If you haven’t seen Seattle’s best answer to a heat wave, check out Paul’s guide to how to make your own air conditioner, complete with detailed photos, over at Fiscal Geek.
It being hotter than a three-dollar cookstove here in lovely uptown Arizona just now, I decided the damped-down central HVAC $y$tem needed a little boost along these lines. Copper tubing is beyond my girlie handyperson skills, though…also beyond my level of industry, in 115-degree heat.
But a fan: I have a fan. It’s parked on my desk, where it blows directly on me, especially during the afternoon, when 82 degrees at the hall thermostat translates to about 90 degrees in the back bedroom that is my office. And down on the bottom of the deep freezer I happen to have an old gallon orange-juice bottle, filled with frozen water. That’s ice, for the nonengineers among us.
Not only that, but I have Arizona folkways. The old buzzards used to say (long before I was an old buzzard myself) that before the advent of refrigeration, the few hardy Phoenicians brave enough (or poor enough) to spend the summer in the Valley of the We-Do-Mean Sun would stay cool by hanging wet towels over the cages of electric fans. This always sounded a little apocryphal to me…how did they survive electrocution, in the era of ungrounded plugs? But who am I to question my elders, eh?
So, I decided to try a couple of adaptations to Paul’s schema. These would rely on only one electrical device—the fan—rather than a fan and an aquarium pump, and would not require any manly tools to construct.
First, we have the Old Frontier version of swamp air conditioning.
This thing, in case you don’t recognize it right off the bat, is the rack that comes with a clothes dryer, on which you’re supposed to lay out flat stuff and tennis shoes to be dried, tumble-free. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally found a use for it.
And this? A wet rag. Actually, it’s a wet flour-sacking type kitchen towel.
The clothes dryer rack is clunky enough that it almost stands on edge by itself. Conveniently, though, our abbreviated five-foot shelf of reference works resides atop the desk, right next to the fan’s summertime abode.
This allowed me to prop the rack against a couple of the books, a maneuver that stood the rack up steadily enough to tolerate the wet rag without falling over and keeps the wet rag from contacting the electric fan. Just in case, though, I laid a section of the New York Times on the desktop, underneath the rack and its damp covering.
Then it was just a matter of…yes! turning on the fan!
This invention works best when the fan is set to full blast. At lower speeds, the wet towel, even though its fabric is pretty lightweight, blocks the air flow enough to leave you wondering what happened to the breeze.
The effect is…well…a bit swampy. Gives you some insight into why our City Grandparents decamped to the high country every summer.
Moving on… The first attempt with a plastic-encased block of ice looked like this:
Knowing the frozen bottle would sweat in the heat and suspecting its lid would leak, I put a cookie sheet (girlie tool) underneath it. Further concerned that the cold and possible condensation under the aluminum sheet could damage the fine surface of my superb cut-rate on-sale desk, I set a trivet under the bottle. This, I figured, would allow air to flow under the cold object, as well as around and over it.
In a later version, I put the trivet beneath the cookie sheet. This provided better balance. The slippery bottle, unevenly inflated as the water inside expanded while freezing, wanted to skid off the trivet; this arrangement proved a lot more stable. The aesthetic is tidier, too:
And how do these schemes work? Well, I’d say the ice block strategy is marginally more efficient than a wet towel on a fan. Interestingly, the ice block scheme cools better as the water inside melts and the plastic jug’s exterior sweats a layer of water. Probably the cooling effect comes from the water’s evaporation. In either lash-up, the fan has to be set on high to create any noticeable cooling effect.
IMHO, the effect is much enhanced by the application of ice to bourbon and water.