In Utah, having air conditioning to make it through the hottest months of the year is a necessity for many homeowners. However, older homes were not designed with central AC in mind, and installing a new system (especially when you don't have forced air heating) can be expensive and difficult. 

Fortunately, because Utah has a dry climate, central air is not your only option. Many people opt to install evaporative coolers, otherwise known as "swamp" coolers, instead of central AC. Swamp coolers use a fan that pushes warm air through a pad soaked with cool water. When the air passes through the pad, the water cools the air, which then enters your home.

There are pros and cons to either cooling option. Here's what you need to know about each system when you're faced with the choice.

Installation

It's much simpler to install a swamp cooler than an entire home AC system. However, if you already have central heating, central air becomes less challenging to install. Your AC can use the same ducting that your heating does, so the process becomes as easy as installing the compressor and hooking up the electrical lines and fans to distribute the air through the home. 

Swamp coolers are normally installed on the roof. The unit can look slightly out of place on a rooftop, but it does not require ducting anywhere else in the house. 

Cost to Run

The cost of installation and running the swamp cooler makes it the winner in the savings category. Central air conditioning compressors require a lot of electricity to run. A swamp cooler only needs electricity to power a simple fan and water pump. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, they use only a quarter of the energy that a central AC compressor uses. 

For budget savvy consumers, the swamp cooler is the more economical choice for summer cooling. 

Maintenance

Central AC does require some maintenance, but this is mostly clearing away debris from the compressor and making sure that the air filters are changed.

Evaporative coolers require much more maintenance. They must be winterized and sealed off before each winter. The pads that hold the water should be changed frequently to prevent mildew growth. The pump can wear out and will need replacing every few years. For people who like to turn on the AC and forget about it, swamp coolers are not the right fit. 

Even Cooling

Another difference between central cooling and swamp coolers is how the cool air circulates through the home. Swamp coolers usually do not connect with any ducting. Instead, they move through the home by changes in pressure. When you keep the windows cracked in each room, the cool air flows into the home and forces warmer air out, pulling cool air into each room.

However, this motion is hurt by home layouts and closed doors. The disadvantages include:

  • Reduced cooling capacity for larger homes. For homes with larger square footage, one cooling unit may not provide enough cool air to make a difference.
  • Reduced cooling in upstairs or downstairs areas. For two story homes, you might need two swamp coolers to handle each floor separately or one area won’t be as cool as the other. 
  • Reduced effectiveness in closed-room designs. For homes that don't have open floor plans, evenly cooling the house can be a challenge. 
  • Reduced freedom to close doors. For people who like to keep bedroom doors shut at night, the cool air can't flow into the room as easily.

People with larger homes or with historic homes that have many separate rooms may not find that a swamp cooler is as effective as it might be for those in small ranch-style houses or apartments. 

Temperature Control

One particular benefit of central air conditioning is that you can set your thermostat to any temperature you would like. For those who like it very cold, 65 degrees might be the temperature of choice. For those who just like to take the edge off the summer heat, 78 degrees may feel comfortable. 

With a swamp cooler, you do not have this advantage. You will find that your cooler may struggle to provide very cold air when temps soar into triple digits. The cooling capacity of the water in the pads remains the same, so when temperatures soar into triple digits, the air blowing from your cooler will still be less hot than outside, but it won't be as cold as you might like.

Weather

Finally, swamp coolers are affected more by the weather than central air conditioners. In order for the evaporative cooling effect to work, the air going through the cooler must be very dry and warm. So, if there is a warm rain storm or if humidity increases, the cooler will not work as well. 

For more information about air conditioning installation costs and maintenance, contact us at Dick Kearsley Service Center.