Okay, it’s officially hot. I’ve been hot for the last two weeks, and not the preferred kind of hot. I’ve never even been considered for the preferred definition of hot. I’m sweating. It’s been over a hundred degrees every day, and I don’t have air conditioning. I have a swamp cooler. Aptly named because it smells like a swamp when it gets really hot. It’s a few gallons of mostly stagnant water that is pumped down a swamp-smelling permeable pad. Air is drawn through the pad with a large turbine fan that blows the expected cool air through the ductwork in the house. Except when it’s over 100 outside, the water is over 100 in the stagnant pool, and very little “cool” air is produced. Somebody needs to lynch the guy who invented the swamp cooler. I might be that somebody.
This process of evaporative cooling has been around a long, long time. Something like 4,500 years, to be inexact. There are frescoes in Egyptian temples that depict servants fanning pots of water to cool the dudes that could afford the servants. There are other discoveries in ancient Egypt indicating that they had figured out how to use water in porous containers, for example, to cool the surrounding air. It was damn hot in North Africa. It still is damn hot in North Africa.
It turns out that no one wants to take credit for inventing the swamp cooler. I’ve searched the Internet for an hour and can’t find any first patents or reference to inventors for the home evaporative cooler. I’m going to assume that they didn’t take credit for its invention because they knew at some point, someone like me was going to be looking for them. It is credited that Leonardo da Vinci took the first steps to designing a mechanical air cooler as we know it today. His design used a water wheel to guide cool air into a room. But it’s easy to find out who invented the air conditioner. Takes only a few clicks. It was Willis Carrier in 1902.
Some of you probably don’t even know what a swamp cooler is. It’s because it only really doesn’t work very well in certain parts of the country. Those areas that have low humidity, dry air, and are hot; not in the preferred sense. Like the southwestern US, where I live. States like New Mexico, Northern Arizona, parts of Nevada (but not Las Vegas?), Montana, Wyoming (I grew up there and don’t ever remember seeing a swamp cooler.), Washington and Oregon, (but they seem like they would be humid to me), parts of Colorado, Utah and Idaho.
The swamp cooler is up to 1/8 cheaper to operate, it’s cheaper to install and costs a lot less than an efficient air conditioning system. That’s why they are still being installed on new homes around here. They work better if they are shaded, but they’re almost always installed on the roof, in the hot sun beating down on asphalt shingles. You can burn yourself climbing up on the roof in July to check on the weak performance of your swamp cooler. When you burn yourself, you lose your balance and you fall off your roof.
When we lived in Tucson, Arizona, we had a swamp cooler that was mounted on the ground behind the house, somewhat in the shade. We would load the reservoir with ice to cool the water down. It still didn’t work worth a damn when it was 115 outside. We had a small window air conditioner in a back room that we would sit around most of the day and watch television. We would go to open houses, the library or the grocery store, or just drive around in the car to stay cool.
There is only one way that people can live in Phoenix or Tucson, Arizona. They go from their air-conditioned houses, to their air-conditioned cars, to their air conditioned jobs, returning to their air-conditioned houses in their air-conditioned cars. Just so you know, it doesn’t cool down much in the evenings in the desert. It might drop 10 degrees to 102.
On one of those Sunday open houses, when it was 115 outside, we walked into a model home on Via Galapagos, in Tucson. The cold air washed over me like a welcome blizzard. We walked around the three bedroom house, immersed in the cold air coming from the ceiling vents. I looked out the back sliding door, turned to my wife and said, “We are buying this house.”
And we did. We had around $7,500 in the bank at the time, and we figured out a way, with a second loan and a lot of negotiating with the owner to buy the house. Not because it was the house of our dreams, but because it had air conditioning. You should click on the link below to read more about the infamous Via Galapagos house.
I know, if I ever buy this house, the first thing I’m going to do is figure out how I can come up with the money to put in an air conditioning system. I’ll take the swamp cooler off the roof and sell it on “Craigslist.” It will sell too. WTF.