Cost to Install an HVAC Swamp Cooler

Jenna Jonaitis
Written by Jenna Jonaitis
Updated June 24, 2020
Family sitting in cool home
Fizkes / stock.adobe.com

Highlights

  • Swamp coolers cost between $1,560 and $3,740, depending on the size and type of unit.

  • You can install window units and small portable units yourself, but ground units and roof-mounted units usually need an HVAC pro.

  • The amount of ductwork you need impacts the cost of your installation.

  • Swamp coolers are less expensive than air conditioners but only operate well in dry climates.

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Swamp coolers, also known as evaporative coolers, cost between $1,560 and $3,740 to install. The cost depends on the size of the space you're cooling and what type of unit you’re installing. Evaporative coolers pull out hot, dry air and blow cool, moisturized air into the space. They’re more affordable and energy-efficient than central air conditioners but only work in dry climates.

How Much Does It Cost to Install a Swamp Cooler Based on the Size of Your Home? 

Swamp coolers cost $40 to $2,300 depending on the size of your home and the type of unit, plus labor. The size you need is calculated by your total square footage multiplied by the height of your ceilings, divided by two. If you only need to cool a small part or single room in your home, a smaller unit will suffice. 

As an example, for a 2,000 square foot home with 8-foot ceilings, you would need a swamp cooler that cools 8,000 cubic feet per minute.

Here’s a cost breakdown based on square footage and price (assuming you have 8-foot ceilings): 

  • 100 square feet: $40 to $260 

  • 500 square feet: $150 to $580

  • 1,000 square feet: $360 to $800

  • 1,500 square feet: $400 to $1,000

  • 2,000 square feet: $570 to $2,300

How Much Does It Cost to Install a Swamp Cooler Yourself?

The cost to install a swamp cooler yourself depends on the unit’s price and any tools or ductwork needed. Add a screwdriver, wrench, tape measure, and level to your shopping list if you don’t already have them. You might also need to buy fittings, fasteners, and mounting hardware if your cooler does not come with them. 

If your cooler requires ducts beyond what you have, you'll need to buy the ducts and install them. You may need someone to assist you in lifting and installing the swamp cooler, depending on the weight and size of your unit. 

By installing an evaporative cooler yourself, you save $50 to $70 an hour in labor costs, though rates depend on the individual contractor. Window units and small portable units are usually easy DIY projects and take less than two hours. But a roof-mounted or ground unit takes 10 hours on average to install and requires more experience. 

Working on your roof always presents a danger and risk of injury, especially if you don’t have experience working on roofs. Installing ductwork also requires knowledge and experience and is best left to an HVAC professional near you.

Swamp Cooler Cost Breakdown

Swamp cooler costs are mostly made up of the unit price and labor, but you’ll also need some extra supplies to complete the job. A contractor usually includes these supplies in their costs, but double-check before agreeing to a contract.  

Swamp Cooler Unit

Swamp coolers themselves range from $40 to $2,300, depending on the cubic square feet the unit covers. A larger space means you’ll need a more powerful swamp cooler. 

Labor

An HVAC professional charges between $50 and $70 an hour on average. Total labor costs depend on the difficulty of the install and how long it takes. Roof units are more challenging than ground units due to accessibility and usually take about 10 hours. 

Tools and Supplies

If you’re installing your swamp cooler yourself, you may need to invest in a few supplies and tools if you don’t already have them, such as a screwdriver, wrench, tape measure, and level. You might also need to buy rigid ducts, fittings, fasteners, and mounting hardware. Costs depend on the type and brand you choose and the cost of supplies in your area.

Removal of Old System

If you have an existing swamp cooler to remove, expect to pay between $70 and $150. Check with your contractor to see if their quote includes the disposal of the old unit. 

How Much Does It Cost to Install a Swamp Cooler by Type? 

From small, portable units to permanent, roof-mounted units, evaporative coolers range greatly in price. 

5 swamp coolers costs compared by type, with window units averaging $400 to $900

Window Unit Swamp Coolers

Window unit coolers cost between $290 and $1,000. You can usually install these yourself in two hours or less. 

Portable Evaporative Coolers

Portable units vary in size and range from $40 to $2,300. Small plug-in models require little to no installation, while large systems could require ductwork. 

Ground Unit Swamp Coolers

Ground unit swamp coolers cost between $350 and $1,600. Labor rates fall between $50 and $70 per hour, as ground units are easier to install and access than roof-mounted ones. 

Roof-Mounted Swamp Coolers

Roof-mounted units cost between $350 and $1,600, about the same as ground units. Labor can be pricey, usually, $70 an hour, because the location is more difficult to access. If there’s not already a hole in your roof, expect to pay more. If you don’t have a duct system in your home, you may have to increase your budget as well. 

Ducted Evaporative Cooling

According to HomeAdvisor, the cost to install ductwork ranges from $400 to $900. The project includes the price of vents and ducts along with labor, but not the cooler unit itself. The amount of ductwork impacts both the cost of labor and materials.

What Factors Influence the Cost to Install an HVAC Swamp Cooler?

The main factors influencing the cost of swamp cooler installation are the type and size of the unit, but also the amount of ductwork needed.

Size of Coverage Area

The larger the area you’re trying to cool, the more powerful and more expensive the unit. 

Type of Unit

Window units and portable units tend to be the least expensive swamp coolers. Ground units and roof-mounted units are usually more expensive, especially with labor installation costs. 

Unit Location

Roof-mounted units are the most difficult to install due to their location. Ground units are next, followed by window units and portable units. 

Amount of Ductwork

If your home doesn’t have HVAC ducts installed or you need extra ductwork for your cooler, you’ll need to pay for the labor and parts to run rigid ductwork. 

FAQs About Swamp Coolers

What should I consider when installing a swamp or evaporative cooler? 

Before installing, consider if a swamp cooler is right for your house

  • Your climate: Evaporative coolers are only suited for dry air, not humid areas. 

  • Your space: Calculate the cubic feet per minute you want to cool and choose a compatible unit.

  • Location and features: Talk with your local HVAC contractor about where you should install your swamp cooler and if your home would benefit from certain features, such as variable fan speeds and an air filter system.

Is a swamp cooler cheaper than central air?

Swamp coolers cost approximately 50 percent less to install than central air conditioners and cost less to run. Operation costs depend on the size of the unit and home, your climate, utility rates in your area, and the system’s efficiency. Swamp coolers use 15 to 35 percent less power than air conditioners.

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