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Troubleshooting Your Swamp Cooler

Troubleshooting Your Swamp Cooler

Summer brings rising temperatures and if you live in a dry, arid climate, an evaporative cooler can help you stay cool and comfortable during the hottest months of the year. Because they lower temperatures by using simple evaporation as opposed to a refrigeration cycle (as commonly employed by traditional air conditioning systems), in ideal conditions, these coolers can be an extremely cost-effective way to beat the heat.

Used by many different cultures since antiquity, one of the earliest forms of this air cooler was invented in Persia. Known as the wind-catcher, these low-tech devices consisted of wind shafts that were situated atop the roofs of buildings. They would catch wind, pass it through water, and blow cooled air into homes. As a result, temperatures would decrease dramatically, and residents would enjoy cooling comfort during the scorching desert summers.

Modern coolers are a bit more technologically advanced, but the cooling method remains the same. Evaporative coolers today often consist of box-like frames that house large, powerful fans. Water-soaked pads are walled  within these frames and are continually soaked by an internal water pump. The fan within the unit then blows hot air through these pads and out through a vent. Thus, temperatures can be reduced by as much as 20° F.

Because these air coolers use the method of evaporation to cool areas, they also add moisture to the air, making them only suitable for climates where the humidity levels are low and the air is especially hot. High humidity levels can decrease the cooling efficiency of evaporative coolers, as well as cause excess condensation and even rust and corrosion. 

If you live in an area suitable for an evaporative cooler, this type of cooling device is one of the most cost-effective methods of keeping your area cool. In fact, portable evaporative air coolers incur no installation costs and use approximately one-quarter as much energy as an air conditioner. Just keep in mind that these coolers require a bit more maintenance than air conditioners.


These air coolers need water to keep the pads constantly wet; therefore, the water tanks need to be replenished for proper cooling - anywhere from 3 to 15 gallons per day for a typical residential swamp cooler.

Moreover, the cooling pads are integral to an evaporative cooler's efficiency. These pads need to be replaced periodically to prevent debris saturation or bacteria growth.

In order to prevent problems from arising with your evaporative cooler, proper maintenance and regular inspection is necessary. However, in the event that your evaporative cooler ceases to work properly even after routine maintenance, see if these situations apply to you and follow the corresponding tips before consulting your unit's dealer or a professional:

My cooler won't start.

Begin by checking the fuse or breaker for your air cooler. If the fuse is blown or if the breaker is tripped, replace the fuse or reset the breaker. If the problem persists, inspect the wiring within the unit for damage.

Water is dripping out of my evaporative cooler.

This can be due to improper storage prior to operation. When it comes to winterizing your swamp cooler, always remember to completely clean and drain the unit, remove the pads, turn off the water, clean the tank, and keep the unit covered while in storage.

My evaporative cooler has sufficient airflow but does not provide adequate cooling.

Check to see that the water pump is working properly and not clogged. Furthermore, inspect the cooling pads for dry or open spots, as this can hinder your cooler's cooling abilities. Moistening the pads prior to operating your air cooler can help with this problem as well.

My swamp cooler is operating but there is insufficient air.

Make sure there is enough exhaust supplied to the unit, and for units without exhaust ducts, be sure windows and doors are open enough to allow for proper airflow. Generally speaking, most manufacturers will recommended a 2 square foot opening for each 1,000 CFM provided by the air cooler.

There's an odor coming from my swamp cooler. 

Odors are often caused by mildew growth on the pads or even stagnant water. Check the pads and have these replaced if necessary. To prevent stagnant water, drain and clean the unit's reservoir and replace it with fresh, clean water.

The parts within my swamp cooler are showing signs of rust and corrosion.

Rust and corrosion can be due to minerals in the water tank or high humidity levels. If you have a mineral problem (often found in areas with hard water), add mineral tablets to the water reservoir. If humidity levels are especially high (roughly above 50 percent), the evaporate cooler will not work properly, and a portable air conditioner should be used instead.

As with any type of home appliance, if troubleshooting steps fail to solve your problem, contact the manufacturer or a professional. 



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