Portable evaporative coolers review 2008

In a hot dry climate, a portable evaporative cooler is a cheap way to cool down.
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  • Updated:15 Sep 2008

04.What to look for

Evaporative cooler essentials

  • Good airflow but not so strong it’s uncomfortable. The Convair Coolmaster has a very high airflow score at high fan speed which makes it better at cooling a large room, but it might be uncomfortable to sit close to. Ask to try the cooler in the shop.
  • Louvres that adjust and/or oscillate.
  • Filling spout that’s large and accessible, so topping up the water tank is easy.
  • Fan and wetting medium The best performing models in our test have propeller fans and shredded wood wetting mediums. Other types include cylindrical fans and foam or fabric wetting mediums.
  • Dust filter helps keep the air clean as it enters the cooler. In the Convair models, the wetting medium also serves as the dust filter.
  • Low water consumption rate A large water tank combined with a low water consumption rate means the cooler runs longer between refills, which is useful if water’s scarce where you live. The IXL models claim to consume a low 0.5 litre per hour. Top up the tank before you turn the cooler on, and occasionally check the water level.
  • Easy access to the inside for maintenance. You should clean the dust filter and wetting medium a few times a year and replace them after a few seasons. The tank needs occasional cleaning to remove slime or mineral deposits. Dry the wetting medium occasionally by running the cooler in fan-only mode. Check the instructions.
  • Drain cap that’s secure but easy to undo; it helps if you can fit a bucket under the drain spout. You should drain the tank and clean and dry the wetting medium before storing the unit for a long period.
  • Controls that are clear and simple to operate.
  • Stability so it won’t easily tip over.
  • Castors so the unit is easy to move around.
  • Noise Most of the tested models are fairly noisy; some are about as noisy as a vacuum cleaner.

Other features

  • Ice tanks don’t necessarily make the air much colder, but because the ice melts slowly, you won’t need to fill the water tank so often. However, using energy to make the ice reduces the overall energy efficiency of using an evaporative cooler.
  • Off timer can be handy — it turns off the cooler after a set time. None of the tested models has an “on” timer to activate the unit at a set time.

Is bigger better?

Not necessarily. The larger the model, the more powerful its fan is likely to be, but it won’t always be the most efficient at cooling. Nevertheless, a bigger model will typically be able to cool a larger area than a smaller model. The biggest model in this test, the Convair Coolmaster, has a very high airflow but relatively poor evaporative efficiency, which means that while it can blow much more air around than the others, it doesn’t cool that air as efficiently.

Convair's manufacturer said they’d measured much better evaporative efficiency for this model and suggested our sample might be defective, but we couldn’t find anything obviously wrong with it. Both the Coolmaster and the next largest model, the IXL Blizzard, are also considerably bigger consumers of electricity than the other models (though still much less than an air conditioner).

Good things can come in small packages too. The Convair Magicool, one of the smallest models in the test, is one of our recommended models.

For people with a disability

  • Controls should be clearly labelled in contrasting colours and easy to operate. The Convair Mastercool rated best in this respect.
  • The water level indicator should be easy to read while filling the water tank. The Convair Coolmaster and Magicool have easy to read indicators. The IXL Blizzard’s indicator is also easy to read but is on the front of the unit, while the water inlet is on the side.
  • The drainage outlet on all the models is positioned quite low, so if you have trouble bending over you might find this difficult. Check the model in the store.
  • All the models have castors or wheels and are fairly easy to move.
  • Assembly is straightforward for the tested models, but some are quite heavy so you may need assistance while putting them together.

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