Where to Put a Swamp Cooler in Your Home 

You’ve had it up to here with your high energy bills from running the air conditioner. If you live in a region where the weather is consistently hot, you need a solution that’s more energy-friendly than what you’re currently using. A friend recommended a swamp cooler, but you have no idea where in your home to put it. Where should the swamp cooler go?

If possible, plan to get the swamp cooler mounted to the ground horizontally or even in the windows. The other option is the roof, especially for a down-flow swamp cooler, but roof leaks can happen.

Do you want more information on swamp coolers before you invest in this cooling solution? In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know, including how these coolers work, their benefits, costs, and how to use your new swamp cooler. Make sure you keep reading! 

What Is a Swamp Cooler? How Does It Work?

Swamp Coolers 101

Let’s start with the basics. The technical name for a swamp cooler is an evaporative cooler. You may also hear this unit referred to as a wet air cooler, desert cooler, swamp box, or evaporative air conditioner, but all mean the same thing.

The difference between a swamp cooler and a standard air conditioner is the evaporative cooler–as its name tells you–evaporates water instead of using absorption refrigeration or vapor compression. We’ll get into more of the fine details of how it all works shortly, but it’s good to know that with a swamp cooler, you have a whole different animal.

Vaporization has a latent heat level, also referred to as the enthalpy of vaporization, with water known for its very high latent heat. This allows swamp coolers to run far more efficiently and use far less energy than a standard air conditioner. According to Energy.gov, the temperature in the room may be reduced by as little as five degrees and as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit with a swamp cooler running. 

How Swamp Coolers Work

You have two types of swamp coolers to choose from, direct and indirect evaporative cooling. Here’s an overview of each.

  1. Direct Evaporative Cooling

An open-circuit or direct evaporative cooling unit is very dependent on the latent heat of evaporation. Here’s what happens. The air that enters the swamp cooler is dry and warm. When it passes through the unit, it comes out moist but cool. 

The water evaporates due to the hot outdoor temperatures, which boost the relative humidity between 70 and 90 percent. If you’re already sweating, then relative humidity at that level will cool you right down.

The one downside to direct evaporative cooling is its reliance on outdoor moist air. If the air becomes drier than it is moist, the cooling system can no longer evaporate the indoor air properly, rendering it ineffective.

There are two subsets of direct evaporative coolers, passive direct evaporative coolers and mechanical direct evaporative coolers, so let’s talk about those as well.

  • Passive Direct Evaporative Cooling

With a passive direct evaporative cooler, the unit runs, sans fan, but requires water that has been evaporatively cooled. In most instances, a passive cooling tower or evaporative downdraft cooling tower is used, but fountains can be utilized as well. The towers come more heavily recommended though due to their design, which is efficient for passive direct evaporative cooling.

A passive cooling tower has airflow capacity at its top, which encourages air to enter. When it does, that air reaches the water within the tower via a mister or wetted membrane. The outside air evaporates thanks to the water, decreasing the buoyancy of the outside air and its temperature as well. 

Now the airflow in the passive cooling tower moves down towards the bottom of the tower. It’s there that an outlet is found that sends the cool air to the inside of an adjacent building. 

  • Mechanical Direct Evaporative Cooling

Mechanical direct evaporative coolers include a fan as well that sends air through the wetted membrane. The surface area of the membrane is sizable enough that the water can evaporate and cool the air. To maintain evaporation, the wetted membrane is consistently soaked with a mist of water. As the water drips off the membrane, any extra water catches in a pan that then sends the water towards the top of the cooler so the whole process can restart again. Nothing is wasted.

As a form of single-stage evaporative cooling, a mechanical direct evaporative cooler is basic, with its components including the centrifugal fan, water pump, and membrane. These units are also smaller in size than a passive direct evaporative cooler. 

  1. Indirect Evaporative Cooling

That was direct evaporative cooling, so now let’s discuss how a closed-circuit unit works. The main difference is the inclusion of a heat exchanger. These units may also use conditioned supply air, although this never mingles with the direct evaporative cooled air. 

Indirect evaporative cooling is intended for enclosed areas such as buildings that can’t afford the buildup of humidity but need the cooling. The most popular form of indirect evaporative cooling by far is known as the Maisotsenko cycle or M-Cycle.

Professor Dr. Valeriy Maisotsenko created this type of swamp cooling and named it after himself. The M-Cycle’s heat exchanger is a multi-step system with a membrane that cools product air until it’s near the dew point.  

Where in Your Home Should You Put Your Swamp Cooler?

The more common application of swamp coolers for residential purposes is direct evaporative cooling. Due to the sheer size and scope of a cooling tower, you can’t use that at home, so your swamp cooler will probably look more like a box made of plastic or metal. The box will feature venting at the sides and otherwise be enclosed.

A centrifugal blower or fan that’s operated by a direct-driven axial fan of sheaves includes both pulleys and an electric motor. There’s also a water pump so water can be sent to the cooling pads. 

With a unit like that, in which part of your home should you put it? We touched on several options in the intro, so let’s go over them in more detail now.

Ground-Level Installation

Your first option, and by far the one that’s most recommended, is ground-level installation. The swamp cooler is mounted horizontally outdoors. Since the unit is right outside, it’s a lot easier to reach for maintenance. 

Window-Level Installation

Some homeowners opt for window-level installation, often a series of smaller cooling units mounted horizontally in the windows. If you have only parts of your home that need cooling, including specific rooms, then installation like this makes sense. 

Roof Installation

Your last option and one that’s surprisingly popular is roof-mounted installation of the swamp cooler. If you have a small yard or otherwise lack space on the sides of your house, then putting the cooler on the roof can work.

Yet doing so has several downsides. For one, it’s very easy to forget the swamp cooler is up there because out of sight often equals out of mind. Second, maintaining the unit is much harder due to its location. 

The biggest detriment by far to roof installation is that the swamp cooler might leak water. A few leaks here and there might not do much, but consistent leaks over long periods could damage the structure of your roof, leaving you with a much bigger problem. 

What Are the Benefits of Using a Swamp Cooler?

Cooling your home with a swamp cooler, especially over a traditional air conditioner, can be beneficial in a multitude of ways, including the following. 


Would you like to have a swamp cooler with wheels that you could cart around in the house to set up wherever you need it most? This isn’t a pipedream, but an actual option at your disposal. 

Given its size, you don’t get a lot of cooling as you would with a regular-sized swamp cooler. To maximize the efficiency of your portable cooler, ensure the conditions are more humid than dry. 

Customizable Sizes and Installation

Swamp coolers come in all sorts of sizes, as we’ve covered, and with a variety of installation options. This versatility allows you to customize your home’s cooling in a way that you don’t get with a traditional air conditioner. 

More Energy-Efficient 

The biggest perk of a swamp cooler by far is how much more efficient it is than a traditional AC unit. The compressor in an air conditioner is the component that sucks up the most energy and often jacks up your utility bills. 

Since a swamp cooler uses a fan and ditches the compressor, you’ll notice the amount due on your bills go down and stays that way month after month. What’s even better is that swamp coolers also work without refrigerant, a potentially toxic chemical that you’re better off not being around. 

How much more energy efficient a swamp cooler is than a traditional air conditioner varies based on your levels of relative humidity as well as the outdoor humidity. Some experts predict the swamp cooler can shave 50 percent off your energy bills at most. 

How Much Does a Swamp Cooler Cost?

Depending on the size and portability of your unit, a swamp cooler may cost around $200 to as much as $4,000. If you’re holding off on buying a swamp cooler, know that after the initial expense is paid for, you won’t spend nearly as much money to run the swamp cooler as you do on a traditional air conditioner.

Operational costs are reliant on usage, wattage, and the model of your swamp cooler, but some units are $0.01 an hour to run and others up to $0.04 an hour. Yes, that’s mere cents per hour, so even if you run the swamp cooler all day, you’re spending about as much as you would on a cup of coffee. 

The costs can be higher, so we recommend using this Energy.gov Appliance Energy Calculator to predict the likely costs near you.  

How to Use Your Swamp Cooler

One slight advantage that traditional AC has over swamp coolers is that the former is much easier to use. In the case of a window unit, you power the air conditioner on and it runs until you turn it off. If you have central air conditioning, then you only need to adjust the thermostat. When the house reaches a certain temperature, the AC will kick on.

Before you can operate your swamp cooler, you need to do a few things. Let’s discuss the steps to follow.

Add Water to the Reservoir

If the tank of your swamp cooler is empty or close to it, then the first task on your list is to refill it. You can use regular old tap water for this, but make sure the water is cool, around 50 degrees if possible. 

Wait Until the Pads Absorb Some Water

Pour the water on the pads within the swamp cooler next, then you have to wait about five minutes, maybe even 15 minutes, for the pads to absorb a bit of the water. Yes, this part is time-consuming, but if the pads aren’t wet enough, your swamp cooler will only make conditions in the house hotter. 

Turn the Fan On 

Once that time has elapsed, you’re free to flip on the fan. What some swamp cooler owners do at this time is add a bit more water to the pads, known as priming. Supposedly, doing this encourages faster evaporation, but this step is optional.

Readjust the Fan Positioning 

To feel even cooler, move the fan so it’s facing towards where you’ll sit for the next few hours. You might even want to open your windows. This introduces more humidity so the swamp cooler doesn’t get too dry. 

Yes, if you’ve used nothing but traditional air conditioning to this point, you’ve learned to keep the windows sealed to trap in the cold air, but with a swamp cooler, it’s alright and even advisable to do this! 

Final Thoughts 

Swamp coolers convert evaporated water into cool air and are reliant on humid conditions to work. This form of evaporative cooling is more efficient and often inexpensive compared to using a traditional air conditioner. Now that you know where to put your swamp cooler, you can enjoy a cooler house without spending as much money! 


Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.

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