Las Vegas Handyman Cuts Annual Power Bill By 60% With A Swamp Cooler
That's right, my ANNUAL power bill. I've been a convert for 2 years now, and I never thought I would say this without feeling like trailer trash, but I love my swamp cooler. Before you get visions of me in a trailer, let me tell you that I was converted by some neighbors. I'm lucky to live in a nice neighborhood with many of my neighbors being self-employed or professionals. Yes, they use swamp coolers too. If it makes you feel better, you may call them evaporative coolers.
As a Las Vegas handyman, I am both blessed and cursed to live in a hot, dry summer climate. This combination of dry heat is perfect for a swamp cooler. For those of us that live in a desert climate, we tend to use the bulk of our annual power during the summer months. So naturally, the summer is target-rich for cutting your power bills.
My power consumption went down so dramatically that the power company paid me an unannounced visit on a holiday Saturday to snoop around and make sure I wasn‘t stealing power from them. I'm not sure if they love me now or hate me.
So, I've established that a swamp cooler will save you money over a traditional air conditioning system, but I will be the first to say that a swamp cooler is not for everyone. It's not the type of thing you plug in and forget about. You will need to replace the cooling pads and keep an eye on it and the weather. Humidity is the arch-nemesis of the swamp cooler, but if the air is dry outside you might want to keep the winter coat handy.
A well-tuned swamp cooler should be able to drop the temperature by 30 degrees, so if it is 100 degrees outside, look for inside temps of 70 degrees.
The biggest challenge for a homeowner is where to install a swamp cooler. Ideally, install it on the north side of the house (where it's shady) through a window that raises up-and-down. If you have to install it where the sun will hit it, arrange something to cast shade upon it. If the sun hits the unit, it will warm the air by a few degrees, which is very important. I like a side-draft unit installed through a ground floor window, but you can certainly cut a hole in your wall to accommodate it. Of course, you need to take precautions so that security in maintained with window locks, etc. should you choose to place it in a window.
Using a swamp cooler takes a different mindset too. Basically, you are pressurizing the house like a balloon. You must exhaust the air so that you get airflow. This is accomplished by slightly opening some windows or by using up-ducts (trademarked as "Up-Dux"), which ventilate air into the attic. You can plan on venting 1-2 square feet of space for every 1000 cfm (cubic feet per minute) of air the swamp cooler produces. If you don't want airflow in a particular room, don't ventilate air in that room (i.e don't open the window or install an up-duct). To determine how much cfm you will need, take the volume of air in your house and divide that number by 2. For example, if you have a 1,400 square foot house with 8 foot ceilings, you would need 5,600 cfm of swamp cooler output (1,400 x 8=11,200. 11,200 /2=5,600).
After I install a swamp cooler, I will level it and fill in any gaps with weatherstripping. If you have a side-closing window you will need to fill in the top portion with a material that makes you comfortable...many people use plywood although this isn't very attractive. I let the unit run and check the wetness of the pads. If the pads are not uniformly wet, you are allowing hot incoming air to mix with the cooler air that the unit has produced, which will raise the temperature of the air entering the home. Every degree counts. If there is a dry area on the pad, I will recheck for level, and if necessary drill more holes in the water supply trough that feeds the pads.
At some point you will have to perform maintenance on the unit. Here is some information on how to replace a swamp cooler pump and how to replace a swamp cooler motor.
There are certainly times during the summer that I have to shut off the swamp cooler and turn on the traditional air conditioning. This lasts for about 3 weeks, from late July to early August, and is due to the "monsoon season" and the high humidity levels.