The question has been asked, which is better traditional AC or an evaporative cooler (swamp cooler)? While evaporative cooling does have some advantages which make it an attractive alternative, it also has some disadvantages which may make you reconsider.

How an AC Works

An air conditioner works by passing air over super cooled coils filled with a refrigerant called Freon. The cold air is then pushed out through vents by the blower or fan and the warmer air is pushed outside through external exhaust vents. The AC is controlled by a thermostat which turns it on and off when it reaches the desired indoor temperature.

How a Swamp Cooler

The swamp cooler or evaporative cooler, works by a similar process. It uses water as a refrigerant and the air from outside is drawn in through pads soaked in water and then a fan blows out the cooled air. Swamp coolers rely on air flow from windows to deliver air flow to the system which is why you must leave a window partially open when using an evaporative cooler.


Swamp coolers are highly-efficient and will operate for less money that a traditional air conditioner. They are inexpensive to install but may not provide enough cooling for larger areas. Best used in hot, dry climates with windows and doors open. It is considered an open-system which requires access to airflow from an open window.


  • Because swamp coolers use water as a refrigerant, it must have a steady supply of water to keep working. The water used by the cooler is equal to the amount of a short shower, several times per day.
  • Then there is the issue of having to leave a window open to vent the air which also lets out some of your cooled air.
  • With the water and the damp pads, a swamp cooler also produces more moisture which is not always good for certain areas that have high humidity already. Too much humidity encourages mold growth, not only in the unit but inside the house as well.
  • Swamp coolers also require frequent maintenance during operation to keep the parts oiled that cause friction. If pads dry out they can cause the pump to go out so the system must have a constant supply of water.
  • Leaky hoses or water leaking from the roof can cause damage to roofing and exterior walls. If a supply line comes loose it can allow water to seep in under roofing tiles causing water damage to ceiling and walls.

The Winner

While the swamp cooler may be cheaper to install and use, it does not equal the cooling of traditional central air. Keeping doors and windows closed ensures that your chilled air does not escape and indoor temperatures remain consistent. Central air is better for equal and efficient cooling to every room in the house. Efficiency can be doubled with the use of a programmable thermostat to raise and lower temperatures when the home is unoccupied or the family is sleeping.

If you currently use an evaporative cooler but would like to look at the possibility of installing central air, contact ABA Heating and Cooling. Our expert technicians can inspect your current cooling system and make recommendations on a central air system that will fit your lifestyle as well as your budget. Call us for all your heating and cooling needs.