Summer is here! How will you stay cool? For some, a simple fan suffices, but often times you need more. In the garage, when it comes time for cooling off this season, knowing the difference between air conditioning vs air cooling might be the key to helping you get the best bang for your buck. Here’s what sets them apart.
Air Conditioning vs Air Cooling — It’s Physics, Baby!
The major difference has to do with the mechanisms used to cool the air. Air conditioners in your car or home rely on the ability of refrigerant to absorb heat. For instance, have you ever noticed an aerosol can freezing your hand while you’re using it? That’s basically what an air conditioner does.
A compressor pumps the refrigerant through a series of tubes, hoses and a few radiators. The refrigerant starts out as a high-pressure liquid, which passes through a tiny orifice into the evaporator. It expands rapidly and absorbs heat as air passing through the evaporator is cooled. Meanwhile, the compressor continues pumping the refrigerant through the system, pulling the heated vapor and compressing it into a hot gas, which then passes through the condenser, releasing the heat to the outside air. The cooled refrigerant then goes back to the evaporator to pick up more heat.
This is a closed-loop system. Unless there is a leak, the refrigerant doesn’t get “used up.”
An air cooler, on the other hand, relies on the ability of water to absorb heat. For instance, ever notice that you feel cooler in the rain? That’s basically what an air cooler does — it uses a fan to blow air over water or ice. As the water evaporates, it absorbs heat from the air.
This is considered an open-loop system. Because the ice or water eventually melts and evaporates, you have to refill an air cooler from time to time. Air coolers are also called swamp coolers, evaporative coolers and desert coolers.
Air Conditioning vs Air Cooling — Pros & Cons
Because of their different forms of operation, air conditioners and air coolers have varied strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering air conditioning vs air cooling:
More expensive to buy and to run, which means you’ll spend more on the appliance as well as in your electric bill. Repairs require professional assistance.
Less expensive to buy or build yourself. Running costs are exceptionally low, no more than that of a regular fan. Repairs are easy DIY.
Uses hazardous chemical refrigerant, which may be toxic and environmentally unsafe.
Uses ordinary tap water, which is non-toxic, just be careful to avoid mold and mildew growth.
Dries air in humid areas, but may be too dry in certain areas, which may cause health problems for some. Consider a humidifier to restore healthy humidity levels in areas that are too dry.
Functions as a humidifier in dry areas, but may increase humidity too much, which can cause health problems for some, as well as lead to corrosion in electrical devices and metal appliances.
Can be used anywhere, regardless of ambient humidity levels.
|Practically useless in areas with already-high humidity, which negates its cooling effect.|
As you can see, you have options. Take into account your budget and the abilities of each appliance, and you’ve got keeping cool this summer made in the shade.
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Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.