How to Make Your Own Portable Air Conditioner

How to Make Your Own Portable Air Conditioner

Range Govindan
Jul 20, 2009

Summer's here and we are all sweating. If you spend any time outside, you'll end up wet. Things are worse when you get to hotter climates. Summer is also the time for drives to see relatives, friends and places. But what if you don't have air conditioning in your car, how could you survive a 10-hour journey? It's actually not that bad, because we've lived through those drives without problems, but what if you could make those drives more comfortable?

Instructables user CameronSS posted a guide to help everyone build their own portable air conditioner. This would make any long journey in the car easy to live with. The materials needed to assemble your AC might already be hidden away in your garage. You'll need a portable cooler, 12V battery, fans, and a generous helping of ice.

Cameron reports his tests as well. He started his contraption in a parked truck. The temperature was 95 degrees in the shade. The heat outside was 108. Within five minutes of starting the portable AC, the truck had cooled down to 75 degrees, and the air coming out of it was at 65. Two quarts of water had been refrigerated and 8 pounds of ice were used. The ice had melted after 40 minutes, leaving the water at 50 degrees. Still, the output was of 65 degrees.

That's a great idea for those long rides. All you need to made this work over a longer period is ice, and you can get that at truck stops and rest stops all over the place. The handy bags they come in could also keep them isolated, and not put water all over the place. He basically came up with the device with his dad, who let him use an old pickup truck. The trouble is that the pickup truck doesn't have AC. The idea is based upon portable coolers which have refrigeration units built in. The trouble is that these units cost a lot of money, from $500 to $5,000. His solution costs $10.

The basic concept is to use a boating bilge pump to circulate iced water through a heater core, thereby chilling it, and to use a pair of 12V box fans to blow air through the heater core.

Cameron lists his materials in detail. The most important parts are a bilge pump and a heater core. Making your own AC does involve playing around with wires and electricity in a very limited fashion. You don't need to be an expert and anyone can do this. What's really interesting is that you can scrounge around for these parts and end up paying nothing. We all have stuff lying around in our garages and sheds that can be cannibalized to create the AC.

The first step is to create holes in the cooler lid for the fans and for the pump. The bilge pump is used to power some fans to circulate the cold air that is generated from the AC out into the environment. After attaching the fans and the heater core to the lid, you can attach the bilge pump to the bottom of the cooler. You'll connect the output of the bilge pump to the input of the heater core and add some fan guards. The wiring is pretty straightforward. Wires should be coming from the fans and the pump. Use wire to attach them together, reds together and blacks together, and connect them to the 12V battery. To operate it, you'll dump in some ice, 3/4 of the way, and half a gallon of refrigerated water. You're done. Make sure that the fans are going the right way, fanning air out of the AC instead of in! So check out his handy guide over at Instructables. [Instructables via Lifehacker, images via CameronSS]

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