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How to Make Your Own Portable AC Unit at Home This Summer

This DIY AC unit doesn't require any electrical skills, just a few common household items that you likely already have.

Alina Bradford CNET Contributor
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET's Smart Home Section, MTVNews' tech section and for Live Science's reference section. Follow her on Twitter.
Alina Bradford
3 min read

If you have a cooler and few other things on hand, you're well on your way to your own DIY AC unit.

Alina Bradford/CNET

The summer season always brings higher temperatures and more extreme humidity to the US, but this summer is particularly brutal. As the US has faced heatwaves and extreme temperatures, July 2023 is now slated to be the hottest month on record. And that means you're likely trying to find ways to stay cool and comfortable. 

Rather than spending big bucks on a new air conditioning unit, you should try making a portable one yourself -- and no, you don't need an electrical or engineering background to do this. 

You just need some basics to get started -- as well as a couple items you might have to grab at the local hardware store. We'll show you everything you need in the next section. After you have all the supplies, you're an afternoon project away from a homemade portable AC unit. (For more, check out the best temperature to set your thermostat to this summer to save money, and air conditioning tips to lower your electric bill.)

Portable AC supply list

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Here's what you need to get started on your AC project:

  • Cooler
  • Drill
  • Skill saw 
  • Two 5-inch (13-centimeter) diameter PVC elbow pipes
  • Permanent marker
  • Duct tape 
  • Cordless fan and batteries
  • Ice

Make your portable AC unit

Now that you have your supplies gathered, use these steps to build your DIY AC unit:

  1. Trace the fan: Put the batteries in the fan and then lay it down in the center of the cooler lid. Trace around the fan using the permanent marker.
  2. Drill the lid: Drill a hole in the center of the circle you traced on the lid. This will make it easier to cut out the circle with the skill saw.
  3. Cut the fan hole: Place your skill saw blade in the hole, and cut a line that connects from the hole to the circle you traced. Continue cutting around the circumference of the circle until it is cut out.
  4. Add the fan: Place the fan in the hole so the front of the fan will point into the cooler when the lid is closed. Secure it with duct tape around the edges. You'll want to tape the edges on the back of the fan and on the front. I used a printed duct tape for a little pizzazz.
  5. Trace the pipes: Place one elbow pipe on one end of the cooler and trace around it. Do the same to the other side of the cooler.
  6. Drill a guide hole: Drill a hole in the circle like you did with the lid. Do this on both sides of the cooler.
  7. Cut hole for pipes: Cut out the holes for the pipes with the skill saw.
  8. Add pipes: Push the elbow pipes into the holes. Make sure that the ends of the pipes are pointing upward. Secure the pipe to the hole with duct tape around the edges, like you did with the fan.
  9. Add ice: The last step is to fill the cooler with ice, close the lid and turn on the fan. Within 10 minutes, the air conditioner should be blowing very chilly air.

How does it work?

How this AC unit makes cold air is pretty simple. A battery-powered fan pushes air inside of the cooler, which is cooled by ice. The cold air is then forced out of the pipes on either end of the cooler. The lucky person lounging at either end is greeted with a chilly breeze, at least until the ice melts. 

Create your own air conditioning unit with this summer staple

See all photos

3 air conditioner tips you need to know

Follow these tips to get the most out of your homemade portable air conditioner:

  • Instead of using bagged ice for your AC, get a couple of jugs of water and freeze them. The frozen jugs of water are mess-free, and you can refreeze them over and over again.
  • You can use a solar-powered fan instead of a battery-powered one so you don't need to worry about changing out batteries.
  • Throw a few dryer sheets on top of the ice for scented air.

Still have questions? Check out the gallery above for more visuals. 

More AC tips for you: