Tag Archives: heat

Swamp Cooling In The Desert

The Phoenix area is once again under an Excessive Heat Advisory with temperatures expected to be over 115 degrees through the weekend. It’s already 110° here this morning and it isn’t even noon yet. Earlier this week I wrote about how my swamp cooler was successfully taming the intense desert heat. It just occurred to me that some of you may not be familiar with evaporative coolers, and some of you who might know something about them may have some misconceptions. Here’s what my cooler looks like:

It’s not much to look at, is it? This particular cooler was purchased brand new about five years ago, yet it differs very little from the early twentieth century design upon which it is based.

Behind the louvers are excelsior pads which are kept wet with water. A blower inside the cabinet draws fresh air through the wet pads, and as the air passes through the pads, the water evaporates, causing the air to be cooled. The heat is literally being removed from the air as it vaporizes the water.

That’s probably technical enough for this description. If you want to learn more about how it works, this Wikipedia entry is a good start.

Swamp cooler? I thought you lived in the desert!

Well, yes. At least right now. And that’s where it works the best. Properly called an evaporative cooler, there are a few possible origins of its colloquial name. Perhaps it is because the extra humidity it adds to the air, especially during monsoon season or in an improperly vented room, can make it feel like a swamp. It could be because the air being pulled through the wet excelsior pads cools just like a breeze blowing through wet swamp vegetation. I’ve even heard it suggested that they are called swamp coolers because algae growing in a neglected or improperly maintained cooler can make it smell like a swamp, but that isn’t a problem I’ve ever  had in the 30+ years I’ve lived in the desert and used evaporative coolers.

Why use a swamp cooler?

  • Energy Efficiency – It uses 1/4 the electricity of mechanically refrigerated air conditioning.
  • Fresh Air – An evaporative cooler is constantly adding fresh air, replacing the air as frequently as once per minute.
  • Simplicity – An evaporative cooler is a very simple machine, making it economical to purchase, repair, and maintain.

Why aren’t they more common?

For one thing, they only work well in very dry climates, so you are not likely to find them outside of desert areas. Once the dew point gets into the 50’s (relative humidity over about 30%) their cooling performance is severely impaired. Here in North America you’ll find evaporative coolers in the western and southwestern United States as well as in the northern part of Mexico. They are also used in the southern part of Australia.

Even some people who live desert cities have not seen one, or at least wouldn’t recognize one if they did. And others wouldn’t be caught dead using one. I think that’s mostly due to the stigma carried by evaporative coolers as a cooling means of last resort only for the poor who can’t afford “real” air conditioning. While they certainly are inexpensive to buy and install as well as being economical to operate, I don’t understand why that should make them undesirable. I have actually seen ads for RV and mobile home space rentals that state “No evaporative coolers allowed.” So apparently the humble swamp cooler is shunned even within communities that are already considered “downscale” by much of society. It’s a shame so many people are more concerned with appearances and perceived social status than they are about economy, comfort, and environmental impact.

Freshly Pressed

I had an unexpected but pleasant surprise this past Tuesday when  one of my posts was selected to be “Freshly Pressed” — featured on the WordPress.com home page.  That was quite an honor, and the exposure drove quite a bit of fresh traffic to the site resulting in some new subscribers, too. I’d like to welcome my new readers and remind all of my readers that comments are always open on all my posts, so feel free to surf the archives and share your thoughts.

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115 Degrees In The Shade

Well, folks, I have a couple more practical posts in the making, but they’re not quite ready for public consumption. On the other hand, I did say I was going to post at least once a week, and it’s been over a week now, so I thought I’d better offer up something.

About That Headline

Yes, it’s one hundred and fifteen degrees in the shade (135° in the sun!) here in the desert west of Phoenix. The absorption refrigerator is struggling to keep its contents cool. Stepping outside into the light breeze feels like walking into a giant convection oven. The forecast is for another couple days of the same, and the area is under a Heat Advisory. Summer is definitely here.

Keeping My Cool

Thanks to the Wonder of Ancient Technology known as an evaporative cooler, it is a very comfortable 82 degrees indoors, without running the air conditioner. I love my swamp cooler — not only does it save energy and money, but it also allows me to enjoy fresh cool air and open windows instead of having everything closed up and recirculating the same stale air. In another week or so I’ll unfortunately be having to do just that when the monsoon season’s increase in humidity renders the evaporative cooler ineffective. I’ll also see my electric bill triple for about three months.

Avoiding The Heat

So what have I been doing while I stay indoors avoiding the heat? Well, I’ve been pecking away at decluttering. I am amassing a boxful of small electronic bits, pieces, gadgets, and gizmos that individually would not be worth the trouble of selling, and don’t seem appropriate for thrift store donation either. Still, they’re just too darn good to throw away. I’m thinking of putting the whole boxful on eBay as a not-quite-mystery box. I’ll put up a couple photos and maybe some general descriptions of the highlights, and see what happens. If nothing else, it will be fun.

Multimedia Maintenance

I’ve also been working on my digital library as I transition from “legacy” paper and polycarbonate media to bits and bytes on a hard drive.  This is an ongoing project which I spend time on now and then when I’m in the mood. I could go into more detail sometime if you’d like to read about it. Let me know.

Clearing Clutter Pays Off

There are plenty of ways that eliminating clutter pays off. More space and less distraction, for example. But I wasn’t expecting it to pay off literally. I was going through some folded bits of paper and receipts the other day, making sure I wasn’t about to throw away anything important, and there it was folded up in an old store receipt: a twenty dollar bill! Pretty cool, huh?

In Other News

Do any of you write for content farms, or have you in the past? Are you considering writing for one to help make ends meet? You should give this NYT  Opinionator blog post and this Faster Times article a read.

Mixing Bowl Solar Tea

Summer in the desert. Warm 113-degree temperatures. Phoenix just broke a record yesterday  – 29 days (so far) this year with a temperature of 110 degrees or more (the “normal” is 10 days per year).  When it’s this hot, it’s important to stay well hydrated, and iced tea is a good refreshing beverage. 

 Those of you in the southwest and possibly elsewhere make or have at least heard of “sun tea” – fill a large glass jar with water, add teabags, and set out in the sun for a few hours to brew.  The slower, lower-temperature infusion makes a very smooth brew.  In addition, it’s solar powered – no fuel or electricity is expended boiling water (and heating the kitchen, fighting the air conditioning). 

Well, I wanted to make some sun tea today, but didn’t have a suitable jar handy.  I do, however, have a nice shiny stainless steel mixing bowl.  How did that come to mind?  Well, recently I’d left it outside with a plastic measuring cup inside, and the bowl focused the sunlight intensely enough to melt the measuring cup. I thought if it got hot enough to do that, then maybe it would work well for sun tea, and possibly faster than a glass jar do to the fact that the reflective bowl will concentrate the heat in the tea.  There’s only one way to find out – TRY IT!

So, I filled the bowl with water, added four regular size teabags, covered with plastic wrap (to keep bugs out and keep the heat in) and set the bowl out in the sun. 

After a couple hours in the sun, the brew was quite warm and looked to be the right color.  I added a cup of sugar and a couple trays of ice cubes (in a bigger container, of course) and had some delightful iced tea!  Oh – the tea I used was Twinings “Lemon Scented Tea” – Gives the drink a definite lemon flavor, but much more smooth and subtle than when adding lemon juice to regular tea.  I have some Twinings Black Currant and some Hedley’s Peach-Apricot that I can’t wait to make mixing-bowl tea with now!

Hamfest!

OK, so that was over a month ago, and I’m finally getting around to writing about it.  So sue me. 

 Seriously though, I had a good time there, at the Hamfest in Williams, AZ.  For those of you who don’t know, a hamfest is a gathering and swapmeet of amateur radio operators.  It was fun spending a few days surrounded by electronic stuff and fellow radio nerds.  I sold some stuff I no longer needed, and, of course, wound up buying some stuff too. In the end, I left with more cash than when I arrived, and different, more useful (to me, anyway) stuff.  What more could I ask for?  Well, I suppose it would have been nice if I’d won one of the door prizes, like a nice shiny new HF transceiver, but I can’t complain. 

 Well, it was fun except for the fact that the drive up was marred by having a tire blow out on me.  Right front.  But I managed to maintain control and bring it gracefully to a stop.  It was no fun changing a tire in the 110 degree heat, but I managed and got back on the road.

 Would you believe I lost yet another tire on the return trip?  Yep.  Right rear, so not a control issue since the rears are duallies, but still, no fun.  This time just at dusk.  not as hot, but not fun in the dark either.  Again, got back on the road and the rest of my return trip to Tonopah was uneventful.  Time to replace the 12-year-old tires, don’t you think?