Swampcoolers In Los Angeles?

apeshade.jpgMeredith, a Boston transplant, wrote us asking, “Do swamp coolers work in the LA climate?” I think this is a perfect opportunity to discuss tips on keeping cool over what is gearing up to be a long, hot summer.

But first, to answer Meredith’s question (she’s concerned because she’s heard “it’s supposed to be dry for them to work, is LA too moist?”) – I must claim ignorance. Swamp coolers supposedly work best in dry climates, and not at all in higher humidity, because their design relies upon cooled water molecules being blown through the machine, which would be hindered by pre-existing moisture in the air.

My first guess would be that yes, because L.A. has a dry desert climate, but our summer humidity averages from about 85% in the mornings to 68% in the afternoons (stats from CityRating). However, as I write this the humidity in the Hollywood Hills is 38%… so, perhaps it all depends on when and where you’re using a swamp cooler in the city. Beach areas, I’d imagine, would prove less effective for the moisture belching swamp coolers than the deep valley.

Have any blogging.la readers had experience with swamp coolers? And now, to broaden the subject, any new tips on keeping your home cool over the summer?

After nearly thirteen summers in Los Angeles, I think the simplest approach to the heat is the best: fans, fans, fans. Air conditioners are bulky and an eyesore, not to mention energy vampires. Besides, it really only gets uncomfortably hot for a dozen or so days over the year that would warrant an air conditioner, so unless your health is negatively effected, enjoy being able to sleep above the covers every once in a while.

On the downside, I don’t know if the multiple fans around my apartment suck as much energy as a single AC box would, but since the building owner prohibits air conditioners anyway (he pays electric, and we have old wiring), I don’t have much of a choice.

I also find me or my girlfriend constantly adjusting the blinds, opening and closing certain windows, and managing light sources, the moderate shade and maximize airflow throughout the day to keep us as comfortable as possible.

Alas, my only big tip to surviving the summer heat is to have enough iced tea and lemon-aid on hand to enjoy it.

(image from Famewhore via Flickr)

7 thoughts on “Swampcoolers In Los Angeles?”

  1. Only a dozen days of the year? If Meredith is moving to, say, Burbank, or Agoura Hills, or Altadena, it’s going to be a lot more than a dozen days of the year with uncomfortable heat.

    My answer would be: DO NOT GET A SWAMP COOLER. They’re useless here. I speak from experience. Their only effect is to make the air sticky. You were right in guessing that the humidity is too high here, even in the valleys.

    I think you’re right that, short of an AC unit of some kind, fans are probably the best choice.

  2. I know a couple of different people at The Brewery that use swamp coolers and they’re happy with them. I personally don’t like the humidity that they create, but they claimed they were effective. They’re also cheaper.

  3. I just got a swamp cooler and I’m liking it. It does work better when the air is dry. My problem is that my apartment has poor air circulation, so I like being able to cool down the air that’s inside – fans sometimes just move the hot air around without cooling anything. I also like humidity, so that probably helps with me liking it. I also like that it doesn’t use chemicals, unlike air conditioners.

  4. Blinds! I’ll second the “manage light sources” remark at the end. She should absolutely put blinds/windowshades/curtains up. If you’ve got exposed windows (especially with no awning to keep the noon-time sun out), blocking the sun will make a _huge_ difference, for almost no money.

  5. I grew up in Arizona, Land Of The Swamp Cooler, and I’d say that, while swamp coolers will sometimes be effective here, especially during the hot dry Santa Anas, they won’t be an ideal solution. On many hot days, the humidity will be too high for them to function effectively.

    As for the valleys versus the beaches, it’s a trade-off. It’s hotter in the valleys, but more humid near the beach.

    One lesson I did learn in Arizona is that if you’re relying on a swamp cooler, insulation is crucial, and venting attic spaces can make a HUGE difference – either electrically-powered vent fans or wind-driven turbines.

    Also, for the long term: plant shade trees! I live in (one of the cooler corners of) the San Fernando Valley, and our house is shaded by a huge Deodar cedar, a pair of large magnolias, and the neighbors’ 120-year-old walnut trees. We generally only use our A/C about two to three weeks out of the year, all told. (This year is beginning to look like it might be an exception, though!)

    If you can’t have real A/C, a swamp cooler will frequently be more effective than just a fan, but it depends a lot on how you feel about humidity.

  6. Way back when, I ran a business in Palm Springs that had an old swamp cooler in addition to standard A/C. It was so damn effective–even on the hottest days–that we’d only need to run it for an hour or so at a time to really chill things down and take the load off the A/C.

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