Picture of Portable 12V Air Conditioner --Cheap and easy!
LeerCourier Shell.jpg
This project is my dad's $10 solution to a $500 solution to a $25,000 problem. As I have previously mentioned around the site, my Dad owns an electric 1979 Ford Courier pickup, and is cool enough to let me drive it around. We absolutely love it, and wouldn't trade it for a Tesla Roadster, but one of the few problems with electric cars is heating and cooling. In a gas car, heat is provided by the 80% of the gas that is wasted as heat, and air conditioning is provided by a crankshaft-driven compressor system. Many EVs use hair dryer elements and fans for heat, and some, ours included, feature a powerful gasoline-burning heater.

(Update from 4-22-08: I'd forgotten that I mentioned the gas heater on here. Last fall the gas tank and heater were removed, and a ceramic heater was built in. It works great, although not quite as fast, and doesn't use gas.)

However, air conditioning is trickier because the shaft of an electric motor doesn't always spin. Some have used a compressor driven by the motor shaft anyway, while others have turned a compressor using a separate motor. Finally, my dad came up with part of the concept for this system. It pumps ice water through an evaporator core, which has fans that blow air through it. It is very simple, but we found what we were looking for at Sporty's Pilot Shop. They sell air conditioners built into ice chests for prices ranging from $475 for a basic model to $625 for a 24V, dual fan model.There is also an ArcticAir unit for $4750 with a full compressor unit. However, we like our $10 version better. I saw the ArcticAir display at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this summer, and our unit is more compact and puts out cooler air. All you need is materials, basic construction/assembly and wiring skills, and a bag of ice. Let's go!

Update, 5-12-08: 100,003 views! Yay! I'm no Kipkay, but I'm still proud.
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rbfe4ch476 years ago
hey there cameronss, love the idea. in fact had to go out and build one myself. i made a couple of modifications to it. i put a vented drain cap on the top and put the fans so they blow on the heater core. the warm air then is blown over the cold heater core thru the chest and out the vent. i also added a little on/off switch to it. i fly on helicopters and it gets mighty hot sometimes, this was the perfect little idea to cool off with. thanks for the idea.
I was wondering about doing the same thing you are would it be better to blow into the heater core or is that just a theory cause id like to know i want to build a good one for my shop. also i considered using dry ice on those extra hot days to keep the water even cooler. we have a fridge in the shop so ice could keep coming and keep it cool all day. i might need 3 or 4 of these though its like 800 square feet. let me know what you think.
ksan1 03CR2503 months ago

Dry Ice Dangerous!!! pls dont use for home DIY air condition....

have you ever heard of punctuation you know the periods commas and capital letters it makes you look so much more legit litter you know able to read and write

xvitox 03CR2505 years ago
ummm dry ice= bad idea for anything like wont work and if you seal up the area, as in to keep it cool inside, you fill the room with CO_2_ which brings about a very drowsy feeling. I know cuz that happened when I purchased Dry Ice one day and got stuck in traffic...and me and my girlfriend had the windows up. And it felt really good but we started getting sleepy.
CameronSS (author)  03CR2506 years ago
You cannot cool your shop using ice that is frozen inside the shop. Ice is water that has had enough heat energy removed for it to solidify. If it is frozen in a freezer, all of the heat energy that is removed (and then some) is dispersed from the coils on the back of the freezer. Since all of the heat is being dispersed back into the shop air, you won't cool anything. Since your shop is stationary, you might as well just get a cheap window unit. It will blow cold air, but all the removed heat will be blown outside, and you won't have to replace ice and water.
it is actually better to blow into the heater core. the fans are more efficient for blowing. i made another one for a guy that worked better when i used a flexible pipe for a dryer. i added another fan to that so that two fans would blow on the heater fan and the added fan would suck that air thru the dryer vent. the dryer vent allows the person to be able to direct the air to whereever you would like. if interested, i could send you some pics of this one. the are a blast to make and if you have a dremel, that will make life easy. thanks for the comment.
CameronSS (author)  rbfe4ch476 years ago
Don't let the FAA see it, they'd probably yell at you for it not being TSO'ed. ;-)

I'm glad to see that another person built one, and even more so because it's in the application that KoolerAire was trying to gyp $500 for.

My air conditioner is in a helicopter! Yay!
in chinook helicopters we have a system that cools water, then pumps it through little tubes in a vest that we wear to cool you down. it works well in an aviation application where you will be sitting not moving for a very long time with lots of ambient air blowing all around.
awawawaw6 years ago
Woohoo! I just bought my ice chest to start mine and have the fan mounted so far. My first one will be cooling my 86 Accord for the 95+ days in Sac, CA. The second will be a gift for my father-in-law for his almost completely restored 1969 Nova. Target has a really nice cooler that has a "compartment" in the top for cell phones, keys, etc. This compartment works perfect for a 4.5" muffin fan. When mine is complete, it will still look like an off the shelf cooler. Go to and search for "Igloo Ice Cube 14-qt. Cooler ". Hopefully mine will be completed in a week or so. (wish I had it today.... 101 forecast!!!)
Just went to check something on my ice chest and it looks like doesn't have it anymore. The one that comes up as the Igloo Ice Cube is 17" cubed. Mine is only about 12" cubed. It looks the same though........ I put all my parts together and ran a test. With 4 cups of ice and about a gallon of water, the air coming out was 58 degrees. As soon as I finish modifying the heater core (soldering on elbows) I'll post pictures and maybe an instructable.
CameronSS (author)  awawawaw6 years ago
Picture! Picture!
Still prototyping, but here is an idea. Ford Escort Heater Core: new at Kragens for $40, shown with the ends cut short and elbows soldered on Attwood T-500 Bilge Pump: $17 at Walmart ComAir Muffin Fan, 12V, 102CFM, Free from the garage Igloo Ice Cube 14qt ice chest: $15 at Target Heater hose: free (going to change to vinyl tubing for flexibility) Rocker switches: free from garage, one for pump, one for fan AC Adapter for Testing, 12V, 4.5Amp: from the workbench So I am into this for $72 so far, but I am buying most items new . Hoping to finish by the weekend.............
isaacpr71 month ago

I just ordered all of the materials for this project. I have read about both methods of placing the fans. Can anyone tell me as to which method actually works best? Blowing air out of the cooler or sucking air from outside?

myr15 months ago

This does work but why not simplify it, 2 holes, 1 fan, and just a cooler full of ice works 100% the same.

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kschmidt28 months ago

So I'm going to make one of these for two reasons, one because my room has a lot of computers and electronics in it and it's on the west side of the house so it gets stinking hot in summer (Down here in Australia the sucks) and also because the aircon in my car is broken and I'm too cheap to get it fixed. My question is, wouldn't you be able to put the heater core and the fans outside the esky (Cooler to you guys) with the hoses running in, that way having the unit where the water is completely sealed? I'm clumsy and I don't want water going all though my room, also the road where I live is rough and my ute has really hard suspension so the ride is shocking (No Pun intended) Just a thought, it should work right?

another thought, you could use a blower fan that cars used to push the air, it'll move a lot more air and cool the place down quicker

Ricopico8 months ago

Desert coolers is what they are called in some parts of the world

Joefer8 months ago

Quick Question:

Would it matter if we use a container other than an ice box? I mean we are venting out air at a fairly quick pace. I don't mind portability as I am planning to use it in a room. Pls do reply,

rbfe4ch478 months ago
PLASTICBALDY, DIDN'T KNOW THIS WAS ENGLISH 101. I did this as an instructable, something to do on my own, if you don't like the "English" then don't read it.
Joefer rbfe4ch478 months ago

I think plasticbaldy was referring to some other person's comment. Don't worry mate, I find your English perfect! So is your project

casemill8 months ago

Um, you are using fans and coolant. Wouldn't it be more efficient to just use a refrigeration system? Instead of buying ice, which takes a lot of energy to make, you could use a normal refrigerant based unit. That way, you never have to replace the coolant. You know, a fan, a condenser, a heat exchanger, etc... Seems like you are doing something here that uses the same amount of energy to cool air as other things that cool air way more efficiently.

If you're going to do that, then you may as well buy an aftermarket cooling unit and have it installed in your vehicle. Not exactly portable though - can't take it from one vehicle to another (or use it in your plane or copter or tent for that matter).

kevino428 months ago

I think it's a little unfair to say it's cheap, when you have half the products "on-hand/used" but I will build this and you did give me an idea. I'm sure someone in my large family might have some of the parts to make this an easy build.

Upir8 months ago

Would it be worth while to build this into something like a zeer pot
refrigerator thing? You mentioned that the air was drier in the truck
after running a bit, and since the zeer pot functions on evaporation
concept, I was wondering if that would help the ice to last longer and
the whole thing cool longer?

Upir8 months ago

Would it be worth while to build this into something like a zeer pot refrigerator thing? You mentioned that the air was drier in the truck after running a bit, and since the zeer pot functions on evaporation concept, I was wondering if that would help the ice to last longer and the whole thing cool longer?

tom_fl1 year ago
hey i know this is quite late, but how do you even get air for the vent to work? isnt it building up a vacuum inside the box with no holes for air?
rusty2926 tom_fl8 months ago

tom_fl... please re-read the instructable. It states you need to leave the top open a litle to vent (the author said he flipped back the handle and that worked fine) I made this unit once for fun out of scrap parts and I drilled a 1 inch hole close to the top on the side of the cooler and was able to cover it with some plastic mesh and glue to allow air in and keep critters out and keep the lid closed! Worked great!

johnann878 months ago

Here is a use for this super cool idea that few people will have .... my father (78 years young) has a 1964 Combine he uses every year around July. He is harvesting fescue seeds. Combines are VERY expensive and it doesn't make sense to purchase a new one for the small amount of harvest that he has. There is no AC in this huge machine and there is only one large window. This is the perfect solution! Thank you from a eighth generation farmer!

michelhb8 months ago

This is a pretty cool idea. I have a couple of suggestions. The first is you could use Blue Ice blocks instead of ice cubes. Get ones that will fit inside the cooler and have enough so one set can be freezing while the other is in use. The second is those cheap floor vent deflectors to direct the air more horizontally. You could screw a couple of pieces of flat steel onto the lid at each end of the fans and use the magnets on the deflector to attach it to the steel.

IamTheMomo8 months ago

I live in hurricane country, and freezing salt water in gallon jugs keeps my coolers nice and frosty for a long, long time. I don't have the mess of melting ice from the store, either, and of course, it is completely recyclable! When it thaws, just freeze it again! I'd love to have one of these cooler units like yours (if I could get hubby to build it - I'm disabled and can't do it) to use overnight in one bedroom when we have a hurricane and lose power for a week.

tazz17817 years ago
While its a great project, its not all that green. For example, where does the ice come from? A machine that produces heat to make Ice and uses harmfull gases to do so. So, for the continued cost of the ice, whether buying it daily or having your ice box run more so you can provide your own ice, your really not saving any money or the enviroment.
My "ice box" runs more? How much more would that be?

And agritzmacher has a point - how do you think electric cars are charged?

The raw materials and manufacture of Prius batteries requires 10,000 miles of transport, literally across the world:

Virtually all CFL bulbs - which we will be required to buy soon - are made in Chinese factories, fueled by "dirty" coal power plants. And they contain mercury, which, if the bulb breaks, requires approximately 6 types of tools and materials, and 14 steps (including cutting out a section of your carpet, if that's where it broke) - depending on who you ask.
CameronSS (author)  lloydrmc3 years ago
Point 1: Do your research. Power from a coal power plant is cleaner than power from a gasoline engine.

Point 2: A CFL typically contains 4mg-5mg of mercury. The energy saved compared to an incandescent translates to something like 15mg-20mg less mercury vapor at a coal power plant.

Point 3: I made it to Level 2, I guess.
Do YOUR research!
Point 1: Power plants in China (where virtually all CFLs come from) are NOT in any way shape manner or form: "cleaner than power from a gasoline engine". They have no scrubbers or any other type of pollution control whatsoever! In some Chinese cities, the smoke from power plants and other pollution literally makes it difficult to see for any distance, even at midday.

Point 2: Try actually reading my comment. My comment was NOT about the impact of mercury on the environment in general but rather what a nightmare it is to have to clean up after a mishap with a CFL that we are going to soon be FORCED BY LAW to purchase, e.g.:

Have you ever actually used a high-lumen CFL (such as a replacement for the soon-to-be-outlawed 100W Edison bulb)? It is recommended that they only be used in applications where they will be on for at least ten minutes, because it takes 5+ minutes for them to reach rated output

During the height of steel production in the greater Pittsburg, PA area, white-collar workers took a spare white shirt to change into as the air was so thick with coal smoke and ash that it soon turned black. China is now in some areas that bad. So yes, you are correct.

CameronSS (author)  lloydrmc3 years ago
Okee dokes. Have fun.
CameronSS (author)  tazz17817 years ago
The ice box runs whether we use the ice or not. We can turn it off, but that only shuts off water, not power to the freezing mechanism.
Yes, the ice box runs regardless, but it runs more to freeze water. How about using solar panels to run your portable cooler, or to charge the battery? Then you would have a somewhat "Green" portable AC.
CameronSS (author)  tazz17817 years ago
Well, why do you think I'm tying to win? I don't need another bike...
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