Portable Air Conditioner

The dog days of Summer are looming just over the horizon like a hot sticky wave of impending doom, but you don’t have to take it lying down. Building a portable air conditioner is cheap easy, and we daresay refreshing.

You’ll need the following materials: a condenser, heater core, or radiator, a styrofoam cooler, a submersible water pump, a few case fans, some adapters to power the works, and a few other materials. The pump circulates cold water through the condenser as the fan pushes air through it and the rest of the box.

We’ve never been huge fans of swamp coolers like this one since they offer no true refrigeration cycle. What’s more, they pump a good deal of humidity into the air, which makes the heat worse in the long run, or creates a vicious cycle of cooling and humidifying. Still, when the heat is scrambling our brains, it’s hard to say no to any relief, however ephemeral.

16 thoughts on “Portable Air Conditioner

  1. The added humidity of an evaporative cooler is actually an advantage in some climates. Just ask any Arizona native like myself. If the humidity is so high as to be uncomfortable this type of unit is unlikely to be very effective, you just do not get much evaporation and cooling effect.

  2. Okay…but as the linked article clearly shows, this is not a swamp cooler, juan. There are photos of a radiator which has a fan blowing through it, and the pump is circulating ice-water through the radiator. It doesn’t use water evaporation, like a swamp cooler does.

  3. I had considered a recirculating-water cooling device (cool water flows through copper pipe/heat exchanger then back into cooler, meanwhile fan blows across heat exchanger).

    But, unless you have all of the things needed to make it, or you just do not have any way to do a window airconditioner, it is probably not worth it. A submersible water pump is $20-30, cooler (unless it is a super-cheap styrofoam one) is $10-$20, a heater core/radiator/oil cooler from a junkyard is $10-$30. Throw in some tubing for connections and a fan (or some fans) and you’d be hard pressed to beat the $90 window units. Especially when you throw in the fact that you still need to add ice and dispose of the warm water.

    I wish someone would make a cheapy little ac unit, like a space heater but for cooling. I know, removing heat is harder than adding it.

    Oh, and for those who have/are going to build their own recirculating-water cooling device, have you considered using the blue-ice cooler things? Less water to get rid of. Or you can make your own with tupperware, with rubbing alcohol and water (1:2 ratio).

  4. A unit like this may not have much advantage over a
    window unit, but they are useful if you don’t have
    electricity or in mobile situations where the vehicle
    doesn’t have air conditioning of its own.

    They sell commercially built units like this to pilots
    for use in small airplanes.
    See: http://www.sportys.com/acb/showdetl.cfm?&did=19&product_id=10784
    for an example.
    In that case I’d much rather spend $100 on parts than to spend between $500 and $600 for a commmercial solution.

  5. It would be awesome if you could build a unit like this that automatically changes the heat-sink water. Maybe a second pump, or just a controlled outlet hooked to a garden hose, so the warm water is carried away by gravity? I don’t know about you guys, but around here water is dirt cheap (pennies per hundred gallons); even if it took a hundred gallons a day to carry away waste heat, it would probably be more efficient even than my central heat pump/AC unit… hrm…

  6. what about dry ice…
    here is a story..
    It’s funny when face with problem on a tight budget, and a minimal solution arises.
    This reminds me of my bachelor days in college, I lived in a city flat on the top floor of a poorly insulated 100 year old building, I bought a huge rubber maid tub from a department store, and put a box in side of it, the box acted like a table with the height of the brim of the giant rubber maid tub. I also went to taco bell a lot and couldn’t bring my self to toss out the plastic cups, being a bachelor there was plenty of space in the freezer so I would fill the cups up with water, let them freeze, then stack them on the box in side the table with a card board enclosure and hit a house fan on it. Now it cooled the area in front of it and the ice only lasted an hour or two dripping and filling the tub, I bought a window unit and tada it worked ten times better than my poor mans hack, moral of the story cut out the taco bell and buy a window unit …in my case that is….

  7. @8: Dry ice would work well, but you’d have to be careful about the CO2 if you were using it in a confined space. It would suck to suffocate yourself with your own air conditioner.

  8. @james,

    Many geothermal systems work this way. You dig a well in your yard, heat exchange the air with the cooler water that you pump out (always about 50-60 deg F) and pump the warm stuff back down. That way, you’re not wasting tons of water. The cool part is that it works in both the summer and the winter.

  9. all said and done.. I am bit not happy about refilling the thing with ice every now and then.. how about a peltier device… i know it eats amps but atleast its free of such hassles.. maybe a peltier couple with ice would ensure that the ice doesn’t melt that fast…
    I contact one guy in ebay.in selling 90watt peltier module for about 40 dollars..

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