In many parts of the country, home cooling is provided by an evaporative cooler rather than standard air conditioning. Also known as a swamp cooler, an evaporative cooler is a fairly simple device that cools air through the physics that causes water to absorb heat from the surrounding air as it transitions from liquid to gaseous form. Evaporative coolers are especially efficient in dry climates, and they are remarkably simple and energy-efficient devices.
While this equipment has few maintenance needs, keeping it operating efficiently requires an annual winterizing process. This helps prevent the water line from freezing and minimizes damage from condensation and rust. It also helps prevent heat loss through the cooler's vent.
Equipment / Tools
- Adjustable wrench or pliers
- Bucket and sponges
- Shop vacuum (optional)
- Waterproof metal sealer (optional)
- Replacement evaporative pads
- Evaporative cooler cover (as needed)
- Cardboard or insulation board
Disconnect the Water Line
The first step to winterizing an evaporative cooler is to shut off the water and disconnect the water supply line. Locate the valve that controls the water supply to the cooler and turn it off by turning the handle clockwise. The valve and water line are often located somewhere where they are protected from the cold, such as in a crawl space under the house. Tracing the water line back from where it connects to the cooler will lead you to the shutoff valve.
Next, disconnect the water line from the cooler, using an adjustable wrench or pliers. If possible, also disconnect the water line from the water supply valve and blow through it to remove any water in the line. Standing water in the water line can potentially freeze and cause the line to rupture.
If feasible, remove the water line entirely where it is secured to the house or to framing members, and coil it up for storage. If you can’t easily disconnect the waterline, be sure to drain it as best you can, then tuck it line into a storage place that is warm enough to avoid freezing.
Drain the Water
It is important to drain all of the standing water at the base of the cooler to prevent corrosion and possible damage over the winter months. To do this, first, remove one or two of the cabinet sides on the cooler housing. Use a sponge and bucket to absorb as much water as possible from the pan.
You may find a drain valve in the pan of the at the bottom of the cooler, but removing the plug and trying to reseal it can sometimes lead to leaks. Sponging out the pan gets more water out and eliminates the likelihood of leaks in the drain valve seal.
Clean the Cooler
Use the sponge to clean away any dirt and grime along the inside walls of the evaporative cooler. Cleaning it now will simplify the work of starting up the cooler next spring.
If there is a lot of mineral and dirt buildup in the cooler pan, you can use a shop vac to clean it out before sponging it clean.
As an optional step, when the pan is dry, coat the bottom of the pan with a waterproof metal sealer to prevent rusting. Or, you can wait until spring to check for leaks and seal them.
Change the Evaporative Pads
The evaporative pads will need to be changed before the cooler is used again after the winter months; you can do it now or when you de-winterize the appliance in the spring. Some people like to change the pads as part of the winterizing process so that when spring comes they can just hook up the water supply and be ready to go.
The precise method for replacing the pads differs depending on the design of the cooler, so consult the instruction manual for directions on how to do this.
Install a Winter Cover
Protecting your evaporative cooler with a cover will protect the unit from the elements during the winter months. Measure your cooler, then buy a cover that fits snugly over your model without being fully airtight.
A cooler cover is easy to install by simply slipping it over the cooler and tying it down along the bottom and sides of the unit. Many covers protect against rain, snow, sun, and dirt and can be reused year after year. The vent panels on the side of the swamp cooler will provide enough airflow to reduce condensation that can damage the metal, and also prevent wind lofting that might cause the cover to fly away.
To save money, you can use a tarp to cover your swamp cooler, tying it down with rope or bungee cords. Don't secure it so tightly that all airflow is eliminated. Some air movement is necessary to prevent condensation that can rust the metal parts.
Block the Vent
The final step to winterizing your swamp cooler is to cover the vent where the cooler blows air into the house. This vent is a possible source of heat loss in the winter, so it is a good idea to close and seal it during the winter months.
An easy way to do this is by cutting a double-thick piece of cardboard or a piece of insulation board to the size of the opening. From inside the house, remove the vent cover and install the cardboard or insulation into the opening and then put the cover back on.
Your evaporative cooler is now ready for winter. Remember, though, to reverse the process the following spring to prepare your cooler for the summer months.