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"Free Miracle Air Coolers" - Neither Free Nor Cool
American Profile Magazine (a free weekly included in newspapers nationwide, including the San Diego Union Tribune) recently published an “article” with the headline “Public set to get free air cooling units.” This “article” claims that this free "miracle" air cooler "uses 95% less electricity than a typical window air conditioner yet blasts out ice cooled air to keep you cool for just pennies a day."
Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. This “article” isn’t actually an article. It’s an advertisement, written and formatted to look like an authentic news piece. Even worse, the ad is patently misleading. Not only does this "free" air cooler actually cost a small fortune, but there's good reason to believe that the air cooler it pushes isn’t particularly effective as an air cooler and probably won’t save you energy.
While the ad's bold-print headline promises "free" air coolers, try to order one and a different story emerges. The "free" unit being promised is actually part of a "buy one get one free" arrangement, so in order to get your "free" air cooler you first have to shell out $298 for the first unit. Want the fancy wireless remote? That's going to cost you an additional $18 per unit. Want a 3-year warranty? Another $36 per unit. I called their sales line and was told that shipping and handling would cost an additional $49 per unit. In all, in order to get your "free" air cooler you'll end up forking over a minimum of $398, nearly $500 if you want the extras.
But really, is $500 so much to pay for two miracle air coolers that use “only the same energy as a light bulb to blast out ice cooled air?" It is when you consider what you’re actually getting. The Mira-Cool is an evaporative cooler – basically a fan that blows air through a damp pad. As the water in the pad evaporates, it absorbs some of the heat from the air, resulting in somewhat cooler air. Evaporative coolers have been around for the better part of a century, and portable units are widely available from reputable stores for around $70. So what’s the miracle? Mira-Cool comes with “two sets of reusable ice blocks to give you eight hours of extra cooling power.” Similar “reusable ice blocks” are available online for around $5.00 each, and are great for keeping your lunch cool.
Even with these “miraculous” ice blocks, there’s strong evidence that the Mira-Cool is a poor air-cooler. In 2009 Consumer Reports tested the Cool Surge, another air cooler manufactured by the same company responsible for the Mira-Cool. This test (available here) found that found that at 25 percent humidity, the Cool Surge managed to cool a 200 square foot room a mere 2 degrees in four hours; while at 57 percent humidity it failed to cool the room at all (evaporative coolers are only effective in low humidity environments). Based on this test, Consumer Reports slapped the Cool Surge with a “don’t buy” rating.
The conclusion from the Consumer Reports test should apply to the Mira-Cool as well. The Cool Surge and Mira-Cool have almost identical specifications – both are the same width and depth, are the exact same weight, are manufactured in China, hold 5.5 gallons of water, use the same amount of electricity, and have the same power settings and sleep function. The sales Mira-Cool sales representative I spoke to confirmed that the Mira-Cool is an “upgraded” Cool Surge.
Wait, but doesn’t the ad promise that the Mira-Cool will blast ice cold air? Actually, no, although it would be easy for a reader to be tricked into thinking so thanks to the ad’s liberal use of misleading language and weasel words. Look at the ad closely and you’ll notice that the Mira-Cool doesn't blast ice-cold air, it blasts ice-cooled air. Hats off to this clever bit of lawyering: using the term "ice-cold" could be interpreted as a promise that the air coming out of the Mira-Cool is actually cold, while "ice-cooled" merely describes the fact that the air has been cooled by ice. If I use ice to cool 100 degree air down to 99 degrees, the air is “ice cooled,” but it's definitely not ice cold. Similar weasel words are found on Mira-Cool website, which claims that “generally, the air coming out of the unit is up to 10 degrees colder” than room temperature. Thanks to the words “generally” and “up to” this claim is meaningless, as the phrase “up to ten degrees” could mean anything from 0 to 10 degrees of actual cooling. This afternoon I’m going to order “up to” ten Mira-Cools, but something tells me that the actual number is going to be zero.
What about power savings? Doesn't the Mira-Cool “use 95% electricity” and cost “just pennies a day?” Well, it depends. It’s true that the Mira-Cool itself uses little electricity – the mechanism consists of little more than a small fan and a water pump, neither of which is an electricity hog. But the ad conveniently ignores the extra energy cost of constantly freezing ice packs. Nor does it factor in the cost of the fans and air conditioning that you’ll have to run in addition to the Mira-Cool if you actually want to cool down a room.
Given its misleading advertising, shockingly high cost, and probable ineffectiveness, UCAN strongly recommends that consumers avoid the Mira-Cool. There are plenty of better options for keeping cool this summer that won’t put a $400 dent in your wallet and leave you hot under the collar.