How to Set Up a DIY Air Conditioner

Fan in Window

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Overview
  • Total Time: 1 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to $100

Sitting at your desk or laying in bed in the heat is miserable. Because you have no air conditioning (or your unit isn't working properly), there's no sign of relief. And that fan you've set up on the window only blows more hot air.

Instead of wilting away, you can make your own DIY air conditioner with either of two methods. Both methods use materials found at your local home center or hardware store. Within a couple of hours, you'll be cool and comfortable as your DIY air conditioner blows chilled air your way.

What Makes a DIY Air Conditioner

A DIY air conditioner's technology is some combination of that of a refrigerant-based air conditioner and a fan.

Window and central air conditioners transfer a room's heat and humidity to the outside by running a refrigerant through a condenser coil and an evaporator coil. It's a complicated technology that doesn't lend itself to do-it-yourself work. It's also a major waster of energy and money.

A DIY air conditioner, on the other hand, uses a fan to blow air either through a duct embedded in ice or through copper tubing suspended on the front of a fan.

Fan Through Ice Method

With this simpler method, a fan blows air through a duct that is embedded in ice. A styrofoam cooler forms the body of the DIY air conditioner. Aluminum ducts are available at your local home center

Pros
  • Cheaper

  • Easier to set up

Cons
  • Potential leakage

  • Fan difficult to attach to cooler

Copper Coil and Fan Method

An alternative method takes a bit more work to set up but it's a more permanent, longer-lasting solution.

In this DIY air conditioner, a small water pump at the bottom of an ice cooler forces ice water into a copper tube. This tube is tightly coiled over the face of a fan. The coil then sends the water back into the ice cooler, where it is cycled back through the coil again.

Pros
  • More effective

  • Less leakage

Cons
  • Longer to set up

  • More expensive

Safety Considerations

Be careful when working with water and electricity. Keep the two apart. Plug all electrical devices into GFCI outlets. Keep the pump unplugged until you are ready to use it.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Screwdriver
  • Hack saw or tin snips
  • Tape measure

Materials

Fan Over Ice Method

  • Styrofoam cooler, 30 quart
  • Fan, 4-inch
  • Rigid aluminum duct, 4-inch diameter
  • Silicone caulk
  • Ice

Copper Coil and Fan Method

  • Box fan
  • Ice cooler
  • Aquarium or fountain pump, 40 to 90 GPH
  • 20 feet copper tubing, 1/4-inch
  • 10 feet plastic tubing, 3/8-inch
  • 50 zip ties
  • Metal hose clamps
  • Ice

Instructions

Fan Over Ice Method

  1. Cut Duct

    With the tape measure, measure out the inner lengthwise dimension of the cooler. Transfer this measurement to the duct and cut with the hacksaw or tin snips.

  2. Cut Cooler

    Cut two holes into the cooler, one at each end. The holes should be 4 inches in diameter and should be straight across from each other, each about 4 inches above the bottom of the cooler.

  3. Insert Duct

    Push the duct into the cooler, through the two holes. Add silicone caulk on the inside of the cooler to prevent water leakage.

  4. Attach Fan

    Attach the fan to the outside of the cooler, with its exhaust side facing toward the duct. Use silicone caulk around the edges to attach it to the cooler. Let the caulk fully cure.

  5. Add Ice

    Completely fill the cooler with ice. Be careful when adding the ice to avoid bending or denting the duct. Put the lid back on top of the cooler.

  6. Turn on DIY Air Conditioner

    Turn on the fan. The other end of the duct should immediately start blowing cool air.

Copper Coil and Fan Method

  1. Add Copper Tube to Fan

    Coil the copper tubing and add it to the fan's protective grid. Loop the tubing in the shape of a swirl, starting with a large circle and forming progressively tighter circles until it reaches the middle. Attach the tube to the grid with the zip-ties. Leave at least 1 to 2 feet of extra tube at both ends.

  2. Attach Plastic Tube

    Attach the plastic tube to the two loose ends of the copper tube. Secure with the hose clamps. At this point, you have a continuous loop, but this will later be cut into.

  3. Put Pump in Cooler

    Rest the pump at the bottom of the cooler. It should be facing upright. The end of the electrical cord should extend out of the cooler. Leave it unplugged for now.

  4. Attach Tube to Pump

    Cut the plastic tube in half with scissors. Attach one half of the tube to the exit portion of the pump. Rest the other half of the tube at the bottom of the cooler.

  5. Add Cold Water and Ice

    Add enough cold water to the cooler to cover the pump. Add ice to the cooler.

  6. Turn on DIY Air Conditioner

    First, turn on the pump. Let the water run through the tubing in a complete cycle. Test it out by touching the tubing. Cold tubing means that it's working. Next, turn on the fan. After about a minute, the fan should be blowing colder air than before.