Compare Outdoor Cooling Solutions to Find What’s Best for You

Learn which solutions are best for the resources you have available, your activities, your climate, and budget.
Also see tips to increase their effectiveness. Combine methods for even more cooling than one method alone.

There are four basic categories of outdoor cooling:

  1. Radiant barriers block the heat of the sun: shade.
  2. Evaporative cooling uses water to reduce air temperatures: misting systems, swamp coolers, misting fans
  3. Wind chill is created by fans which are combined with evaporation cooling in swamp coolers and misting fans.
  4. Air conditioners use a refrigerant and a fan to blow chilled air into a hot area.

Misting Systems

Misting systems cool the area and everything in it – people, animals, and objects. They reduce dust, odors, and the presence of flying insects.

All types need a water source. Low pressure systems do not need electricity, so they are more portable and typically less effective than mid- and high pressure systems.

Mid- and high pressure systems can be effective even in humid areas. Low pressure systems need dry air to be effective. Breezes can limit their effectiveness.

Select systems that are designed for your climate – low pressure only for dry climates, mid pressure for dry to moderately humid. Only high-pressure systems will work in the most humid climates. Visit this site to find humidity levels where you live: https://www.timeanddate.com/

Pumps can be the most expensive component of smaller systems. Since low pressure systems do not use pumps, they are the most economical systems. They are all most effective when breezes are soft. Using them in partially enclosed areas can limit the effects of any breezes. $ – $$$$

Misters connected to a patio umbrella cool an outdoor space
Misters connected to a patio umbrella

These can cool in gentle breezes or still air. The more powerful of these use pumps powered with electricity. Pumps are part of a system that ensures a very fine spray, often called a mist or a fog. In ideal conditions, these can cool by over 30°F or nearly 4.5°C.

Low-pressure systems don’t use pumps. The simplest can be attached to a garden hose. These give off a coarser spray that can get you a little wet, and generally won’t cool as much, but are less expensive, more portable, and simpler to set up and maintain than higher-powered options.

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Outdoor Shades

The only outdoor cooling solution that provides UV (ultraviolet light) protection from the sun. Consider where the sun will be during your activities to find the best position of your outdoor shades.

Outdoor shades are effective in every climate, as long as the sun is shining.

Heavier materials generally block and absorb the heat of the sun more effectively than lighter materials, but special lightweight and durable fabrics are also effective. Consider where the shifting sun will be throughout your activities to find the best position of your outdoor shades. Read our articles to predict how shade will move in order to make the most use of this method.
Understanding the Shifting Shade,
How to do a Shade Audit / Assessment.

Cost is based on size, permanency, and the countless options of materials used. These can be the least expensive to use compared to other options because they require no electricity or water. But they are available in such an enormous variety of sizes and configurations, depending on your options they can end up being the most expensive of all. $ – $$$$$

colorful outdoor umbrellas
Outdoor shades need no electricity or water

From least expensive to most expensive, the widest variety of cooling options fit in the category of outdoor shades. Because they require no electricity or water to run, outdoor shades can be the most portable of outdoor cooling methods. They can also be among the most permanent when they have no moving parts and are made of indestructible materials.

These are the only outdoor cooling method that can provide UV (ultraviolet) protection.

Read our articles to understand how shade changes in order to make the most use of outdoor shades.

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Outdoor Fans

Outdoor fans cool best when the air is still, but they also maintain a cooling effect during inconsistent breezes. They can limit the presence of odors and flying insects, as well.

Require a source of electricity so use with care outdoors.

Effective in dry and humid weather, but especially in humid weather.

Locating fans in an enclosed or partially enclosed area can extend fresh air and cooling to areas that breezes cannot reach. Position the fans near activities so their breezes can be felt. Fans can increase the cooling effect of shade, low pressure misting systems, and portable air conditioners.

Cost is based on style and power of the motor. Typically among the less expensive of all cooling methods. $ – $$$

Outdoor fans help cool in dry and humid climates

Outdoor fans work beautifully in even the most humid of conditions. This contrasts with all evaporative coolers that work better in drier weather. Most fans work best in still air or gentle breezes but more powerful fans can overcome this.

Outdoor fans don’t actually COOL anything. Instead they make people FEEL cooler by moving the air around them, but the air temperature does not change. Ceiling fans are commonly used, but floor fans are especially useful for open areas. Positioning of outdoor fans can make a huge difference in how much cooling effect you’ll actually get.

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Misting Fans

Misting fans can be used in a wider range of conditions than fans alone or misters alone. But using water and electricity together means taking some safety precautions. Misting fans reduce dust, odors, and the presence of flying insects.

Require a source of electricity so use with care outdoors. Water can be supplied through a hose or tank / reservoir. Use a water filter or filtered water to avoid clogging the nozzles.

Especially effective in dry conditions. The fan can help larger droplets evaporate completely, so may be more effective in more humid conditions than misters at the same water pressure without a fan.

Position the misting fans near activities so their breezes can be felt. Lowest pressure misting fans need to be positioned closer to activities, but being that close can also mean getting a bit wet.

Misting fans can increase the cooling effect of shade.

With misting fans, you pay for effectiveness, not stylishness. The least expensive run on typical household water pressures of 100 PSI or less, needing hot dry climates & conditions for a modest cooling effect.

More powerful pumps (300 PSI and over) and more powerful fans are more effective and usually built for function, not beauty. $$ – $$$

athlete cooled in the field by a portable misting fan
Misting fans at sporting events

Misting fans combine the cooling effect of evaporation with the wind chill effect of an outdoor fan for a greater combined cooling effect. You may want to move them as the sun, breezes, and activities change, so water tanks and batteries can make them portable to wherever you need them.

As with outdoor fans, their positioning can make a huge difference in how much cooling effect you’ll actually get.

For more information: Misting Fans, Electrical Safety Outdoors

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Swamp Coolers

Misting fans can be beneficial in a wider range of conditions than fans alone or misters alone. But using water and electricity together means taking some safety precautions. Misting fans reduce dust, odors, and the presence of flying insects.

Require a source of electricity so use with care outdoors. Water can be supplied through a hose or tank / reservoir. Use a water filter or filtered water to avoid clogging the nozzles.

Especially effective in dry conditions. The fan can help larger droplets evaporate completely, so may be more effective in more humid conditions than misters at the same water pressure without a fan.

Position the misting fans near activities so their breezes can be felt. Lowest pressure misting fans need to be positioned closer to activities, but being that close can also mean getting a bit wet.

They need fresh air in their cooling space to avoid recirculating the moist air they blow out.

Misting fans can increase the cooling effect of shade.

With misting fans, you pay for effectiveness, not stylishness. The least expensive run on typical household water pressures of 100 PSI or less, needing hot dry climates & conditions for a modest cooling effect.

More powerful pumps (300 PSI and over) and more powerful fans are more effective for a wider range of climates & conditions and are usually built for function, not beauty. $$ – $$$

A swamp cooler makes an outdoor cafe more comfortable
A swamp cooler at an outdoor cafe

Swamp coolers combine the cooling effect of evaporation with the wind chill effect of a fan for a greater combined cooling effect. Because they use evaporation cooling, the are more effective in drier climates and conditions. But most can be used with a fan alone during the more humid morning and evening hours and the evaporation can be engaged during the drier and hotter midday hours.

They are harder to tip over or trip over than many floor fans. The foot traffic can interfere with their cooling breezes, so locate them where they can move the most air.

Unlike portable air conditioners, they need some fresh air flow or else the air they blow gets more and more humid or “swampy.” Fortunately, most outdoor areas naturally have plenty of fresh air – any space with at least a window opening is all they need. 3-sided alcoves / patios are perfect, as are more open areas.

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Portable Air Conditioners

Portable air conditioners provide maximum cooling in most any climate or condition without adding humidity to the air. Their reliability makes them an asset when cooling is critical for important events or processes.

The US Centers for Disease Control recommends air conditioners where heat illnesses can be a concern.

Require a source of electricity so use with care outdoors.

Effective in any climate. Check the unit’s maximum capacity – some cannot operate in extreme heat and humidity.

They reduce humidity in enclosed spaces which, by itself can feel cooler. This is compounded with cooling from a refrigerant system and the soft drafts / breezes they create that carry the cool air.

Portable air conditioners are most effective in enclosed areas. Their effectiveness can be boosted with increased insulation. This could be as simple as closing doors and windows or adding sidewalls to a tent.

In more open areas, position them in an alcove or corner where two solid walls and a solid roof meet.

Outdoor fans can increase the cooling effect of portable air conditioners.

Prices are based on cooling capacity. Larger units can be very expensive, and operational costs can also be very expensive. Renting can be a more cost-effective option than purchasing. $$$ – $$$$$

Portable air conditioners cool an enclosed event tent
Portable air conditioners cool an enclosed event tent

Portable air conditioners are commonly used for outbuildings – like sheds, garages, or workshops, and temporary or high-stakes outdoor events and activities that require the most reliable cooling. This may include weddings, business meetings, work areas, and cool zones where people can recover from the heat in more open areas.

Their cooling is most effective in enclosed areas – the more enclosed, the better. But they are also helpful with spot cooling in more open areas when it’s not practical to cool the entire space.

Air conditioners can provide more cooling than fans alone without exposing electronics to damaging moisture of evaporative cooling.

Unlike other cooling methods, air conditioners don’t depend on the position of the sun or the climate.

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