Chill Out, Partner! Evaporative Coolers & Dude Ranches
For dude ranches and other businesses that cater to outdoor adventure seekers, finding cost-effective ways to create comfortable environments for their guests can be a challenge. Most provide their guests with air conditioning and shade, but there's another option that's often overlooked: evaporative coolers. They're powerful tools for controlling the environment. On a dude ranch, evaporative coolers can be used to cool guest rooms, common areas, patios, porches, pools, barns, and indoor and outdoor dining areas. They're simple to use, easy to maintain, and perfectly suited to the American west.
How They Work
Evaporative coolers, sometimes known as swamp coolers, work through the natural process of evaporation. In order to transition from a liquid to a gas, water has to absorb heat. Evaporative coolers take advantage of this phenomenon by blowing air through a pad inundated with water with a high-powered fan. The air flow triggers the evaporation process. The water soaks up the latent heat in the air and releases it back out into environment. Under ideal conditions, evaporative coolers can lower the ambient temperature by as much as 30 degrees. The fan is capable of cooling up to 1650 feet every minute and has an effective area of 650 square feet.
Humidity hinders evaporation. When the air is saturated with water vapor, it's ability to absorb more water vapor is extremely limited, which is why evaporative coolers work best in arid environments. When humidity is low, evaporation happens quickly and humidity is always lowest when temperatures are high. Though most areas can benefit from evaporative cooling, conditions in the western United States are particularly ideal for evaporative cooling, especially during summer.
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Evaporative coolers are most effective when there's a large difference between the ambient temperature and the humidity level. As the two converge, the relative humidity level increases. Once it reaches approximately 60 percent, evaporative coolers become ineffective. The air being blown into the cooling pad is just as humid as the humidity being produced through evaporation and the temperature difference between the air coming out of the cooler and the air in the environment is negligible. If you're uncertain whether the location of your dude ranch is well suited for evaporative cooling, this link lets you can track daily humidity levels across the United States.
What They Cost
The primary reason evaporative coolers are so effective on dude ranches is because they can cool outdoor areas at an extremely low cost. Even on their highest setting, they use only a fraction of the electricity as an air conditioner. The Luma EC2200W Evaporative Cooler uses 220 watts per hour, 75 percent less than a standard wall mounted AC unit, which uses 900. A portable air conditioners uses 1000-1500 watts, 85 percent more than an evaporative cooler. That comes out to an average savings of $160-$300 per unit over the course of an entire year.
Evaporative coolers are extremely durable. They're made with ABS plastic, a highly durable industrial polymer designed for strength, stiffness, and resistance to heat and impact. Unlike other plastics, it's almost impervious to cracks caused by temperature fluctuations and chemical evaporation. Their fan blades are coated with a layer of aluminum oxide to prevent rust and the cooling pad is made from specially engineered cellulose that's immune to rot, even after prolonged water exposure. In addition, Luma evaporative coolers have only two working mechanical parts: a water pump and a fan motor. Their internal simplicity, combing with their construction elements, drastically reduce the chances of a mechanical or structure failure in an evaporative cooler. Their primary maintenance cost is time, not money. Regular cleanings with ordinary household tools and equipment will prevent most major breakdowns and guarantee years of trouble free operation. Follow this link to read more about basic evaporative cooler maintenance procedures.
Great for Guests & Livestock
The primary benefit evaporative air coolers provide is their ability to cool down large areas very quickly. They can be used in place of air conditioners in offices, rooms, and lobbies, but because they require constant air circulation, they're even more effective outdoors. Evaporation creates humidity. In an enclosed space, it can build up and interfere with the cooling process, but outside it dissipates, so the cooler always has access to fresh, dry air. Evaporative coolers have been used to cool down picnic areas, dining areas, corals, lookouts, petting zoos, dance floors, swimming pools, and archery and shooting ranges. Evaporative cooling opens up these areas to visitors even during periods of intense heat, expanding the range of activities visitors can enjoy.
They also work well in naturally ventilated structures like barns or lodges, any structure where air circulates through windows, sidewall openings, and endwall openings. Placing an evaporative cooler in front of a door or window actually augments the natural circulation process. The fan pushes out warm, humid air and replaces cool air from the cooler. Evaporative coolers are already a standard feature in diary farms and commercial horse stables that use air exchange to prevent livestock from overheating, and the serve the same function on dude ranches and cattle farms.
Portable evaporative coolers are easy to operate. All they need is access to water and a 120 volt electrical outlet. Their tanks can hold over 10 gallons of water, which provides approximately 5-6 hours of cooling on the highest fan setting. The tank has to be filled manually or it also has a hose attachment that can be used to pump in water continuously. The fan speed is adjustable and allows you to control the rate of evaporation and gives you control over the degree of cold air being produced. Slower air flow means less evaporation and less cooling. If temperatures become too cool, the cooling mechanism can be switched off and the unit can operate as a simple fan.
Preserving the Rustic Aesthetic
Thought people on dude ranch vacations often expect the comforts of modern life during their stay, one of the principle attractions of dude ranches is their rustic setting, which presents a challenge for dude ranchers. How do they incorporate modern technology like evaporative coolers into their facilities without diminishing their rustic charm? The solution for some ranchers often place them out of the way in lofts above barns, lobbies, and dining, and let the cold air blow out into the main space. They also place them in corners, hidden behind hay bales, tractors, or other farming implements. Outdoors, evaporative coolers are often concealed behind screens or fences. They can't be totally enclosed, that would cut off its air flow, but a screen or fence allows them to cool a specific area without them being visible from a distance or to passersby. To further hide them from sight, a few enterprising ranchers have built them into planter boxes. They construct a wooden frame over the top and sides of the cooler and place flowers, plants, or other decorations on top. Large evaporative coolers, like the Luma EC220W, draw air in from the sides as well as the back, so the frames have to provide at least two inches of clearance on either side. To further disguise the structure, some have also placed wood or metal gates over either end. As long as the slats and metal bars are narrow, they'll allow air to flow through the unit and allow the unit to keep producing cold air.
Since 1970, heat waves have occurred with increased frequency in the western United States. Over the same period of time, there has also been a corresponding decrease in the humidity levels. Forecasters expect both trends to continue into the foreseeable future, which means maintaining a comfortable environment is going to become a bigger challenge for dude ranches, one standard cooling apparatuses are not designed to handle. Ordinary fans can't reduce air temperatures and air conditioners are cost-prohibitive in outdoor environments, but evaporative cooling will actually become more effective in the projected weather conditions. Incorporating evaporative coolers into dude ranches will not only open up more of the ranching experience to guests, but also provide a convenient way for ranchers to reduce their energy costs without sacrificing comfort.