If you need some quick cooling in a closed space, this 5-gallon bucket air conditioner might be the low-cost DIY unit for you.

DIY air conditioner

Okay, so we had to try this magical do-it-yourself air conditioner for ourselves. We’ve read several articles and watched the many tutorial videos on building one yourself.

The result—we came to realize—is more like an augmented desk fan.

This option works best for individuals who will be immediately near or in front of the cooler. While it can pump out air in the mid-60 range, that chill is quickly dispersed into the hot ambient air. Even in a small 8×10 room (our test environment) it had no effect on the overall temp.

Being directly in front of the exhaust tubes, it does do a good job of focusing the cooled air generated from the frozen gallon jug. Let’s go ahead and get into what’s involved in building one of your own.

Go ahead and put your gallon of water in the freezer now.

Tools

These are all the tools and items we started with. The most difficult part to find is the 5-gallon bucket insulation foam. We had to buy a 3-pack on Amazon. If you plan on having some outdoor fun with refreshments, they make great makeshift coolers that travel well. You’ll find a use for the other two.

Hole placement

We measured each hole 5 inches apart on center. That seemed to be a good enough spread to disperse the air wide instead of direct. If you’re using a Homer bucket, you have a nice line to use as horizontal reference. We put our center points on that line.

Hole sizing

From our image, you’ll see that we made the mistake of purchasing couplers.

What’s wrong with that?

Couplers fit over pipe, which means their outer diameter is larger than 1.5″ PVC pipe. In our case we just brought out our Dremel and routed out the holes to be about a quarter inch larger. The reason we bought those was because they were already the ideal length. You can simply cut your own piece of 1.5″ PVC pipe with a fine-toothed saw. 4-5 inches is fine.

Hole cutting

The beauty of a hole saw is the pilot in the center. If you match up the hole you marked with the tip of the pilot, you’ll have a perfectly bored out hole for the PVC pipe.

Pipe fitting

At this point you should try and fit the pipe. It should be snug. If it’s loose, you can wrap some vinyl tape around the PVC pipe. Try one layer at a time until it fits snugly. If it’s too tight, get out your Dremel or a file and get to it.

Insulation cutting

We could have simply left the styrofoam insulation inside the bucket when we were drilling but this was a test and that foam is pricey! We figured there would be time to drill into the foam separately.

When we were happy with our holes in the plastic, we dropped the foam in and drilled through with the hole saw. The foam is much easier to fine tune with a Dremel or file.

Lower bucket assembly

Now we’re done with the bottom of the bucket. We can start working on the section that incorporates the fan.

We disassembled the front grille of the fan. It should be held on with a couple compression clips. Center the fan on the bucket lid and mark the outer diameter. Cut about 1/4″ inside this mark. You need the fan to rest on the lid, not fall through.

Carefully cut the hole with a utility knife. When complete, rest the lid in the hole to confirm a good fit. You can now reassemble the front grill to the fan.


Our fan came with a pivoting neck, which consequently had a nut and bolt connecting the fan head to its base. If you don’t feel you’ll be using the fan’s clip, detach the base for a cleaner look.

Final assembly

Hopefully your gallon of water is frozen so you can test this thing out. Place the jug in the center of the bucket and replace the lid. Plug in the fan and feel the chill.

We tried it out in our 8×10 jam space. If you sit directly in front of it—if you’re practicing guitar, for example—you’ll definitely appreciate the cold moving air. Don’t expect it to cool off your buddies if you’re in an all out jam sesh.

This would also be a great addition to a garage workbench. You’re not likely to move much while working and the orange beauty won’t look out of place.

Have fun with this one. It’s a relatively cheap and fun project. Keep in mind that your mileage may vary; it’s not going to cool like a portable air conditioner or window unit.