Friday, June 10, 2011

Swamp cooler

I spent a couple days this week getting the swamp cooler working properly again. It hadn't worked correctly since we bought the house. It was totally jury rigged and it's a wonder it blew cool air at all, but now it's running pretty close to perfect.

I didn't know what a swamp cooler was til I moved out West. It's an evaporative cooler - a pump moves water from a reservoir to the top of the unit, where the water trickles down over some pads. A really powerful fan sucks air through the wet pads and blows it out into the room. Works astonishingly well in hot dry climates (and not at all in humid climates.)

The neat thing is that all the parts are remarkably standardized. I went to Home Depot and stocked up on everything (I thought) I'd need to replace and fix: water lines, pads, anti scaling stuff, and leak sealing paint stuff. Oh, and a Shop Vac. It would make the job easier - make LOTS of jobs easier. It was surprisingly easy to talk myself into a new tool :)

When I opened it up to look inside, Banders had to go investigate.

Blue float valve (broken), green pump (broken, didn't know it at the time), blue tube takes water from the pump up to the pads, white debris filter basket, random castors.

Scraped up the loose paint to reveal a lot of rust underneath. (The shop vac worked perfectly!)

Painted it with asphalt leak-stopper stuff and left it to dry overnight.

I replaced the gross aspen pads with some kind of blue fluffy synthetic stuff. Installed a new float valve and swapped the disgusting pump tube with a new one. On to the plumbing!

The previous owners plumbed the swamp cooler the normal way, with 1/4" tubing that ran under the house (from the nearest water line in the kitchen), out the vent nearest the cooler, and up to the cooler by that float valve. But for some reason, they didn't put in a way to drain the line, so the line froze and broke. They crawled bravely under the house and turned off the water at the kitchen end of things, then the summer after that they hooked up a garden hose. But the hose led to a frost-free hydrant, not a twist-knob spigot - so the water is either on or off, so it's either overflowing the swamp cooler or running dry. Classy!

Here's the heart of what I did:

I wanted to be able to turn the water off for winter and drain the exterior section of the line without crawling a terrifying quarter mile* under the house. I got as much of the work done outside as I could. The existing copper water line comes in on the left. There's a valve there to turn the water off for winter. It flows through to the T junction. The valve below the T is the drain valve - in the fall, I will turn off the water at the valve on the right, then open the lower valve and the line should clear. The new plastic line goes from the right side of the T to the outside world and up to the swamp cooler.

I used the pipe cutter to score the water lines, then used the razor blade to cut them cleanly. Ended up with super nice straight sharp cuts that way.

Anyway, there wasn't much else to do except go under the house. The den, where the swamp cooler lives, is an addition to the house. The ground under it isn't excavated as far so it's more belly crawling and less hands and knees crawling. It has many, many spiderwebs. But! The water line is only like 10' from the crawlspace entrance! I took a stick in one hand (to bash spiderwebs) and all of my tools in the other and crawled down there and did my work. Not so bad.

Next I had to go turn on the water where the copper line hooked in to the main plumbing. I took my trusty stick and went down the other crawlspace entrance, to the original house, and got pretty lost. I know, it's like a 1500 sq ft house, how can you get lost? All I can say is that it's pretty confusing, trying to figure out what room you're crawling around under. Eventually I crawled a complete circle under there and ended up at the kitchen. Where the water pipes would've led me, had I paid attention to them. And, since I was looking up trying to find my 1/4" copper line, I saw the FUCKALL BIG SPIDER when it MOVED.

I bout had a heart attack, yall. I know it is a totally irrational fear. Spiders are not out to get us (well, most of the time) and their bites are so rarely serious or fatal that it's a black swan event. But that's not what I'm scared of! I'm scared of dying of the heebie jeebies if I touch one! Slightly more seriously, I'm scared of giving myself a concussion by trying to leap to my feet to run away while still under the house.

So I saw this Shelob-sized** spider and had to stop for a while and breathe deeply and, I admit it, whimper. And cry. I cried down there. I cried even more when I realized the fell beast was chilling out about 2' from the very valve I needed to turn.

I quit for the day. Yeah, the waterproofing asphalt stuff needed to dry, but honestly, I couldn't face that spider. I whined on Facebook about the giant spider, and I must say, y'all were less than sympathetic.

The next day, I took a picture to prove how big Shelob was. I crawled back out from under the house to post it.

Giant shiny black spider. Living in the dry darkness under a house. Strong, sticky, irregular webs everywhere under the house. Hey, great, she's probably a black widow!

I seriously succumbed to the heebie jeebies at that point. I took off my gloves and long sleeved shirt and flailed around whacking imaginary creepy crawlies all over my body. I gradually convinced myself that they're not aggressive and that wasp spray would let me kill Shelob from a distance, and I sternly did not think about the OTHER black widows probably living down there. Plus, I decided, if I did get bitten and had to go to the doctor they might give me Xanax for the shivering gibbering horror nightmares. See? That's looking on the bright side.

After that, it was fairly anticlimatic. I crawled very slowly back under the house. I did not look around for other spiders. I sprayed the big one, crawled over, bashed her with my stick to put her out of her misery, and turned on the water.

While the reservoir filled up, I tried the pump. No luck - even when I tried it in a pan of water in the sink. $25 at the hardware store got me a new replacement pump. Yes, I tested it in the pan of water in the sink, and yes, it immediately sprayed a jet of water down the countertop, and yes, I felt pretty dumb. But it also worked perfectly when I plugged it in in the swamp cooler.

Here's the new setup (with the old cooler - but the new one is identical).

The tan line coming out of the blue line is a bleed-off line. We have hard well water, and the swamp cooler was pretty crusted up with minerals. I think that's what killed the old pump, actually. The idea is that as the water evaporates, it leaves minerals behind, so the total water in the swamp cooler becomes more and more mineralized. The bleed-off valve will dump some of the heavily mineralized water outside, and new fresh water will come in to replace it. The problem is that the bleed-off valve dumps water faster than the intake line delivers it, so I'll just need to manually bleed the system every so often. I can just open the cooler, hang the bleed line outside the cooler, and let it dump some of the water.

Anyway, that is my story of bravery and cleverness. I will let you know if I actually got bitten and haven't noticed. (Jane - I have a migraine today, which is uncommon but not unheard of, and I'm totally convinced I did get bit.)

Next up - I swapped out an ugly ceiling fan and an ugly light fixture for more attractive ones. I could write about that?

*possibly a slight exaggeration.
**I had that 1978 Brothers Hildebrandt LOTR calendar! Anybody else remember it?


  1. I did too give you sympathy!! And I even tolded you a story to make you laugh and feel better ;)

    Nuttin but love for ya Funder, baby!

  2. *You* were pretty much the only sympathetic one! Bill told me he played with a tarantula - how's that at all helpful to my nerves!

  3. Ok, you made me laugh but I totally sympathize with the heebie-jeebies, especially around a ginormous black widow. Yeeesh! If it makes you feel any better, I now simply smash any non-mammalian creature in my house with a shoe. Or I bust out with the wasp killer.

    PS. If you squash them, you can feed the corpses to the chickens. That always makes me feel better.

  4. Well she IS big and SCAREY ! I wouldn't of been able to even go back in there - to hell with cool air! Heck I don't think I'd be able to even go in my house knowing SHE was under it ... nope not for me!

  5. You have my sympathies too. I gave them to you over on your other blog! I won't go into our crawl space because I'm afraid of running into Aragog and his family!

  6. That is one of the biggest flippin black widows I've ever seen!
    I'm impressed you were able to document. Wasp spray = brilliant. Good knowing about the stronger, stickier webs too, so you knew what might be around.

    Thank god you saw her first. I just finished course 3 of antibiotics from my "Uh, I think I got bit by a black widow" bite. VERY happy you avoided that nastiness.

    You get the Honkin Braveness, Bad*ss Under The House, Crawler Award.

  7. I had never heard of a swamp cooler...

  8. I just familiarized myself with a second hand swamp cooler and in the process I learned something you might find useful: You can put a clamp on the bleed off line to regulate the drain speed. I believe you want to get it to a drip of around 3 gallons an hour. It will save you from having to manually drain it periodically.

  9. Bleed off line: I'm about to put one on our evap cooler, and just had a great idea: Why not put a "drip system" irrigation head on it. About the size of a quarter, costs a buck or two, and is rated for a specific amount of output per hour.... Brilliant!!! (if it works.... I will be trying it this summer).