3 DIY Air Conditioners

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Whether you spent your previous summers taking top prize in a local STEM competition, or you’ve merely shown an interest in amateur tinkering, you can make an air conditioner that will help you keep your cool at your desk, in bed, or while prepping food for the grill.

Air conditioners all work on the same concept—cool air and push it into the room. However, achieving that goal takes myriad different forms. The good news is that a makeshift air conditioner can be made from an assortment of materials—many of which you likely have around the house already.

1. Styrofoam Cooler... Cooler

If you're wondering what to do with that styrofoam cooler the last meat delivery came in, use it to create an air conditioner. Simply dig out a couple of PVC corner pipe pieces and a small fan. On the top of the cooler, cut out a circle that matches the size of your fan, near one end of the surface. Then place your fan face down into the hole and plug it in if it’s not battery powered.

Near the other end of the lid, cut one hole in each corner, each the size of the PVC elbows—around a two-inch diameter for the piping is a good size. Then insert the elbows into the holes so they fit snugly. Turn the fan on and test that the air is flowing out of each PVC elbow. Then fill the cooler with ice and rotate the pipes as needed to point air in the desired direction.

Note: You can also use a solar supply to power your fan.

2. Container AC

hand using soldering gun on fan

Before ditching that half-gallon milk or OJ carton, give it new life as an AC to chill a small space such as beside your bed or at your desk. The ideal fan for this task is a small computer fan. Place the fan on the milk carton and outline the size. Use a sharp razor to cut out the square and then glue the fan into the opening.

The wires from the fan will be on the outside of the container. This is where your love of tinkering with electrical components comes in. Use a soldering gun to connect the wires from the fan to the wires on an AC adaptor (basic plug from old electronics) or a battery pack. Then lay the carton on its side, fill with ice, and enjoy the breeze coming out of the pour spout.

Alternative—Once you understand the concept here, you can play around with a variety of options. You can use any container, such as a small bucket or plastic tub. Just make sure it has a tight-fitting lid. Place your CPU fan tightly into a cutout in the lid and glue it into place. Then use tubes or piping as your air-delivery holes. Cut the lid and insert them, also gluing into place. For power, grab an old USB plug. Keep the part that plugs into the computer and strip the end that fits whatever phone or other gadget you no longer have. Connect the red and black wires to the CPU fan and plug the USB end into your computer to provide power to the AC.

3. Copper Tubing Cooler

metal tubing in coils

Copper tubing is a fantastic temperature conductor. The idea of this design is to pump water through the copper tubing and blow the resulting cool air into the room—and it doesn’t require any electrical work. Play around with what works for you. The basic process is to coil and secure several feet of copper tubing to the inside of the face of a tabletop or standing fan. Make sure the blades will not hit the copper tubing. Feed the ends of the copper tubing over the top of the fan cage.

Use hose clamps to attach clear rubber tubing to the ends of the copper tubing. One will be an intake and the other will be a return. Run the hoses into a cooler and attach the intake to a small pond pump. The return hose will hang higher inside the cooler so cut it shorter. Put a gallon or so of water, along with a lot of ice, into the cooler. Make sure the pump is submerged. Turn on the pump and watch the water pump through the system, returning to the cooler as it cycles.