Swamp Cooler Efficiency:
Water & Energy Use

Portable swamp coolers use as much as 75% less electricity than portable air conditioners.
For a 10′ x 10′ area, units typically use less than a gallon of water per hour depending on heat and humidity levels.

Adjust the Water Drain to Manage Swamp Cooler Water Use

As water keeps evaporating from the unit to cool the air, more water needs to replace it. So, swamp coolers need a steady supply of replacement water. Most air coolers estimate water use from 3 to 15 gallons (11 to 57 liters) per hour. The amount of water an evaporative cooler uses depends on three major factors:

  1. The combination of heat and humidity at any given time. A unit will use more water and provide more cooling on a dry day than on a more humid day.
  2. Size of the unit. Size of the unit. Smaller units use less water. Units of about 100 watts and about 500 CFM, which can cool a 10′ x 10′ x 10′ tent average less than 1 gallon (4 liters) per hour. Larger units may use as much as 20 gallons (75 liters) per hour or more. Again, this depends on the heat and humidity levels.
  3. How drain valves work. Drain (or “dump” or “bleed”) valves remove recirculated water and replace it with fresh water. Draining helps prevent damage and corrosion to swamp coolers from mineral deposits in the water supply. According to the Arizona Cooperative Extension, this damage can shorten a cooler’s life by as much as 50%, so corrosion is a big concern. Mineral deposits can also interfere with a unit’s cooling capacity, clogging water lines and pads. Periodically draining the tank can dramatically reduce this problem.

You can usually adjust the amount of water that drains. A continuous drain, while keeping the unit clean, could result in 50% more water use. Drained periodically, additional water use can be held down to about 10% (Arizona Cooperative Extension).

You’ll need to find a flexible balance of water use, cooling capacity, and unit care that you are comfortable with.

Can You Reuse Water Drained from a Swamp Cooler?

You can often re-use drained waste-water to water plants, wash cars, etc. But if it has a high mineral content, it may not be good for certain uses. You can check with your local plant nursery for information on how your water’s mineral content might affect certain plants and soils.

One way to prevent the build-up of minerals in your swamp cooler is with regular cleaning of the unit inside and out.

Swamp Cooler Water Supply

Some swamp coolers have hose connections, meaning you can use a constant supply of water without dealing with water storage tanks. But it may be hard to find outdoor water lines exactly where you want to position your cooler. So units with water tanks may be your best bet for portability. You’ll need to manage the water supply for these tank-fed units.

Swamp coolers with water tanks may be your best option for portability.

Consider the size of a unit’s water tank. Most vary in size from 3 to 5 gallons (11 to 20 liters), but some of the larger units may hold up to 50 gallons (190 liters) or more. Of course, these larger units will also use more water per hour. If you’ll need to use the unit longer than the water tank will supply, prepare to have a backup water supply.

Many manufacturers sell portable water tanks, easily found up to 50 gallons (190 liters) and more. These let you take your own water supply with you. These tanks are mounted on frames with wheels and have a water line to attach to your portable swamp cooler. These may be your best solution if water lines aren’t easily available.

Does Adding Ice Make the Air Cooler?

When used in the water tank, ice, ice trays, ice packs or gel packs add little additional cooling – 1-2 degrees. This is because water evaporates at the same temperature whether it starts out at room temperature or frozen. But the cold vapor from the ice and packs may add some cooling to the air being blown by the fan. Ice is most effective when it’s used to pre-cool the air in a two-stage unit.

Swamp Cooler Electricity Use

Swamp coolers use little electricity. They only need enough energy to power the fan and a small pump. So they can almost always run on normal household currents.

Just be sure the cooler’s electrical requirements are compatible with your electrical supply. Check a swamp cooler’s CURRENT, FREQUENCY, and VOLTAGE ratings. These will tell you before you purchase whether or not the cooler is compatible with your power supply.

You can learn more about these electrical terms and basic electrical concepts on our electricity basics page.

Amps

A swamp cooler needs a certain amount of electricity to do its job. It draws that amount from the voltage supply of a power line, but the actual amount taken is called AMPERES or “AMPS”. Bigger, stronger coolers need more — perhaps up to 15 amps. Smaller coolers need less than 1 amp. They both draw electricity from the same voltage supply (e.g., 115V), but they each draw a different amount of electricity from that supply.

There are a few big coolers that draw 20 amps or more. These won’t work with standard household-type outlets and need special wiring.

Watts

At the simplest level, you can estimate a swamp cooler’s power by how many watts it uses. Just like a traditional incandescent light bulb. A 60-watt bulb uses less electricity and puts out less light than a 100-watt bulb. A 60-watt cooler would use the same amount of electricity as a 60-watt bulb and be about as powerful. That’s less electricity and power than a 100-watt cooler and much less than a 560-watt cooler.

If a manufacturer says their swamp cooler uses 100 watts, you can immediately guess that it would be closer to a personal-sized unit than a room-sized unit.

A wattage rating is among the most helpful and universal measurements and is supplied by almost all manufacturers. It will help you estimate electricity costs to run it.

You can use volts and amps to figure out how many watts a swamp cooler uses.

Some manufacturers will only give you voltage and ampere ratings. Simply multiply the number of amps by the number of volts. A cooler that uses 2.8 amps and runs on 115 volts uses 322 watts (2.8 × 115 = 322).

Horsepower ratings can be tricky

Some manufacturers measure their evaporative coolers by horsepower (HP). This can give you a general idea of its cooling capacity. But horsepower measurements can be a little tricky.

HP doesn’t take into account the voltage supply. An evaporative cooler operating at, say 115 VAC (Volts of Alternating Current) will have a different horsepower than the very same cooler operating at 220 VAC.

1 HP equals about 750 watts (746 to be exact)
1 HP equals about 2,500 BTU (2,544 to be exact)

Even at that, not all horsepower ratings are measured the same. Some are rated under load (average amount of work long-term, “marathon”), some are rated at peak capacity (the most work they can do for a short time, “sprint”). Two two-horsepower motors may not be equal in actual power.

So, remember, horsepower ratings are only for a general sense of cooling capacity.

Other Outdoor Cooling Methods

Swamp coolers combine two of the most effective outdoor cooling methods. But, as mentioned above, they have some limitations. You can maximize their cooling by combining them with other methods or devices, or other options may be more effective.

Take a look at our comparison page or our pages on other outdoor cooling methods:

  • Outdoor fans combine well with swamp coolers, ensuring adequate air flow and distributing the cool air from evaporation.
  • Misting fans are another kind of device that combines evaporation and wind chill to cool outdoor areas.
  • Outdoor shades are a nearly universal solution that work well with any outdoor cooling method, including swamp coolers.
  • Misting systems use a similar technology as swamp cooler, but in an open system that can cool larger areas.
  • Portable air conditioners are especially suited to enclosed areas (tents, sheds, etc.) and special circumstances.