C and I are currently locked in a battle to the death with the house we’re renting. This past spring, our landlord asked us if we wanted to buy it from her, but for various reasons (reasons that deserve their own post once I’ve let my rage dissipate), we’re going to be looking to buy another place this fall. But this post is not about my rage, and it is not about a house hunt. It is about the two months we lived without central air and, most importantly, a lovely serendipity that led us to discover the wonder that is the CULER space cooler. (Please note – we were lucky enough to get to try the CULER out in exchange for this review rather than shelling out cash up front. It has in no way affected my opinion on the machine, but it definitely did make it possible for me to try it out. After dropping several hundred on a couple window units, we were tapped out).

an air-conditionless “adventure”

I’m pretty sure this house knew that we were considering owning it. The first thing to go was the hot water heater, which required three visits from the landlord’s plumber to be totally fixed. We were unfazed and never without hot water (just super inconvenienced). Next, though, was the HVAC. This was unsurprising. Our explorations of the place had revealed that the existing unit wasn’t big enough to cool the house to begin with, and on top of that, the duct work was a total mess. Still, we’d hoped it would hang on for the rest of the summer… but it sputtered its last breath sometime in the wee hours of a Friday in July.

The two window units we bought around 6:30 AM.

While we were happy to be able to run right up the street and quickly acquire a couple window units, we weren’t quite as happy to be dropping $300+ on keeping it under 80° in the house.

As you might be aware, central air is just underneath “water” in my hierarchy of needs… and I’m pretty sure that C would prefer to go without oxygen than try to sleep in a room above 65°. Sometime around 5am, we both woke up sweaty and angry to find the house at a sweltering 81°. This was at the tail end of the first week of 100+ degree weather here in Nashville and we knew we were staring at several more. We also knew that, given the situation with our landlord and the particulars of this house, there was no possibility of getting the situation resolved in a day. It didn’t take us long to roll out of bed and up to the doors of the nearest Home Depot, still in our jammies. A few minutes later, we were walking out the door with two window a/c units.

two window units & three mammals do not a cool house make

There’s nothing like a little home maintenance task to help you work out your rage. By noon, neither of us had filed for divorce, the dog was lying on her side panting, and we had both window a/c units installed. Still, though, the situation was not ideal. Both units working at full-throttle managed to cool the house to 77° in the worst of the heat wave (not too shabby given that it was regularly 100°+ outside), and we managed to get it down to 70° at night.

The greenhouse window is great for killing fresh herbs and defrosting meat... not so much for air flow or lighting.

The greenhouse window is great for killing fresh herbs and defrosting meat… not so much for air flow or lighting.

Unfortunately, the layout of this house doesn’t lend itself to window unit cooling. While the original a/c had never really done an amazing job – weird cold pockets, high humidity, terrible air flow from the vents – it had at least kept the place consistently cool enough throughout the house the previous 2 summers. Now, though, the only cool rooms were the ones with the window units – the bedroom and the living room. We had considered a portable a/c unit, but it wouldn’t have worked, because the kitchen is in the center of the house, and the one “window” is a greenhouse window that only opens at the top with a crank handle that gives you about 4 inches of air flow.

In our attempts to get the rest of the house to a temperature where we could move around and not break out into a full-body sweat, we drove the little window units down as far as they could go, which left the living room and the bedroom ice cold, and the kitchen hovering somewhere around 75° – as long as no one was actually occupying it. Try to cook something, and you were standing in a sauna, pouring water over the rocks.

our kitchen cooling conundrum

Our kitchen is really more of a glorified pantry. We are a classy people.

Our kitchen is really more of a glorified pantry. We are a classy people. As you can see, we keep that shade drawn on the greenhouse window so as to not further bake ourselves.

While I will occasionally bake (and by “bake” I mean “break apart the cookie dough and put it on a sheet in the oven”), I am an abysmal cook. Luckily, in C I have a partner who could have been a chef in another life. When he’s home, he whips up at least one meal a day. When he’s gone, I warm up the leftovers. However, in order to for me to have those leftovers, he has to cook. Given the misery of the kitchen without a/c, we went a few weeks eating sandwiches, frozen pizzas, and takeout, but both of us were getting to the end of our rope with those choices (and on the weekends while C was gone, I was turning into something akin to a foraging forest creature, eating handfuls of almonds and old protein bars).

It was on the Friday of that third weekend that I, staring at three more days of fruit-and-nut despondency, had the good luck to complain to a friend about our situation, and he told me about the CULER. He had one set up in his office and let me see it in action. Of course, it’s hard to tell if it’s actually working when you have no before/after comparison yourself, but after your third straight dinner of cereal and an apple, you’re a lot more willing to give something new a try.

a windowless room’s new best friend

Culer AC100 personal portable evaporative cooling The CULER AC100 arrived amidst much fanfare, as Cece has decided she LOVES deliveries. Specifically, she loves the packing material. Upon opening the box, we were disappointed to find zero plastic air-pak packing cushions, and so Cece had to satisfy herself with a piece of cardboard while I unpacked it and set it up.

There was pretty minimal setup to get the CULER up and running. The quick-step guide is very clear and concise, but what impressed me is that the unit itself is well-labeled with a little lightning bolt where the power adapter plugs in and a water drop on the top of the cap to the reservoir. The unit also has a very small footprint, similar to a tower fan, which was helpful in our tiny little kitchen (way better than the dehumidifier I was using when our central a/c was functional). It doesn’t need to vent anywhere, so I was able to set it wherever I wanted (it ended up sitting on top of the a/c supply vent). I filled the reservoir, plugged in the unit and was immediately able to enjoy the dog’s progress from suspicion to confusion to ultimate delight at the fine mist coming from the air flow port. If nothing else, I thought, at least the dog is occupied.

Temperature difference after about an hour of using the CULER AC100 personal space cooler

This is the thermometer I use to make sure my kombucha brew is sitting in the right temperature range. I’m not 100% on its accuracy, but it’s the same kind they use in cooler cases at delis, so I trust it as much as a health inspector would, I suppose.

I didn’t feel a difference in the room immediately, but I wasn’t expecting that. I’d been warned that the CULER is not meant to be an exact air-conditioner replacement in that there wouldn’t be immediately chilly air like what comes out of a window unit (or the supply vents of a central a/c). But chilly air wasn’t what I was looking for. Our kitchen has a ceiling fan, and we don’t occupy the room on a casual basis. What we needed was for the room itself to be tolerable while we worked. Out of curiosity, though, I left the CULER running and, while I didn’t personally notice a difference immediately, I did have my kitchen thermometer handy and noted the before and after temperatures. After about an hour (from 12:30pm-1:30pm), I ended up with a good 8°-10° difference which brought the kitchen down to where the other rooms were. I figured I’d trust the thermometer, so I let the CULER run during our waking hours to at least help reduce the load on the window units.

cooking food without cooking ourselves

The first real test came when C got home the next day. I’d requested chicken quesadillas for a late lunch, and C’s recipe uses both the stovetop for prepping the quesadilla guts and the oven to bake the guts between the tortillas. We started out (around 3pm) by turning the CULER off just to see what would happen. Within 20 minutes, after using one of the stove range burners and heating up the oven to 350°, the temperature in the kitchen was at 80° and C was a very unhappy cook. We popped the quesadillas in the oven, cranked up the CULER and let it do its work while we repaired to the living room to stand in front of the window a/c. After another 30 minutes or so, we went back into the kitchen to find it much cooler than it had been and our lunch ready to eat (unfortunately I left the thermometer on the stove, so I don’t know the exact temperature).

From that point on, we left the CULER running from breakfast until bedtime, 8am-midnight. C, who had borne the brunt of the kitchen heat, reported a very noticeable difference in the kitchen while he worked. He is also responsible for doing all the dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher, so it’s hand-washing with hot water if we want things clean), so between the stove and the sink, he’d been having a rough go. With the CULER running, he was no longer dripping sweat at the end of his tasks. The dog would casually give it a sniff or two as she walked by, but her initial preoccupation with the air flow port gave way to acceptance of the CULER as a normal part of life.

We never had trouble with water on the floor in front of the unit, but we were conservative with the cooling level knob – we never opened it up more than two full turns, although we did keep the fan on the highest speed. My only criticism has nothing to do with the CULER and everything to do with circumstance. The first time I filled the unit, I used tap water. Nashville tap water is really chlorinated (you can smell it on your skin after a shower), and that smell ended up being evaporated into the air in the kitchen. After that first test, I used distilled water and didn’t have an issue with the smell.

Finally, this past weekend, our landlord had a whole new HVAC system installed. Plus, the outdoor temperatures have calmed down a bit. While we no longer need the CULER in the kitchen to keep us from boiling, we are very thankful to have had the relief it provided for those few weeks. It made our tiny kitchen tolerable while we waited for our HVAC to be repaired and we’re already playing with other uses.

going forward & staying cool

Our modest little patio. It’s about 8'x10' and keeping weeds from popping up between the pavers is a constant struggle, but it’s so lovely to sit and read out there if it’s not too hot.

Our modest little patio. It’s about 8’x10′ and keeping weeds from popping up between the pavers is a constant struggle, but it’s so lovely to sit and read out there if it’s not too hot.

I’ve experimented with evaporative cooling before. We have an Arctic Cove personal mister that I’ve used on the patio, but it’s been more of a pain in the butt than a help. My goal was to use it to keep cool while sitting in the sun, reading, but he mist that comes out of it isn’t fine enough to fully evaporate. I think that the point of it is to mist you and then let the water evaporate off your skin and cool you down, but that’s not super great when you’re trying to read and the pages of your book get wet. Not only that, but every time I use the thing, the dog goes nuts. She snaps at the mist and tries to drink it, and eventually knocks it over or tries to run off with it to play keep away. I usually rig it up on top of the fence and then sit on the other side of the little patio to try to stay dry. It definitely cools me off, but it’s not ideal unless I want to put on a bathing suit and read a book that I don’t care about getting wet.

Today, I moved the CULER out to the patio to compare its performance with the mister, and I could not have been more pleased. I put it on the ground next to me, directed the air flow port upwards, sat in my chair with my feet up, and read a book for about an hour while Cece played in the yard. I never ended up with condensation on me or the book, Cece left the machine alone, and I finally had a little peace and quiet. There’s no good way to tell exactly what temperature difference the CULER made (it was 85° according to my weather app, though I don’t have an outdoor thermometer), but it made my time outside today much more pleasant. As soon as we have a chance, C is going to take it with him on the road to use in the small, stuffy spaces he so often finds himself stuck in.