Will DIY Air Conditioners Really Keep You Cool This Summer?

Don’t feel like plunking down upwards of a few hundred bucks for a window unit air conditioner? No, of course you don’t; that was a silly question. At the same time, you probably don’t want to spend the next few months baking in the summer heat. You could McGyver one using ice and some stuff that’s sitting in your garage gathering dust, but will it make your life any more tolerable?

It’s a good thing our pals at Consumer Reports have a room where they can put some of these DIY air conditioners to the test. So they tested out two low-cost homemade units to see if they could be used to affordably replicate the effect you’d expect from a decent window air conditioner.

For the first test, CR fashioned a unit out of a plastic bucket and PVC pipe (and some ice and a cruddy little office desk fan):
They drilled some holes in the side of the bucket…

Insert some short lengths of PVC pipe into those holes, then filled the bucket with ice…

Don’t forget the fan!

And the finished product, all for about $30, plus the cost of ice:

CR also tested an even less-expensive (around $20, plus ice) version that used a foam cooler instead of a bucket, and red plastic drinking cups instead of PVC:


Though the ice and fan are the same:

Enough crafting. Time to test!

Each cooler spent time in the CR test chamber, a 12 x 13 room that is heated up to 90 degrees before the DIY air conditioners are rolled in:

The chamber has temperature sensors throughout the room. A decent window unit should be able to cool this room by 15 degrees within a matter of minutes. So how did the DIY units do?

There was a temperature drop…

But it was only 2-3 degrees, and the temperature change quickly leveled off and began rising again within 30 minutes:

Well, not all of us are trying to cool a full room. Some of us just want some spot cooling in the immediate vicinity.

CR attached sensors close to the point where the cool air exits the DIY unit and indeed the temperature was upwards of 15 degrees cooler.

If you need cooling, there are better solutions that might cost you money but should actually work. Check out the full video from CR for some recommendations:

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.