Mother Earth News Blogs > DIY


Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.

Make Your Own 'Chillbilly' DIY Air Cooler

I’ve been accused of being a lot of things: a cheapskate, a hermit, a used car salesman, and one lady thought I was dead country singer Keith Whitley’s ghost, but I’ve have never been accused of being someone who would buy something new and expensive  when I could either make one myself, splice a few old gadgets together, or do without. DIY is my thing, y’all.

But you know what? It gets hot here in Texas. So hot that sometimes the fire hydrants chase after dogs. Nobody wants to sit around all day for 127 days in a row in the 100-degree heat, and that, my friends, is how air-conditioning was invented.

People in Texas, the desert Southwest, Mexico, and recently just about anywhere with climate change making our average temperatures a few degrees hotter every year, we want to cool off when we go inside.

Off-Grid Air-Conditioning Options

If you live off-grid like I do, or you worry your animals are getting too hot outside, or you work in your shop or barn all day, getting the air conditioned — or cooled — can be a challenge, unless you want your electric bill to jump up 100 percent by using central air or window units to cool off your outbuildings. But that isn’t an option for me.

I run my cabin and farm on batteries, solar panels and a homemade wind generator, so cranking up traditional air-conditioning is really too much of a drain on my small 12-Volt electrical system. I’m trying to use less juice, not more. But when July rolls around here in the northern territories of Hell, I’m looking to cool off just like the next guy, or a hot bunch of hens.

Fortunately, I do have a freezer, and in that freezer you’ll find at least a dozen gallon jugs of ice. I hardly ever buy ice when I’m going on the road for work or to a party or on a trip, opting for a cooler with a couple of old milk jugs full of frozen water inside.

I had so many in my freezer that one night when it was still 100 degrees at 8:00 pm, I thought I’d put a few in with the chickens to see if it would cool them off a bit. When I peeked in the coop later that night, they were all sitting within a few inches of the milk jugs, or right above. Chickens are smart. They know Ginger Zee wasn’t joking when she said it would be hot today, tonight, tomorrow, tomorrow night, and for eternity it seems around here in July and August.

Well, I’m not a rocket surgeon, but I figured if I could cool of the chicken coop I could cool off my “tiny home” made of straw bales, earth plaster, and an old string of oil field tubing. It’s only 15-foot by 24-foot with a 15-foot-high peak, and the suction fan upstairs draws the accumulated heat out while a box fan in an opposite ground floor window brings in fresh air. That fresh air can get up to 95 degrees in the shade around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, so I came up with a cheap, efficient, and low-voltage way to cool off my cabin.


How to Make 'The Chillbilly' Air Cooler

I call it “The Chillbilly” for the simple fact that it is so backwoods, off-grid, and dirt cheap I couldn’t resist. I’ve also been called a hillbilly on occasion, but what the hell do people from Dallas know anyway?

The Chillbilly doesn’t bring the temps inside down to 65 degrees in the middle of the afternoon, but it cools off the house for approximately 5 hours with one batch of ice jugs, and down into the 70s or low 80s when it’s 110 outside during the hottest part of the day. Giving it a try will cost you all of 20 bucks, so even if it won’t cool off your big house or barn, it’ll cool off a cabin, shed, or a coop full of happy hens long enough to survive the dog day afternoons.

Here’s a parts list of what you’ll need, the tools, and instructions on how to build one for yourself and your feathered or furry friends.


• plastic tub, or a plastic or styrofoam ice chest large enough to fit six gallon milk jugs
• 12-volt fan: preferably a high velocity rocket fan, often used by truckers, or any small diameter fan
• used vents from car air-conditioners or home floor vents, small enough to fit in the small end of your tub or cooler
• towel or pad for the bottom to prevent sweating getting thru onto your floor, table or stand


• 4-inch hole saw to match the size of your fan’s diameter, or a drill and very sharp knife or saw
• duct tape
• roofing tin screws


1. Drill, saw or cut a hole in one small end of your tub which fits the size of your fan’s outer case as closely as possible. Drill, saw or cut a hole in the opposite end of your tub which closely fits the size of your vent.

2. Place the fan in side the hole with the air flow going into the tub. Secure the fan to the tub with screws, duct tape, or roofing tape. Place the vent in the hole at the other end with the adjustments (if included) to the outside of the tub. Secure the vent with screws and/or duct tape.

3. Place frozen jugs of water inside the tub, and replace the lid.

4. Plug fan into 12-Volt electric source and turn it on. Voila! The fan blown air flows through the tub, cools off from contact with the jugs of ice, and flows out the vents into your cabin or coop, depending on who you plan on spoiling first.

5. When the ice is all melted and the day is over (hopefully), replace the jugs in your freezer overnight for use again the next day, or keep extras to trade out with the spent ice jugs and keep ‘er runnin’ all night. 

The Chillbilly is another of several homemade gadgets I came up with out here in BFE to make life a little easier. Living like the king, off the grid, on the cheap, and self-sufficient. Now if I could just find a queen to feed me some frozen grapes, I’d be the Hillbilly King of Cool.

RD Copeland lives off-grid in north Texas on his farm where he raises grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, organic vegetables and fruits. He is building an off-grid weekend B&B retreat in Texas with straw-bale and earth-plaster cabins, fresh organic meals, permaculture instruction, workshops and more! See his bio page for contact info, and click here to read all of RD’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.