Most people are familiar with traditional air conditioning systems, but many are seeking more energy efficient, environmentally friendly alternatives. An evaporative cooling system is one such option. Here, we’ll explain the differences between evaporative cooling and air conditioning, and how to determine what might be best for your home or business.
How an Air Conditioner Works
An air conditioner consists of an outdoor unit with a compressor and condenser where refrigerant is pressurized into a liquid. As refrigerant passes through the coils, heat is transferred outside. The liquid flows to the evaporator, where a decrease in pressure evaporates it into a gas. This causes it to absorb heat from the air surrounding the coils. The process repeats continuously while air is circulated and recirculated via supply and return ducts.
How an Evaporative Cooler Works
Like air conditioning, evaporative cooling requires an outdoor unit. Air is pulled into the unit and blown over water saturated pads, which cool and humidify it. Also called a swamp cooler or desert cooler, an evaporative cooling system usually requires only water and electricity, and uses a fan to pull air through the medium. The cooler is often roof-mounted and cooled air is delivered to a centralized location or via in-room vents. There is also an outlet to allow a continuous flow of air; in some systems, an open window will suffice.
Evaporative Cooling vs. Air Conditioning Compared
Now, we will compare evaporative coolers and air conditioners using key variables, to help determine which option might work best for you.
Air conditioners are best suited for enclosed spaces. They use a chemical process to reduce the temperature based on a precise setting, regardless of how hot or cold it is outside. Evaporative coolers function best in open environments. There must be access to fresh air, but you cannot select a desired temperature level. The function of the system is fully dependent on ambient conditions.
An evaporative cooler can be practical for a warehouse where doors are open most of the day. Using an air conditioner would be a waste of energy since conditioned air will escape. But in an office with closed windows and doors, evaporative cooling can make things humid and uncomfortable. Contrary to popular belief, evaporative coolers aren’t just for dry climates; the temperature drop will be greater here, but advances in technology allow for a fair amount of cooling even in hot and humid regions.
Evaporative cooling systems only provide cooling. They don’t have a reverse cycle function like a traditional AC, so don’t heat a room. If the winter is cold in your area, you’ll need a heating solution such as a furnace or heat pump. Some evaporative coolers let you change fan speed or strength. But overall, ambient temperature and humidity are the primary factors impacting cooling performance, which improves the higher the temperature and lower the relative humidity.
Air conditioners include some very efficient models on the market. But since evaporative coolers use only fans and water pumps, they’re among the most efficient cooling solutions available. According to the Department of Energy, they use about one-quarter the amount of energy that a traditional air conditioner does. Air conditioners use more energy, but how they’re operated can impact energy consumption as does regular maintenance. It’s also worth considering benefits like their ability to remove moisture and improve air quality.
The cost of any cooling or heating system depends on size, brand, installation challenges, and many other factors. Generally, installation costs for an AC are higher upfront than for an evaporative cooler. By contrast, this is rather inexpensive to install. But as always, the exact cost is also determined by your location and labor charges, so the upfront cost of one solution or another can vary considerably
Indoor Air Quality
An evaporative cooler works by circulating fresh outside air into a home. It also prevents air from becoming stale. A traditional air conditioner processes air and recirculates it, so indoor air can start to feel stale at times. But if you maintain the filters and keep windows and doors closed, the system can keep air clean and fresh. Such is the case with evaporative coolers, as ventilation systems must be dust free and the unit must be installed away from outdoor pollution sources. The system also drains water when not needed, so bacteria and mold are not a concern.
Using less energy than air conditioners, evaporative coolers top the list for being eco-friendly. There are no gases or refrigerants used, and carbon dioxide emissions are a fraction of those from an AC. However, air conditioners continue to become more environmentally friendly. Manufacturers are using less harmful refrigerants and are designing systems to run more efficiently.
Contact Air Stars
It’s important to have an efficient, reliable, and eco-friendly heating and cooling solution. Air Stars is familiar with home AC/heating requirements for customers in the Willamette Valley and provides professional air conditioner installation services. We know the best in fan-driven solutions as well, including energy recovery ventilator systems that can improve indoor air quality. If you have questions about AC, evaporative cooling, or air quality solutions, call 503-897-9292 today.