evaporative coolers should only be done once every month. Of course, there are other evaporative coolers with filters of cellulose/fiber that may require constant cleaning and maintenance. Still, regular rinsing is not a must since water assists in filtration. For your device to perform efficiently, only replace the water after rinsing the tank.

Health issues 

Air conditioners recycle the same air found in your home, reducing its quality and exposing dwellers to allergens and dirt. Dust and allergens cause lots of health and breathing issues like headaches and irritated skin.

For swamp coolers, they rely on a fresh, constant supply of air. That is great for your health and breathing.

Here is a summary of the difference between an evaporative cooler and an air conditioner.

Evaporative CoolerAir Conditioner
Relies on water and a fan for coolingRelies on chemicals for cooling
Consumes less powerConsumes a lot of power
Great for a dry climateGreat for a wet climate
Purchasing and installation is not costlyCostly to purchase and install
Not noisyNoisy
Does not need a lot of cleaning and maintenanceRequires lots of cleaning and maintenance
Great for your breathing and general healthCauses health and breathing issues

Pros and Cons of Evaporative Cooling

The pros of evaporative cooling include:

  • Capable of cooling air in dry habitats.
  • Helps moist dry air.
  • Highly energy efficient since only the fan and pump are powered
  • Safe to the environment as there is less or no emission of CO2, which is a known contributor towards ozone layer depletion.
  • The costs of operation and maintenance are relatively affordable.
  • Produces a low level of noise that makes tranquil sleeping possible and does not distract attention.
  • There is no use of chemicals in its operation that can affect your health and the environment.

The cons of evaporative cooling include:

  • Not great for use in locations with humid climatic conditions.
  • It is not that effective in temperature reduction compared to air conditioners.
  • Requires a constant supply and availability of water.
  • In areas with hard water, you may have to deal with a device affected by the accumulation of minerals and salts.
  • Coolers located on the roof are inconvenient to clean and maintain.

Pros and Cons of AC Units

The pros of AC units include:

  • Capable of cooling air in humid environments.
  • Performs moisture removal from the air.
  • Can deliver exact control of temperature.
  • No need for ducting, known for deteriorating and reducing the efficacy of the system gradually.  
  • You can choose an AC unit for a room or the whole building

In terms of the cons of AC units, they include:

  • Production of loud background noise that can disrupt your concentration or sleeping.
  • Constant use can de-moisturize your skin and the mucous membrane.
  • Consumes a lot of energy.
  • Cleaning should be done regularly.
  • Are relatively expensive to purchase

Is evaporative cooling as good as air conditioning?

Evaporative cooling can work as well as air conditioning as long as it is used in a dry, hot environment conducive to its efficient operation. In such an environment, decreasing the indoor temperature to a comfortable level is possible. For your swamp or evaporative cooling to work even properly, also ensure it is capable of cooling the particular size of your room or rooms.

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