Friday, July 25, 2014
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Does It Work? DIY Air Cooler

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Do-it-yourself air cooler.
Do-it-yourself air cooler. Dan Basile

Life hacks: You've probably seen them. One of the internet's newest fads, their purpose is to show people, "hey, make your life easier by doing this one simple thing you otherwise would never have thought of." Often, the "hack" uses an ordinary household item in place of what could be a pricey novelty gadget; for instance, using a fork to balance tortilla shells instead of a taco holder.

But have you ever found yourself wondering if these "simple everyday solutions" are legit? Do they really work? Well, look no further.

Our first Does It Work involves a video posted to YouTube in August 2013. In it, user desertsun02 claims that with seven simple and affordable parts, anyone can turn a five gallon hardware store bucket into a homemade air cooler. With traditional air conditioning units starting around $100 and then adding significant $$$ to energy bills to keep them running, cheap alternatives appeal to just about anyone. But does a 5 gallon bucket, a large block of ice, and a desk fan provide comparable cooling to an actual AC unit? To find out, I'd have to build my own and put it to the test.

First, I needed a generic five gallon bucket, which can be found at a major chain hardware store. I then drilled three holes into the side of the bucket using a 2 1/4" hole saw bit for the air vents. Next, I needed a styrofoam insert cooler to drop into the bucket. These are a little harder to come by in the store, but I was able to order a 3-pack directly from HomeDepot.com. After sliding the cooler into the bucket, I used the holes I previously drilled as guides for drilling 3 holes into the styrofoam (using a 2 1/8" hole saw bit). I then inserted a 1 1/2" PVC coupler (found in the plumbing section) into each hole, to function as air vents. Finally, I took an ordinary 6" clip-on fan and used it to measure for holes in the lids of both the styrofoam cooler and bucket and cut those out with a utility knife. I dropped a frozen gallon of water inside, put the lids in place, sat the fan over the hole up top, and ¡voila! Finished air conditioner/cooler. Total build time: about an hour.

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  • The room I used to test the cooler was enclosed and insulated from external temperature changes, and measured 7'x10'. Using an infrared thermometer, I measured the room temperature of the test room in three locations as well as the coldest point within each of the three air vents on the cooler, every half hour for six hours. I completed the test twice to establish consistency.

    So, how'd it do?

    The air cooler created slightly colder air than an average desk fan would, as evidenced by stable temperatures throughout both tests. The air coming out of the cooler mostly stayed within a range of 57-61 degrees. This was notably higher than the reading of 45 degrees in the video, but significantly cooler than the temperature of the room, which ranged from 77-81 degrees. Peak outdoor temperatures for the test days were 81 (Day 1) and 82 (Day 2) degrees.

    The temperature within the room dropped about a degree and a half at first, but never fell any lower. And the decrease was not duplicated on the second test at all. In either test, the room temperature never fell below 77 degrees. In both tests, the gallon jugs split from being frozen, eliminating one of desertsun02's claims of being able to refreeze the water and reuse the ice repeatedly.

    So back to the original question: Does It Work? The 5-gallon air conditioner, while novel in concept, doesn't produce a significant change in room temperature, nor does it warrant replacing a conventional air conditioner with it. You would be better served sitting in front of an average house fan or biting the bullet and springing for the air conditioner.

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    Know of any DIY home / life hacks that we should test? Let us know by e-mailing health@philly.com.

    Dan Basile For Philly.com
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