Swamp Cooler 101: Getting Your Cooler Ready for Summer


If you’re new to New Mexico or you’ve recently moved to a home with a swamp cooler you may be unfamiliar with this type of air conditioning or cooling. Swamp coolers or “evaporative coolers” are easy to operate but do require maintenance at the beginning and end of each season.

How swamp coolers work:

Swamp coolers work by using water evaporation and pushing this cooler air throughout your home. A home can have a single standard cooler or multiple coolers depending on the size of a home. There are also different types of coolers that range in efficiency and cooling performance such as Mastercool coolers and Breezair coolers. Swamp coolers work well in dry arid environments like ours. Swamp coolers distribute water through tubing to wet pads in the cooler. A motor then blows the cooler air into your home through the duct system. Unlike central air conditioning, you need to have windows and/or doors open to push the hot air out of the house as cooler air comes in. The cooler air will only go to rooms/areas where the windows and doors are open.

Swamp cooler controls will have an on/off switch that controls the water pump and fan hi/low button. When you turn it on it will begin pumping water through the cooler and then you can adjust the fan speed to high or low. You need to have the pump on while running the cooler, to keep water running through the unit. A lot of times we will respond to repair calls where the pump was not turned on and only hot air was being pushed in the home by the fan.

Switching between heating & cooling:

Unfortunately, unlike central or refrigerated air conditioning you cannot switch back and forth between heating and cooling with a swamp (evaporative) cooler. When you start-up your cooler for summer your furnace needs to be shut down. New Mexico typically has one last cold snap around late April, sometimes early May in which you may need heat in your home. Many homeowners will wait to start up their cooler until May for this reason. Unfortunately, you don’t have the option to just flip the switch between your heating and cooling. This can make for some uncomfortable days during this time of year and has many homeowners converting to refrigerated air. TLC does provide refrigerated air installation, please contact us if you are considering converting.

Swamp cooler maintenance:

Swamp coolers require maintenance and start up at the beginning of each season. We recommend having a professional start up your cooler(s) to ensure your system is properly ready for summer. This helps avoid unnecessary repairs and ensures that all the proper parts are replaced each year. Also, you need to shut down and winterize the cooler in winter. This is essential so you don’t have a burst or broken waterline.

Things to consider when starting your cooler:

While the parts in a cooler are relatively easy to access and don’t require a refrigerant like air conditioners there are some issues you may run into if you do this on your own. You need to ensure that the water distribution tubes are clear from buildup and debris otherwise the pads won’t get wet enough. Also, it is important to make sure the float is working to ensure that the water level doesn’t rise causing flooding in your home, yard or off your roof. Because of the hard water in our area we recommend your pads be replaced each year on standard coolers. If you have a mastercool cooler you may be able to go up to 3 years to replace your pads. However, if you have really hard water you may need to replace sooner than that. If you do have mastercool pads and they don’t need to be replaced, they need to be cleaned and cleared of debris and buildup that accumulates. Plus you’ll need to inspect the pump, fan belt, and motor to ensure it is working properly. This can be quite tedious especially if your unit is on a roof. TLC can perform your startup and winterization for you and will clean, prep, and replace any worn out parts without multiple trips to the hardware store.