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Question: I was visiting family in Las Cruces, New Mexico. They had a swamp cooler in their adobe house. What’s the difference between a swamp cooler and an air conditioner?

Answer: When we’re hot, we really don’t care how the air got cool. We just want it cool. That said, there’s a difference between evaporative coolers and air conditioners.

I lived in Phoenix for 14 years. The excuse “it’s too hot to do yard work” sounds good, but if you act on it there you won’t do any yard work from April to October. So you brave the heat, mow and pull weeds and prune your rose bushes, always with a garden hose close by to water plants and water yourself.

On hot breezy days I’d turn the hose on the juniper trees then stand in front of them. The air that hit my face was deliciously cool. A real treat when you’ve been doing yard work in 110 degree heat.

As a simple example, that’s evaporative cooling. Hot air flows over water droplets, evaporating the moisture and reducing the temperature of the air. In an evaporative cooler, a fan blows water through absorption pads, effectively cooling the air by making it more humid.

Evaporative air coolers, often referred to as “swamp coolers”, are relatively simple in their construction. Only two components require electricity, the fan and the water pump. A steady supply of somewhere between 4 and 10 gallons of water is also required.

Air flow is crucial to an evaporative cooler. Without proper ventilation, the air inside the home becomes overly humid. So one window must be kept open a few inches to keep the air flow continuous.

Evaporative coolers only work well in dry climates. Places like New Mexico and West Texas. While places like Phoenix are very dry, the temperatures are consistently high. Evaporative coolers are limited in that they can only lower the temperature a few degrees below the ambient temperature of the room. If it’s 110 degrees outside, you need to lower the temperature inside by more than a few degrees. In places where triple digit heat is the norm, refrigerated air is a better choice.

Air conditioners are a more complex system than swamp coolers. The major components are a condenser, compressor, expansion valve and evaporater. They are thermostat controlled and unlike swamp coolers, they can significantly lower room temperatures. The process also acts as a dehumidifier, drying the inside air.

An air conditioner contains evaporator coils fill with refrigerant. When hot air flows over the coils, the coils absorb the heat. The process involves changing it from a liquid state to a gaseous state. Then the gas is compressed. The heat that results is expelled and the cool air is forced into the room by a blower fan. This process is continuous and keeps the home cool.

Portable window air conditioners are a do it yourself project. However, central air conditioning units should be installed by professionals. The team at Sinclair are experts at evaluating and installing the best system for your particular home.

Give the Sinclair team a call. They’ll answer all your questions about air conditioning, including what cooling system will be best for your needs.

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