There are few sentences in the English language less believable than “I’m going to build my own air conditioner.” The amount of daring and hubris required to even utter such a phrase is rare enough to be found only in the very smart, or the very stupid. But it’s hot, dammit, and desperate times are calling for desperate measures. The rent is too damn high, and the weather is too damn hot — surely there must be a solution to this.
It’s only August, and the season isn’t over yet. And so, now in the summer of our discontent, the time has come to put ingenuity to the test, to throw both caution and reason into the wind and to laugh loudly in the face of ConEd. If global warming is a scientific problem, one has no choice but to propose a scientific solution: the DIY air conditioner. Several models are floating around the internet. But do they work?
IS THIS A THING PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO?
Research — also known as Internet rumors — suggests that it is possible to build your own air conditioner for about $30-40. The idea originated when an unnamed university forbid students from having air conditioners in their dorm rooms, and a group of enterprising young people took it upon themselves to defy this rule and build one themselves. This story has been floating around Lifehacker since 2005, and has since been revamped twice by increasingly enterprising and decreasingly sweaty young college students.
Unsurprisingly, the definition of “air conditioner” in these circumstances is a bit loose, expanded vaguely to “something that blows cold air.” Their model was built off the idea of a “swamp cooler,” which relies on the evaporation of water rather than vapor compression to cool the air that it circulates, or at least that’s what Wikipedia says.
Since the initial attempt (which was apparently successful), there have been a number of elaborations and variations on the process, ranging from a wet shamwow behind a box fan to an electrified ice chest to a double-bucket gravity contraption that only god and nerds know how to assemble. The options are endless, and a little bit daunting for someone who doesn’t even own a screwdriver.
OK, HOW DO YOU BUILD THE DAMN THING?
As previously mentioned, some designs for the A/C are more complex, requiring pumps and copper wire. Others relied on gravity to get the job done. This one requires something called a Seachoice bilge blower, which sounds difficult to acquire and maybe even a little gross.
The chosen candidate for this experiment is the redneck air conditioner, brought to us by the reliable folks filming themselves doing reasonable things on YouTube. The idea is that the fan will blow air into the cooler, and the ice will cool the air before funneling it out through the pipe elbow. And there you will have it: air conditioner.
• 1 Styrofoam cooler ($6)
• 1 Pipe elbow ($3)
• 1 Fan ($15)
• Ice ($1)
• Beer, optional ($10)
ASSEMBLING YOUR A/C
Step 1: Purchase materials
The Home Depot ran out of fans, which is both stupid and funny as well as scary and possibly apocalyptic. Maybe you are somebody who already has a fan. Maybe your fan fortress is the reason that Home Depot no longer has any. If that’s the case, good on you – you’re saving money on this part of the project. As far as everything else is concerned, the Styrofoam cooler was acquired from a Rite Aid, and the rest of the materials came from bodega-style hardware stores.
Step 2: Cut two holes in the Styrofoam container, one on the side for the pipe elbow, and another on the top for the fan. Place fan and pipe in respective openings. Secure the openings with duct tape. Red duct tape earns extra urgency points.
Step 3: Fill the container with ice, and maybe beer if you feel so inclined.
Step 4: Replace the lid of the container and turn the fan on.
Step 5: Grab a beer, leave the room, and let the cooler do its thang.
RESULT?: ACTUAL HOT MESS
Okay, so, show of hands: who’s surprised this didn’t work? After half an hour of waiting for the magic to happen, it soon became apparent that probably only magic — not science — could coax cold air out of this contraption. It might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that this DIY A/C unit actually made the room hotter, but between closing the window and the door and funneling the fan’s full windpower through a tiny tube, it’s entirely possible that it actually did. On top of that, the ice was quick to melt and would have been put to better use in glasses of water or perhaps even that kiddie pool you almost threw away.
Are there improvements, tweaks and tricks that could bring this idea to life? Probably. But let’s be real here: if air conditioners were easy, everyone would have one. If you’re still desperate during these last long legs of summer, you could hunt around for a cheap A/C unit, which you could probably swing for about $70. Not only is that the cost of about two of these DIY versions, it would probably blow around at least twice as much hot air.
For the rest of us, it’s game over. Myth busted. There’s only one more month of summer left, and we’ll live through it like we always do, even if it means spending at least half of it building a tent in front of the freezer.
Follow Katrina through her furthering sweaty adventures: @kcdanger.