When summertime temperatures begin to rise, it’s time to think long and hard about your personal comfort this season. If you’re in the market for a room cooler, it pays to take a good look at the features available to help you decide what’s out important for you — and what you can live without. Choosing the best air cooler is a personal decision, because you must take into account the room where you plan to place it and weight you needs for convenience and quiet.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. We’ve rounded up all the most important features to consider as you shop, so you can ultimately choose the most effective cooling for your space. Here’s what you need to know.
Should You Be Shopping for an Evaporative Air Cooler or an Air Conditioner?
First things first: Evaporative air coolers aren’t the same as air conditioners. Evaporative coolers — also known as swamp coolers or desert coolers — work by adding moisture to the air. As that moisture evaporates, the process creates cool air, which is then blown throughout your room. Quick evaporation is the key, so evaporative air coolers work best in arid climates with very low humidity. If you live in Southern California, Western Texas or the Southwest, an evaporative cooler is a great way to chill out without the high utility costs.
On the other hand, air conditioning — whether via a central A/C system, window unit or portable air conditioner — removes moisture from the air and exchanges hot air for cool with a compressor system and chemical refrigerants. Though more costly to run due to its greater power consumption, traditional air conditioning is the more effective choice in the humid climates found east of the Mississippi River.
The Bottom Line: If you live in a desert climate with low humidity, an evaporative air cooler is a good choice. Your next step is to understand the most important features available.
Cooling Capacity and CFMs
The best evaporative cooler for you depends mostly on where you’d like to use it. It’s crucial to size the cooler to your needs. If you choose one that too small for your space, it will struggle to keep up with the heat. One the other hand, an oversized cooler has the potential to add too much moisture to the air and lead to a generally damp feeling or even visible condensation on your walls.
Every evaporative cooler puts out a certain number of CFMs, or cubic feet per minute, of air flow. You should be able to find this figure on the box or in the specs offered online. This number represents the amount of fresh air cycled through the appliance per minute. The higher the number, the bigger the cooling capacity.
So how much do you need? Measure your room size by taking note of its length and width in feet. Multiply these two numbers together to get your room size in square feet. Then measure the ceiling height and multiply it to your square footage for the total volume of your room in cubic feet. Finally, divide this number in half to get the total CFMs you need to cool the space. Here’s the formula:
- length x width x height / 2 = CFMs
For example, a small 10’ x 10’ bedroom with 8’ ceilings has a volume of 800 cubic feet. Divide that by 2, and you need a personal air cooler with a capacity of at least 400 CFMs to get the job done. If the room sits in direct sunlight during the day, or is filled with heat-generating appliances, add 20% to the total CFMs to make sure your cooler can handle the heat. For our small room sample, that would mean choosing a cooler with 480-500 CFMs of power instead.
Water Tank Capacity
Once you’ve sized your cooler correctly, consider its water tank. This reservoir holds the water that will soak into the cooling pads and evaporate into the air, and a steady supply is critical for proper functioning. The water tank is the heart of the machine, so it should be easy to refill and clean.
In general, a large water tank allows you to go for a long time between refills, so you’ll be able to enjoy the cool air without having to check the
water level every hour. The exact refill time will depend on your humidity level, fan speed and how often you run your cooler, but look for an extra-large water tank for set-it-and-forget-it convenience.
In addition to size, another important feature of the water reservoir is how it functions for refills. Some portable evaporative coolers have removable tanks that slide out of the machine so you can carry them directly to your sink’s spigot for refills — or to empty excess water. Removable tanks are easy to fill, empty and clean, so they’re a big convenience feature to look for as you shop.
In general, removable tanks tend to be smaller and hold a gallon or two of water at a time. This keeps them from becoming too heavy to carry back and forth once they’re filled. If you have a condition that keeps you from carrying heavy objects, a refillable tank may not be as useful for you.
Cooling Pads and Air Filters
Evaporative coolers all have cooling pads that soak up water and create a surface for evaporation. The most efficient coolers are the ones with the greatest surface area in the cooling pads, because this increases the amount of water that can evaporate at once and maximizes cooling. Honeycomb cooling pads have many nooks and crannies that hold plenty of water, so they’re a good choice when you’re looking for an effective appliance.
In addition to honeycomb pads, look for cooling pads that also block allergens and serve as air filters. This will add an additional layer of protection and keep your home’s air fresh and clean. A dust filter on the air intake area is also a helpful in this regard, particularly for those with respiratory difficulties and seasonal allergies.
All evaporative coolers come with a built-in fan for cool air delivery. The fan speed controls the distance of the air throw, and it will also help determine how cool the air feels on your skin as its blown about the room. Look for a cooler with at least three fan speeds to provide control
over the wind chill factor in your home. Consider also how you like air to flow across your room. If you prefer a steady, directed breeze, look for a tower fan style with louvers you can adjust to aim the air exactly where you want it. If you prefer intermittent oscillation, seek out coolers with a toggle that you can use to turn on an oscillating fan function.
Fan settings are about more than just cross ventilation and comfort — they also determine the noise level of your air cooler. If you plan to use your cooler in a bedroom or media room where quiet functioning is important, look for additional features like a sleep setting or whisper-quiet mode, which will automatically turn down the machine as needed.
Unless you plan to install a whole-house swamp cooler system, portability is an important consideration when it comes to your air cooler. Casters are a highly useful addition since they’ll allow you to roll your appliance from room to room instead of lifting it — especially important when you have a full water tank. A lightweight design is also a good idea if you plan to move your appliance around a lot, or if you have to lift it above your waist to store it away for the winter.
Finally, there are additional features that make evaporative coolers easier and more pleasant to use. Look for these bonus features as you comparison shop:
- ✔ Built-In Ice Chamber: Some water tanks have ice cube compartments to offer a boost in cooling on the hottest days.
- ✔ Water Level Indicator: To avoid having your cooler run dry, a water sensor, warning light or other indicator will make it easy to stay on top of refilling.
- ✔ Humidity Control: Avoid having your room get too moist with a humidity sensor that automatically turns down the machine when relative humidity gets too high.
- ✔ Remote Control: An air cooler remote control makes it easy to change settings without getting up, so it’s a must-have for bedrooms and nurseries.
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to choosing the right evaporative cooler for you, but you can make an informed decision by
using this list of features as your checklist. Try reorganizing the features in order of priority as you shop so you can zero in on the most important options for your home. Once you’ve found a few appliances that fit the bill, be sure to read the reviews and check the FAQs to make sure you have all the information you need before making your final selection.
NewAir Portable Evaporative Coolers
- Bring down the temperature by up to 20 degrees
- All-natural eco-friendly cooling uses no harmful chemicals
- Uses about the same electricity as a 100-watt light bulb