We all deal with the Philippine heat in different ways. Some of us take to the beach, the pool, or cold showers; others swig as many icy, cold drinks as they can take; and a special few have accepted their fate of being one with the sweat.

But if you’re like most people who don’t have a nearby swimming hole, a stomach for unli drinks, or a willingness to stew in their own juices, you’re probably looking to get an air conditioner (AC) or an air cooler.

Don’t they both cool?

Yes, an AC and an air cooler both do the same job of cooling the air around you to make you feel more comfortable in hot or warm temperatures, but they do so through slightly different methods.

An AC takes in warm and typically moist air and uses a refrigerant to transform it into dry, cool air. It then recirculates that cool air around the room.

An air cooler uses a fan to blow hot air through a water-soaked pad. The hot air causes the water in the pad to evaporate, cooling the air. From there, the fan continues to blow the freshly-cooled air throughout the area. The cooling effect is kind of like what happens when you splash water on your skin on a hot day or use rubbing alcohol on your hands, and suddenly feel a quick-cooling sensation.

Do I really need either one?

Well, that's entirely up to your ability to handle the heat. Some can do just fine with an electric fan or some other method of cooling off, but for others, they could really use a more potent cooling appliance.

And before you say that an air conditioner or air cooler is just another welcome but unnecessary luxury, you ought to know that having a room temperature that's too hot can actually hinder your ability to work at peak efficiency. High temperatures beyond the range of 22-25°C can cause you to become lethargic and unfocused, as you sweat out valuable electrolytes and other minerals.

Since many of us have started working from home due to the effects of COVID-19, having an air conditioner or air cooler at home has become much more than just a way to stay comfortable. It's now legitimately worth considering to make sure you can stay productive during the hottest parts of the day.

Alright, Iwant one.
But AC or Air Cooler?
What's the diff?

Price

Air coolers are definitely more affordable than ACs at a mere fraction of the cost. Portable ACs can cost at least P10,000 whereas some air coolers can go for about P2,000.

Energy Costs

Air coolers use far less electricity than ACs, which can lead to energy bills that cost 50-80% less if you choose an air cooler.

Humidity

Here’s where ACs shine. Air coolers work well in hot, dry places like the deserts of the Middle East but in an archipelago like the Philippines, you’re bound to have high humidity for much of the year. Since air coolers create evaporated air using air pulled from outside, you may experience a sticky sweat when cooling off during particularly humid days. ACs however will keep the cooled air dry, with some ACs being able to even dehumidify the air in addition to the usual cooling. This is great for those who are susceptible to allergens that thrive in humid environments, such as moss or mildew.

Space and Setup

Generally, portable ACs and air coolers occupy the same amount of space. Both are easy to install, although you do need to put a portable AC near a window or install a duct vent to release the water created during the dehumidifying process. This could be an issue for apartment or condominium dwellers.

Maintenance

Both are relatively easy to maintain. You just need to change the water for the air cooler from time to time. As for the AC, you could maintain it yourself with proper cleaning or have it serviced by a professional.

Health concerns

ACs take air from outside whereas air coolers recirculate the air indoors, so ACs could help ensure you get a good amount of fresh air. They can also create an unpleasant environment for people with acute allergies.

Environmental impact

Air coolers are quite environmentally-friendly because they use water as their refrigerant. ACs use CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and HFCs (hydro-chlorofluorocarbons) as their refrigerant, which are harmful to the environment. New refrigerants are being formulated to produce less of a negative impact on the environment as time goes on.

Other considerations

ACs have the added benefit of being able to heat the air, just in case you’re facing a particularly cool night. Portable ACs are also known to make more noise than air coolers or wall ACs so if the louder rumble bothers you, you may want to try out the portable AC you’ve been eyeing before completing the purchase.

Here’s a chart to help you quickly see the differences between a portable AC and a portable air cooler at a glance.

TLDR: Portable air coolers are less expensive to buy and use than portable ACs, as well as more environment-friendly. Portable ACs are more versatile and can operate more consistently across different climates and temperatures, and have the added benefit of dehumidifying the air. While portable ACs still need a bit of setup like a window or vent duct, both are generally easy to take care of.

As to whether or not you actually need either one, that's up to you, but you should know that keeping your room temperature at a range of 22-25°C is key to staying as productive as possible.

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