Missing my swamp…not really

By Karl Terry: CNJ columnist

Some years in eastern New Mexico we can go all summer with just a handful of 100 degree-plus days. Apparently this isn’t going to be one of them.

With a week nearly full of temperatures above the century mark what little rain we’ve received lately has been more than offset. The temperature is definitely top-of-mind for everyone until we get a break.

Myself, I don’t mind the high temperatures, as long as the air conditioning is working.

These days that air conditioning is the refrigerated variety in all of my regular haunts but it wasn’t always that way. Up until I took a 15-year hiatus from eastern New Mexico’s dry heat in the early 1990s, nearly every house and office I had occupied had been cooled with evaporative (swamp) coolers. Most of the time they worked well, even on days like we’ve had lately. There are a few drawbacks to the traditional swamp cooler though.

First of all, if not maintained and adjusted correctly things can get pretty miserable pretty quick. If the pump quits or the distributor lines plug up you soon have nothing but a big fan bringing hot air in from outside. Those little plastic supply lines with their compression connectors were my bain for years. I learned all the tricks, including wrapping a little piece of string around the compression fitting to get it to stop leaking. A few coolers I’ve maintained over the years had copper lines and connections, which were better until you forgot to drain and winterize everything properly.

The swamp cooler works great until the temperature and the relative humidity climb above 85 simultaneously. At that point it doesn’t matter how good your cooler pads are or how much water you spray on the pads from the outside you’re just not going to stay very cool.

The other major drawback to a swamp cooler is that everything in the house begins to get soggy because so much moisture is being pumped into the dwelling. It felt really good as you were going to bed at night but by morning things could be downright clammy. Mold and mildew could also be a problem if you weren’t careful.

Since you mostly only turn the swamp cooler on when you need cooling you always had to brace for that first blast of sand, grit and alkalinity if the thing had been off for a while and the wind had been blowing.

Once I moved to south Texas I came into full appreciation of refrigerated air conditioning and had no problem dropping the thermostat further as the summer heated up. My oft-repeated threat to office mates who couldn’t take it when icicles started hanging from the air conditioning ducts was to put on a sweater. If they continued to whine I always pointed out they could either put more clothes on or I could take some of mine off. That always shut ‘em up in a hurry.

With the temperatures still in the 80s as I finish this column at 10 p.m. my refrigerated air unit hums softly as I wipe my brow and nudge the temperature down a couple more degrees. I may not get out from under the air conditioning vent for weeks now.