Keep Me Cool Portable Air Conditioning Cooler 120V




About: I am a Home Theater Nut, Gadget Guru, Builder of Things, and I'm getting Much Much better at putting things back together after I take them apart.

I have always wanted to have Air Conditioning  in my shed, I mainly use it for storage, but I am always in there looking for something!  I was also looking to have something I could take with me, wherever I go, like to a friends house if we just hang out in the garage of on the deck.  I really don't like warm weather, so here is my keep it cool answer!  This project draws a lot upon other 'ibles, like CameronSS's idea, but I needed it bigger!  This all runs off 120V, so I don't have to worry about batteries, just bring the cooler and a long extension cord.   I bought as few materials as possible, and I only have about $20 into this project (aside from what I dumpster dove for or otherwise had laying around),  I probably could have gotten away with about $10, but I wanted a few options that I was willing to pay for.

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Step 1: Gather Stuff

Here is what you will need:
- Cooler (found mike kicking around my shed)
- Couple of larger AC fans, I got mine from a K&N Air Filter display that my local Auto Parts Stores was throwing out when they were going out of business
- Coil setup from a Fridge that is being discarded.  Keep an eye out in the neighborhood on garbage day.
- Old Air Purifier fan, or any 6ish inch fan that you can find
- Toilet Drain Flange, Hardware Store (Orange, Blue or Green)
- Shower Drain, again found at a Hardware Store (Orange had this one)
- Fountain Pump, Harbor Freight.
- 7" Duct Elbow, Hardware Store

Misc tools
Angle Grinder
Jig Saw

Step 2: Prep the Fans

I started by breaking apart the K&N display, and I left the surrounding plastic parts on there.  It helped with the mounting!  I then took apart the Air purifier, and removed the motor.  Sorry, I don't have more pics of this step.  But in order to easily mount the motor, I used my angle grinder and ground away the plastic except for the actual 'mount' holder.  It fits nicely into the Shower Drain.  You will see this in upcoming steps.

Step 3: Hack the Cooler

Now that the fans are out of the large case, I took a piece of cardboard and outlined a hole slightly bigger than the fans, but still smaller than the surrounding plastic.  I also cut a hole for the toilet flange to fit into.  I also, when I was done, fully removed the underside ribbed portion of the cooler, it just makes everything easier to work with.

Step 4: Load Up the Fins, Fans, and Flange

Amazingly, the fridge fins fit almost PERFECTLY under the hood!
I snared some 11/32 PCV hose, from the same parts store that was closing, and hooked it to the trimmed ends of my fins.  One for the uptake, and one for out.  I didn't want to be distracted all day with the sound of the water dripping out, so another hose should allow the output to flow under the water line.
The pump just sits in the bottom of the cooler using suction cups, and I cut a hole in the top of the cooler to allow the power cord to come out.
I decided to hold up the radiator fins in the lid by using some 6MM threaded rod (had it in stock).
I simply cut it to length across the lid and 'threaded' them to hold the unit up.
I mounted my fans and my flange.
The fans will blow down into the cooler.
I cut a hole for the power cord from the fountain pump.
note, I found some Peel-N-Seal caulking on clearance at my local hardware store, so I picked it up.  This way, I can caulk everything and if I see I did something wrong, or want to re-do something I can just peel up the caulk.  As you can probably tell from the pictures, the caulk was pretty old, and about half set in the tube.  I had to cut the tube open from the side and just work it like play-doh

Step 5: Hook Up the Pump

Here Is how I hooked up the pump.  I just cut off the ends of my fins and hooked up my PCV hose.  I then connected the end of one of the hoses to the pump, which just mounts on the bottom of the cooler with suction cups, to the pump outlet, and secured with a hose clamp.  It seemed a little loose.

Step 6: Add the Drain and Exhaust Fan

I just took apart the air purifier, and used my angle grinder to trim away any excess plastic.  I trimmed it to fit almost perfectly across the drain opening, and let enough of a "tab" to reuse one of the drain screws, easier to mount!
I then mounted the fan, and gorilla glued the speed control knob to the other side.  I got out my liquid electrical tape and gave all the connectors a good coat around the edges, 'cause that's how I roll.

Step 7: Add Duct and Get Ready to Roll!

I added my 7" adjustable elbow, I had to cut the bottom portion open, I just drilled out the rivets, so it could fit nicely inside.  I caulked the rim of the flange with more of the Seal and Peel Caulk, mounted the fan and drain assembly, then added ductwork.
Since I drilled out the bottom section, I got it to be a nice tight fit, then just used two sheet metal screws to hold it together.  I didn't go too tight, this was it is still adjustable.

Step 8: Chill

Now fill the cooler with cold water and Ice, and Chill!
So far so good!  Nice and cold, but it's only been mid 80's outside, so about 90 in the shed.  I guess the real test will be when it's over 100!
My only concern so far is that the 158GPH pump may not be enough.  They make a 260ish one at Harbor freight, so I may have to upgrade to that in the future!

Step 9:

It's been a while but I have some rough figures....

The ambient temperature in my shed lat summer was 112F

I could not do a cool down estimate as the door was open because I used this to cool my equipment for an outdoor move theater.

using 2 - 15# bags of ice I was able to produce a "cool factor", cold air blowing at 42F out of the cooler for a duration of at least 8 hours, we finished the movie and went to bed after that, so it may have been longer...

this is a nice option for equipment cooling!

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    48 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Very clever, you've got it working really well!

    I don't know where you're located, but if you have another coil/heat exchanger, you can dig a hole 6~8ft down, drop the coil in there, fill with sand or gravel (dirt may even work) and have a budget geothermal unit. Across most of the US, it's around 65 deg that far down. Could be a "heater" as well in the winter. If you go to you'll find a REALLY informative, technical paper/article on how to do this for an entire house w/ air or water as the exchange medium. There's a map showing avg. ground temps West of the Mississippi (he's focused on CA). I know, (expensive) commercial systems exist, but this IS a DIY site right?

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    This comment is a great idea but you only need to dig half that deep. In most areas the ground temperature will remain stable just 3-4 deep.

    Thanks for the great link, I'll look into that more, but I just got inspired to do a quick cooler! yeah, this IS a DIY site, and using stuff you have laying around or dumpster dove for is half the fun!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice! We have an orange and a blue hardware store here in Arizona but the last green one we had was O'malleys and they went under 25 years ago or so. Are they still around in other parts?

    3 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Menards is still thriving in the Midwest. Not too surprising as their home base is in Wisconsin. I used to live in Minnesota, move to central New York five years ago. Menards is one of the things I miss most.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I refer to "Green" as Menards, although I guess it could also mean Orchard Supply in other parts of the country. O'Malleys is gone as far as I know, just like Handy Andy, wow, a trip down memory lane!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Love this idea. Would like to see a version I could power with the 18v batteries from my cordless tools. I'm planning a move driving cross country and need something to keep my pets cool in the truck when I stop for meals.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Very Cool, thinking I need to do this with some 12v computer fans and a 12v pump hooked up to a solar panel, that would be awesome for those days out at the campsite!


    8 years ago on Step 8

    I have been looking for something like this for a few years now for you see i am a letter carrier in Texas and we drive trucks with nothing but a small 6 inch fan to cool the cab. This would be perfect for me as I have a mounted route where I deliver curb side boxes all day. Here is an idea. Has anyone thought about using dry ice for cooling.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Dry Ice used as a coolant for the system would be very dangerous unless you have your window open. Dry Ice is solidified Carbon Dioxide after all.


    8 years ago on Step 8

    I take that back...I see now that the air is cooled before blowing over the ice, I'm still curious about the humidity though.


    8 years ago on Step 8

    Nice work! I had originally been thinking that you'd gone a little overboard, but I like the end result. A couple things:
    Your only real concern with an overpowered pump is if it's generating a lot of heat and pumping warm water up into your heat exchanger and/or melting the ice too fast. The idea is to keep your fins as cold as possible so the more cold water you move through it the better.
    Don't run de-ionized water for any length of time. De-ionized water has a habit of trying to pull ions from whatever it's running through, speeding up your corrosion issues.
    Instead of salt, add some alcohol to your mix (grain or rubbing) it has the same temperature lowering effect but won't corrode. The pump has a warning about being used with fuels, but if you keep the mix reasonable it shouldn't be a problem.

    I'd be interested in hearing what this set up does to the humidity in your shed, since you're blowing warm room air over the ice before blowing it over your fins.


    8 years ago on Step 8

    Use distilled water, that will keep calcium build-up away. Use a bit of antifreeze if you don't drain it too often. Another thing would be to add about a handful of salt to the water, it may corrode the pipes faster, but it would drop the water temp, and the ice would melt faster. For cleaning the pipes out, just use vinegar, let it sit for 5 min, then wash it out with distilled/deionized water.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice work, but I can't figure out where the cooling effect is coming from other than the ice originally placed in the device.


    8 years ago on Step 8

    nice.. but it will not work long time because calcium in water will deposit after every time u pour water and start choking the radiator.

    Love the idea here, garage engineering is always fun!
    I'm building one of these in a 12 volt mode for my pickup, to sit on the back seat.
    Cool the truck cab while driving and not use the fuel hungry Auto AC. With only two computer fans and a small submersible pump to run, this will use a lot less power then the Auto AC electric clutch, and less fuel to make the few extra watts of power to run the cooler. Add in a simple valve and hose to drain excess melt water outside the cab means not having to haul it out to drain it and straining the back.

    Will detail the build and make an instructable when its complete. Will also test it against auto unit for cooling. I intend to put the coil outside the ice container to cool cab air and not introduce extra humidity to the cab, dripping enough sweat now! By channeling cab air only through the cooling coils, I can have dry cool air and no extra cab humidity do deal with.

    Its the ones who try things that find answers, and no amount of armchair design beats a hands on trial and error for building real knowledge. thankfully here at instructables, we can learn from each other.