DIY Ice chest Air Conditioning - Copper coil vs Blower

I’m trying to prepare for the summer heat, and I’ve been doing a lot of researching online. I’ve found three popular types of diy air conditioners online. The peltier, the ice chest with copper coiling around a house fan, and the ice chest with a fan blowing through the chest and across the ice. After perusing the internet, I have ruled out the peltier option as I am reading it draws a lot of power and maybe not that effective (correct me if I am wrong).

Here’s a little background. I will be living in my SUV 3 consecutive days a week for the next year, starting in May. I will not have access to a lot of fresh ice while I am out, so I would like to help the ice last as long as possible. Most of these sites boast how cold the temperature gets…which yes, is important…but I am more concerned with how LONG the cold lasts. Is there anything I could do to get the ice to last the 3 days? (I’ll only be in the vehicle over night, thus only running the AC throughout the evening as needed). I am curious if anyone has tried these methods and if so, what tips and tricks do you have?

(Credit to Desertsun02 for the pictures)


Being an extreme hot/cold weather camper myself, I may be able to offer some help…

Part of this depends on the environment you’ll be living in. In low humidity areas, a direct type swamp cooler is the best choice. In humid areas, an indirect type of swamp cooler is better. If traveling, the indirect type will work anywhere, just not quite as well in low humidity areas. Swamp coolers just use water, so no ice is needed, although some people do add ice. I use the indirect type myself, and it can keep my van too cold, even in direct sunlight, anywhere in the USA. My biggest problem is that it has no thermostat so I have to cycle it on and off manually to keep it from getting too cold, even on it’s lowest setting. On low it uses just under 1 amp @ 12vdc, and on high it uses just under 2 amps. Basically you’re just running a fan and a fountain pump that uses so little power it’s negligible.

I totally disagree that peltier power uses too much power or is somehow inefficient. A friend has a peltier powered air cooler which is energy efficient enough for him. I also have multiple peltier powered items that I love. Peltier powered items have more than a few advantages, for one they usually have a thermostat of some sort, and two, they can also be used for both heating and cooling. While these items draw 5.25 amps @ 12vdc when the peltier is on, and they don’t draw anything when it’s off. The peltier chip itself only runs maybe 1-2 minutes out of every 15-20 minutes, so we’re talking under 5 amps for 10 hours of run time. This is thanks to the thermostat, which also keeps a nice even temperature for both heating and cooling.

The peltier powered food coolers are a totally different animal. Instead of heating/cooling water in a closed loop, they are trying to cool air in an enclosed box. The ones I’ve seen don’t have thermostats, and they run constantly, so they would use about 5 amps @ 12vdc per hour. While this really isn’t noticeably more than the 12v compressor type fridges, their usability depends on the ambient temperature. This is where peltier power gets it undeserved poor reputation. If used as intended, they are actually more energy efficient, and have a much longer life span than the 12v compressor fridges, and for a fraction of the cost, but they are meant to be used in comfortable surrounding temperatures, not a closed up extremely hot vehicle. Even the 12v compressor fridges struggle with those conditions, and neither are the best choice for campers.

I have peltier powered heating/cooling seat cushions, and blankets, and I love them. I have seat cushions for my drivers seat, my work/lounge seat, and one on top of my mattress like a mattress pad. I have one of the blankets on my bed, and another to snuggle with in my work/lounge chair. These alone can keep me comfy in any temperature, even extremes, but I use additional heating to keep the whole van comfy and above freezing if it’s extremely cold, and my swamp cooler in extreme heat to keep the whole interior cooler. I don’t want the additional things in my van either melting or freezing due to extreme temperatures.

Used properly and intelligently, I think the peltier’s are a great and worthwhile technology. The same goes for swamp coolers.


"Opportunities are everywhere, but only action makes it happen." ~ Van_Dweller

1 Like

Wow! What a wealth of knowledge!! This was super helpful! Thank you!! You have definitely changed my mind!
One thing I have been concerned with with the swamp cooler is the humidity in the vehicle and increasing my chances of mold growth. Good ventilation would help with this, but I haven’t figured out ventilation yet. I’m not big on the idea of cutting a hole in the roof of my vehicle, and I’ll be in some very urban areas and would prefer not opening windows unless I have to. I’m not sure what to do about this issue…
Also, do you have any links or even just pictures of good DIY peltier units / swamp coolers that people are using? The units I have seen seem to be more home-hobbyist type of videos that don’t really match the van-life type of use.

… I almost feel guilty asking more questions because of the time you have already spent in answering my questions!! What you have given me has already saved me a ton of time and possible grief!! So thank you!


No problem, I am always happy to help when I can.

I’m not a fan of roof vents either. I much prefer window vans with many opening windows. With opening windows, an under $20 12vdc fan will provide better ventilation than 2x $200+ roof vents, and also avoid the leaking problems.

Direct type swamp coolers add moisture to the inside air, which can be beneficial in dry or desert areas. The indirect type, does not add moisture to the inside air. They exhaust the moist air outside, while actually dehumidifying the inside air, much like a more traditional air conditioner. The indirect type is the best choice for humid areas.

This picture might help explain how it works.


"Opportunities are everywhere, but only action makes it happen." ~ Van_Dweller