Forget the cute cats and the mom in the Chewbacca mask. One of the most riveting videos on YouTube is about making a homemade air conditioner—also called a bucket air cooler—out of a bucket, a fan, and some ice. In the video, which is approaching 12 million views as of late-May 2016, the DIYer who goes by the screen name desertsun02 barely breaks a sweat as he fashions a homemade air conditioner. So at Consumer Reports we just had to try it ourselves, including making our own video.

Chris Regan, who leads Consumer Reports' A/C testing, built two versions of the homemade air conditioner—one from a bucket and one from a Styrofoam cooler—for less than $30 (not including the ice). You can see him at work in the video above, but basically the job entailed cutting a few big round holes in the side and top of the cooler and bucket, inserting PVC pipe (or some plastic cups), adding ice, and blowing air down through the top and out the sides with a small fan.

But building the homemade air conditioner was just the beginning. Chris then put both devices through our comfort test in the same chamber we use for our regular window air conditioner tests.

After multiple runs using 8 to 12 pounds of three different forms of ice—cubes, reusable ice packs, and a frozen gallon jug of water—the homemade air conditioner was able to lower the temperature of a small room by only 2° to 3° F, and within 30 minutes the room temperature began to rise again.

The frozen jug of water was the best for cooling, apparently because it allows enough air to circulate around the jug to sufficiently cool it. And while the ice cubes initially produced the lowest air temperature, once they started melting the temperature measured outside the duct (pipe or cup) wasn’t much different than the room temperature. Again, the room temperature began to rise in 30 minutes.

Our take: Unless you want to try this DIY homemade air conditioner project for fun, you can cool off just by sitting in front of a fan and forget the bucket and the ice.

Chris Regan making a homemade air conditioner
Christopher Regan in the lab with a homemade air conditioner.


If you need a whole-house cooling system, check our buying guide and exclusive brand reliability information for central air conditioners.
 

Affordable Air Conditioners

While you’ll have to spend more than $30 for a new window air conditioner to keep you cool, we found some bargains in our recent air conditioner tests starting as low as $145. Our three recommended small window units, which can cool 100 to 300 square feet, include the:

More sizes. If you need to cool a medium-size space like a master bedroom, consider one of these two GEs: the GE AEZ08LV, $210, and the GE AEW08LV, $200, sold at Walmart. Need one larger still for your family room? Our CR Best Buy is the LG LW1216ER, $350. And if you don’t mind a little noise, consider the Haier HWE12XCR, $320.