If your home isn’t equipped with traditional air conditioning, it’s time to look into homemade cooling that can lower the temps a notch while saving you a bundle of money. Take advantage of inexpensive, or even free, cooling whenever you can.
DIY air conditioners follow the same concept as the standard window unit, portable AC, split design, and central air—send air through some form of coolant and deliver it into the room.
Standard AC units can be expensive, cumbersome, and difficult to find when a heat wave strikes.
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.
In fact, you can score some free cooling with a bit of resourcefulness and a few supplies.
1. Styrofoam Cooler AC
If you're wondering what to do with that styrofoam cooler the last meat delivery came in, use it to create an air conditioner.
The concept here is very simple. First, you’ll equip the cooler with air and venting. Then you’ll fill it with ice and chill out.
Step 1 - Pick a Fan
You can use just about any size fan that will fit the top of the cooler. Consider battery powered or use a plug-in version.
Step 2 - Cut an Opening in the Top of the Cooler
Use any type of manual or power saw that will cut a hole the size of the fan you’re using. Think reciprocating saw, jigsaw, coping saw, razor, handsaw, or drywall blade.
Make the hole slightly smaller than the size of the fan’s face.
Place the fan face down into the hole and secure it into place if necessary.
Step 3 - Make an Exhaust
Forage in your garage for something that will work as an exhaust pipe. It can be metal, or you can use PVC pipe elbows or dryer vent corners. You can even use toilet paper rolls in a pinch.
Near the other end of the lid, cut one hole in each corner, each the size of the exhaust pipe. 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 pipe.
Step 4 - Fill Cooler
For this project, ice is your coolant. Fill the cooler with ice, or even better, freeze water in water bottles and milk jugs before placing them in the cooler. Turn on the fan and position your cooler near your seat to enjoy.
2. Copper Tubing Cooler
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.
Step 1 - Collect Supplies
For this air conditioner, you’ll need a container or cooler, a small aquarium, pond, or fountain pump, a standard box fan, copper tubing, clear tubing, hose clamps, zip ties, and a few tools and pieces of hardware.
Step 2 - Attach Copper to Fan
Remove the fan’s faceplate. Place it on a work surface. Lay the coiled copper tubing on the faceplate. Then slightly spread apart the copper tubing without kinking it anywhere.
Secure the copper tubing to the faceplate with zip ties. Then trim the extra sections of the zip ties. Remount the faceplate to the fan. Turn on the fan to make sure it functions properly with the copper tubing on the front.
Step 3 - Place the Pump
The pump will move water into the clear tubing and then through the copper tubing. To do this, mount the pump to the inside bottom of the cooler. Cut a small notch out of the cooler to provide a space for the pump’s cord to exit.
Step 4 - Install Plastic Tubing
Next, you’ll attach the proper size of plastic tubing to the pump. Drill holes in the lid of the cooler and feed the other end of the clear hose through them.
Step 5 - Secure the Fan
Place the fan onto the lid of the cooler. Then mount it to the cooler with screws through the feet of the fan. This is to stabilize the fan and add height. If you prefer, you can use longer hoses and keep the fan off to the side of the cooler.
Step 6 - Attach the Other End of the Clear Tubing
Now slide the ends of the clear tubing over the ends of the copper tubing. Secure both ends with hose clamps.
Step 7 - Fill with Water and Ice
Finally, place enough water in the cooler to completely cover the pump. To make the water colder, add ice to the cooler. Even better, use frozen milk jugs filled with water. They last longer than ice and can be reused without waste.
If everything is working right, the pump should send cold water through the clear tubing and into the copper tubing. The fan then blows through the cold copper, providing a chilling breeze.
If you have any air leaks around the clear tubing or the cord hold, apply a sealant.
3. Container AC
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.
Step 1 - Pick a Container
The idea here is to use what you have. Just about any container will do the trick, so be creative. To visualize, this is basically a mini version of the styrofoam cooler described above. For our description, we’ll pretend you’re using a half-gallon milk or orange juice-type carton.
Step 2 - Pick a Fan
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.
Step 3 - Chill Out
Lay the carton on its side, fill it with ice, and enjoy the breeze coming out of the pour spout.
Step 4 - Consider the Alternatives
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.
4. Give Your Fan Exhaust
When the heat becomes overwhelming indoors, every degree of cooling helps. Small things matter.
Since you’re probably already using a fan, why not supercharge it? It’s an easy way to improve cooling capacity without breaking the bank.
Step 1 - Pick Your Bottles
Grab whatever you have around the house. 20-ounce soda bottles, single-use water bottles, or bottles from sports drinks all work great.
Step 2 - Remove Bottle Bottoms
Use a sharp razor or hacksaw to trim the bottom off the bottles. You don’t need to remove very much. The goal is to open up the bottom.
Step 3 - Create Air Holes
Grab a drill of any kind and make several holes around the bottom half of the bottle to allow for airflow.
Step 4 - Mount the Bottles
Use zip ties, woven through the holes, to attach each bottle to the back of the fan grill, with the bottom facing up. Be sure to trim the excess zip tie plastic so it doesn’t interfere with the fan blades.
Step 5 - Fill with Ice
Place several ice cubes into each bottle, filling them to the top (which is the bottom). As the ice melts, water will accumulate in the neck of the bottle. You can drain it by simply unscrewing the cap.
5. Basic Swamp Cooler
This is as basic as it gets and requires almost no effort or supplies. The idea is to simply blow air across the surface of cold water to drop the temperature in the room.
Step 1 - Choose a Fan
The larger the fan the better. A box fan works great. If you use a taller fan, you’ll need to put your water up at the same height, using a table or other surface.
Step 2 - Choose Your Container
Select a reservoir that offers a wide surface for the air to come into contact with the water. A flat, wide storage tub, plastic drawer, or similar container will all do the job.
Step 3 - Fill and Go
Place ice and water into the container. Frozen ice packs or jugs will last the longest, but ice cubes work too. Place the tub in front of the fan and turn it on, allowing the air to blow directly over the surface of the ice and into your space.
6. Ice Bucket AC
This one has been around a long time. The concept is the same as the styrofoam cooler above, but you’ll use a five gallon bucket instead of a cooler.
Step 1 - Pick a Bucket
The size and shape matter. The color doesn’t. Grab whatever five-gallon bucket you can find that has a tight-fitting lid.
Step 2 - Place the Fan
Find the largest fan you can that still fits within the parameters of the lid. Cut out a hole and place the fan, securing it in place if necessary. Your fan will face down into the bucket.
Step 3 - Create Exhaust
As described for the styrofoam system, you’ll need some exhaust pipes. Again, PVC works well for this, but use what you have. Cut the holes with a hole saw or drill bit. Then place your pipe into the hole. Secure it with glue or another sealant if there is any gapping around it or it doesn’t stay in place.
Step 4 - Fill and Chill
Place your frozen milk jugs or other icy material inside, turn on the fan, and enjoy.
How effective are homemade air conditioners?
Let’s face it, none of these options are going to create a deep freeze. Air on ice won’t compete with a centralized AC system or even a window unit.
However, creating DIY AC is exponentially cheaper than any form of air conditioning you’ll buy. Plus, the energy consumption is only a small percentage of what a unit costs, so you’ll save a ton of dough on the power bill too.
These types of air conditioners undeniably lower the temperature in the space. The smaller the space, the more effectively they work. Basically, they are a good way to offer a bit of a reprieve if you can be directly in front of the unit.
They won’t cool an entire house, or even a large room, but they will bring down the temperature a few degrees while running.
Do yourself, and your AC, a favor by doing everything you can to keep the space cool with other techniques.
Open doors and windows at night and in the early morning. Don’t run the dishwasher, clothes dryer, and other heat-creating appliances during the day.
Close the blinds inside and outside the house when the sun is out. Use blackout curtains if you have them.
Place fans facing the room in front of open doors when the outdoor temperature is cooler than indoors. Place another fan facing the open doors and windows upstairs or across the room.
After blocking out light and heat sources and placing fans, use some of the homemade air conditioning systems above to offer additional cooling in the space.
To get the cooling effect without AC devices, learn more about The Efficiency of Ancient Passive Heating and Cooling Techniques.