How To Make a DIY RV Swamp Cooler: 7 Ideas for a Homemade RV Evaporative Coolers

If you take your RV out on the road in the summer – or even in the winter in some places, like Arizona, Florida and parts of California – keeping cool is likely to be a concern. Even higher end RVs are not suited to traditional A/C units – which we all know guzzle a lot of power – and fans are not always very efficient, as they too guzzle more electricity than you might think and really only move hot air around anyway.

Evaporative coolers can be a good alternative, and you can find an increasing number of them offered for sale. But, if you prefer – if you want to save some money, or will only need extra cooling in your RV occasionally – you can also try your hand at crafting a homemade RV evaporative cooler that will, in a pinch, provide you with that cooling relief you need, especially if you are trying to sleep.

But what is an evaporative cooler, and how do you make one? We’ve gathered some of the best plans and tutorials to help you with the latter, and the former, along with some other frequently asked questions, will be addressed here too.

An RV Camper in the Hot Arizona Desert

If you want to try your hand at making a homemade evaporative cooler to test out in your RV on your next trip, the Internet offers – as you might have guessed – some clever ways to do so, many of them very simple and inexpensive too. To show you just what we mean, here’s a look at of the best of them:

#1. 5 Gallon Bucket Swamp Cooler

If you have limited space in your RV, a homemade swamp cooler that fits all of its components into a simple construction style five gallon bucket might be just the right choice. This ‘model’ offers the advantage that you can use ice cubes, and not just ice water, to power it, which should create even cooler temperatures.

Check out the instructional video below for the simple step-by-step instructions.

#2. Homemade Ice Chest Swamp Cooler

If you often tailgate, or like to BBQ with a big supply of cold beverages on hand, you might already have an old ice chest on hand that you can repurpose as an efficient swamp cooler. This one can even be solar-powered if needed, which is fantastic if you want your off road, dry docking RV trips to be cooler experiences.

Check out the instructional video below for detailed step by step instructions.

#3. Homemade Recycled Styrofoam Cooler Evaporative Cooler

If you don’t want to sacrifice your big plastic ice chest – they are not always the cheapest things to buy after all – to make your DIY swamp cooler, then you can try out this tutorial which walks you through making a DIY evaporative cooler out of the kind of styrofoam cooler you can pick up for just a few dollars at most convenience and discount stores.

#4. Simple DIY Box Fan Evaporative Cooler Conversion

Big box fans make a lot of noise and can be quite powerful, but like all fans they just push hot air around the room, making them pretty inefficient for use in an RV. However, as this clever YouTube demonstrates, with some inexpensive materials and a few easy modifications you can turn an old box fan into a far more efficient evaporative cooler.

#5. Even Simpler Homemade Box Fan Evaporative Cooler

If the last tutorial was a little complicated for you – we thought it was easy, but not everyone is a big DIY fan – this video offers an even easier way to ‘convert’ a box fan into a powerful evaporative cooler by adding a bucket, a pipe, a pump and very little else. If you are looking for a very easy way to give new life to that old fan, this is for you.

#6. Small Space Swamp Cooler Fan Conversion

If a bulky box fan would take up too much space in the area of your RV you want to cool with an evaporative cooler, you can try your hand at making this homemade swamp cooler using a much smaller round fan and a very limited number of additional supplies.

#7. Large Space Cube DIY Swamp Cooler

This homemade swamp cooler mashes up several of the ideas already covered in the tutorials here and turns them into a large evaporative cooler capable of cooling up to 100 square feet. This one is more complicated, and calls for a little more confidence with power tools, but as the creator claims it can cool by up to 30 degrees and run for hours then the extra effort might be worth it.

RV Evaporative Coolers FAQs

Do Swamp Coolers Really Work in an RV?

If the swamp cooler you make – or buy if you prefer – is sized right for your space, an evaporative cooler can be more efficient than you might imagine. They are based on a similar premise to a window air conditioner, and while they use cool water instead of a refrigerant, and they will not put out the super chilled air that a good A/C can, they can still cool down an RV enough to make the temperature comfortable.

How Do I Know What Size Swamp Cooler I Need for My RV?

The actual physical size of the swamp cooler used in your RV can be pretty irrelevant, it’s what its coverage capabilities are that really matters. You’ll need to know the square footage of the area you want to cool first, and then match that to the capacity of the evaporative cooler. Most store bought models state clearly the intended coverage area. With a homemade swamp cooler, there’s a little more guesswork involved, but you can always size up if needed.

What’s the Best RV Evaporative Cooler To Buy?

The number of evaporative coolers you can buy, rather than make yourself, is extensive, and they can vary in size from tiny USB powered models designed to cool small spaces like an RV kitchen to large models that are designed to cool large areas that can be as expensive as a standard air conditioning unit. The best choice for you will vary according to your budget, how often you head out camping in your RV and the square footage you want to cool. 

However, we do suggest shopping around before you spend a lot of cash, and if you only need very occasional cooling in your RV, maybe try out one of the homemade options we’ve covered here first.

How Can I Cool My RV Down Without AC?

A swamp cooler, or a fan, are two of the most obvious ways you can cool down your RV without AC, but there are some other things you can (and should) do to keep things as cool as possible, including the following:

Don’t Leave Doors and Windows Open: If it’s very hot outside, leaving doors and windows open will only let all that hot air in. Try to keep the RV as ‘sealed as possible’ when the temperatures rise, and, if there are cool breezes at night, you can then open a window to let them in.

Cover Your RV Windows: If your RV has large windows, you should keep them covered during daylight hours on a hot day. Blackout curtains are a great choice as they both keep the heat out and stop the carefully cooled air inside from escaping.

Keep Cooking to a Minimum: Cooking – even running a microwave or using the toaster – adds more heat into the equation. Where possible, cook outside – who doesn’t love grilled food anyway and a camping stove is great for heating up simple canned food – enjoy cold cuisine or treat yourself to a meal at a local (air-conditioned) restaurant.

Final Thoughts On Making Your Own Swamp Cooler For Your RV

Even the best homemade RV swamp cooler – or a store bought one for that matter – won’t keep your RV as cool as your A/C units at home. So, if you like those near arctic temperatures a powerful A/C can produce, then you are going to be a little disappointed. However, a swamp cooler can do a decent cooling job in a pinch. To find out for yourself, if you’ve never tried one out, why not try making one of the homemade RV evaporative coolers from our list?

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