It only takes a small amount of cash to build a homemade swamp cooler to make your home comfortable this summer. (Jennifer Bardsley)

It only takes a small amount of cash to build a homemade swamp cooler to make your home comfortable this summer. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Can a do-it-yourself swamp cooler beat the August heat?

Instead of spending $400 for an air conditioner, purchase $25 of simple parts and assemble one yourself.

Summer in the Pacific Northwest seems to last five minutes — but those five minutes are intense. When the days heat up, my normal course of action is to take my kids to an air-conditioned mall or movie theater. But that doesn’t work during a pandemic, so this summer I had to expand my options.

My first thought was to purchase a portable air conditioning unit. Unfortunately, they are expensive and cause storage issues. Enter YouTube. While I was searching for portable air conditioner reviews, I came across videos of do-it-yourself swamp coolers.

The promise was enticing. Instead of spending $400 for a real air conditioner, purchase $25 worth of simple parts and assemble one yourself. That price point sounded too good to be true, but I figured even if the cooler didn’t work well, it would be better than nothing, especially since we could afford to build more than one and spread them across the house.

The concept was simple. Take a five gallon bucket from a hardware store, line it with an insulated insert to hold ice, drill holes on the side and put a face-down fan on top. The fan blows cold air out the holes in the side of the bucket.

Acquiring all of the parts was tricky. Five gallon buckets were easy to find, but the insulated inserts was harder to come by. Here’s a hint, try searching for: “5-Gallon Bucket Companion Cooler” on Home Depot’s website.

The next step was buying a hole-dozer attachment for our drill, and that’s where I screwed up. The hole dozer dimensions needed to match the PVC fittings that stick into the side of the bucket. I thought I bought the right size hole-dozer attachment, but I didn’t. The final step was finding the small fans that would blow into the cooler.

Once all of the parts arrived, my husband took them to his work bench and realized my mistake buying the hole dozer. It created holes that were way too small. Instead of being able to build the coolers in 10 minutes, he and my son spent over an hour filing the openings to accommodate the PVC fittings.

Finally the coolers were ready, and just in time, too, because the weather was heating up. The first person to use a cooler was my son, who was cooped up in his sauna of a room taking online driver’s ed. I set up the bucket for him with high hopes. My teenager’s verdict? The cooler wasn’t that effective.

I agree with him. In a high-temperature room the cooler doesn’t do much because it can’t remove hot air. But in a warm room it does create a nice breeze.

Our DIY swamp coolers can’t compete with air conditioning, but they are certainly better than nothing.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at

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