Who Needs Air Conditioning When You’ve Got Ice-Cold Water Running Through Your Shirt?

by Benjamin Jones on April 27, 2008


It was about two years ago when I first saw ice vests in a running catalog and thought something along the lines of “wouldn’t that be a sweet thing to wear in the car on the way to school instead of blasting my (non-working) A/C!” Well, it seems the idea hasn’t quite died. Some users on the EcoModder forums have recently been discussing this idea, so I thought I’d put together some of the ways I know to beat the heat without turning on the A/C, which reduces your fuel economy.

  1. Get an ice/cold vest: If you don’t want to look through a sports catalog for an ice vest, you can use something like this (shown in the picture above), that circulates cold water through a shirt next to your skin. These things are usually used by racers who need to be in their cars for long periods of time in extreme conditions, and can cost several hundred dollars. But if you really want to squeeze that extra 5 MPG by not turning on the air conditioning, this (or a cheaper version, like an athlete’s ice vest) might be for you.
  2. Throw on a beaded seat cover: I have yet to try this, but Darin Cosgrove, of MetroMPG ecomodding and hypermiling fame swears that it works. He even goes so far as to call it his “air conditioning.” I used to think they were just for hippies with back problems, but don’t let those biases deter you! I’ll be trying them out this summer, for sure.
  3. Check out the “EV Seat”: There sure isn’t much information, but the idea of a heating and air conditioning seat cover you can just plug in is definitely interesting. Check it out, and if you can find another version that’s a little more available looking, drop a comment and let me know!
  4. DIY a portable air conditioner: Instructables has some great stuff, but this DIY air conditioner is definitely one of the cheapest I have ever seen. If you feel like getting a little dirty, or just getting inspiration from this great device, you’ll be able to go without A/C all summer long.
  5. Window tint is your friend: I haven’t done this yet, but this summer I will be finding some heat-reflective window tint and doing up my windows in order to keep the heat down just a few degrees. It works and is worth checking out, especially if you leave your car parked out in the sun.

I’ll be trying out all these things this summer, looking to get the best mix for me, my fuel economy, and my wallet, so look forward to some updates.

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{ 29 comments }

1 thenetguruz April 28, 2008 at 12:26 am

This thing will surely chill but what about face and hands and head? Face skin is quite sensitive so we tend to feel more heat on face.

2 Kmuzu April 28, 2008 at 12:53 am

People with MS, CP, ALS and other spinal cord problems buy these vests as well. We have problems maintaining body temperature and overheat. I am comfortable at around 71 degrees. I usually have an ice pack vest that makes me look like some GI Joe figure. Definitely, going to have to check out the water cooled vest. Thanks for the link.

3 Xaphire April 28, 2008 at 1:56 am

About tip 5: depends on where you are in the world. In some countries (like the Netherlands) it’s illegal to tint your windows or put any reflective material on them since it would hinder eye contact with fellow drivers and pedestrians. You can only do the side windows next to the back seat.

4 B0B April 28, 2008 at 4:45 am

I find taking off clothes also helps…In general,like..

5 Diane April 28, 2008 at 4:52 am

That water cooled vest just looks really funny! I bet it feels strange too! But so nice when you’re stuck in a hot car in hot weather!

6 Glenn April 28, 2008 at 8:49 am

or you could just open the window.

7 Jim Bo April 28, 2008 at 10:26 am

I wonder if it sweats with the ice cold water and all…

8 KeaponLaffin April 28, 2008 at 10:44 am

Just be sure to get a GOOD beaded seat cover.
The one I had with threads made outta rather thick fishing-line type threads didn’t last very long.

When I worked at a certain kids restaurant we finally got a ‘cool suit’. Basically a nylon vest with pockets for those gel ice-pack thingies. Didn’t work so well in a subtropical climate while dressed in a big furry rat suit, but is a cheap and easy alternative option compared to getting a full circulating cold water vest.

Also, it’s not exactly peer reviewed scientific research, but Mythbusters had an episode that kinda showed(at least in some vehicles, at highway speed) that running your car’s AC at full blast is a bit more fuel efficient than leaving the windows open to catch a breeze.

9 Kris April 28, 2008 at 10:56 am

This looks very similar and is probably based of the shirts theyŕe making for us to wear under body armor in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much easier to cool some water and pump it to 5 guys then to try and air condition a humvee with an open turrent on it.

10 Francois April 28, 2008 at 11:18 am

I am not buying the get 5 extra MPG line by not running the AC. That would be true if someone use a passive method that doesn’t draw energy out of the car. Even cruising with the window down (which would be a passive method) impact fuel economy since it increase drag.
How are you supposed to circulate cold water in a shirt like this and how the warm water back from the shirt is chilled before circulating back??? This has to use some energy somewhere.

11 at165dB April 28, 2008 at 11:33 am

As a driving enthusiast, a cool suit is the way to go for track days.

The kits come with a small cooler that has a 12V water pump and the tubing to connect to the shirt. You fill the cooler with ice and water, and turn it on.

However, you need to maintain an ice supply. You can’t just use ice from an ice maker. There will be too much surface area, it will be way too cold, melt, and get warm way too quickly.

The trick is to use large blocks of ice that you freeze up. I just use a rubermaid container that makes a block out of 1.5 qt’s of water that fits in my cool suit’s cooler. A block will only last a few hours, so you’d need to make a block everyday for your morning and evening commute.

12 Elliottx April 28, 2008 at 12:32 pm

I saw something similar to this on the Gadget Show. It had built in mini air conditioners into a shirt and when they turned on it blew all of the air from the inside outwards, making a tiny little Japanese office worker look like the Hulk……with a tiny head….quite funny.

13 Joe April 28, 2008 at 2:32 pm

This was originally designed for racecar drivers to wear under their firesuits. in summer air temps can easily reach 120-130 degrees at track level and inside the car they are close to the same because most racecars are ovens. cool shirts are amazing and it has a cooling affect over your whole body. they help a ton with driver fatigue and overall comfort in hot weather if you’re on track.

14 Damian April 28, 2008 at 3:43 pm

I work as a volunteer scrutineer (tech inspector) for the SCCA and several of the club racers use these shirts.

15 jwoulf April 28, 2008 at 4:34 pm

I need this for when I am on my motorcycle.

16 Ben April 28, 2008 at 6:38 pm

uhhhh… what keeps the water cool?

17 Mike April 28, 2008 at 6:56 pm

RE: #4, Um, could you explain to me why you think using ice cubes is more economical than running your air conditioner. How exactly do you think ice is made? While I haven’t done the math, I’m thinking the AC unit in my car is probably just a tiny little bit more fuel efficient than the coal->electricity->refrigeration(a/c)->ice cube->cold storage-> distribution->instructables-gizmo method.

18 James April 28, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Best thing in Arizona to use for personal cooling is those personal misters. http://mistymate.stores.yahoo.net/personal-cooling.html

We used to have one, and it was amazing for the dry heat. Only problem was that it broke after about a year. I guess the plastic they use can’t handle the constant pressure because it developed holes and the water would spray out of the bottle when I tried pumping it up.

19 TurboFool April 29, 2008 at 9:59 am

Don’t most of your solutions require some form of energy? The vest would require a cooling source for the water, I assume, or you’d end up heating the water to body temperature anyway.As best I can tell numbers 3 and 4 would also require power sources. I can assume these would come either from the DC outlet in the car, therefore shifting the fuel usage from the built-in A/C to these, or from batteries of some sort which would also cost money. I’m just not entirely convinced that these methods improve energy costs or usage.

20 Technology Quiz April 29, 2008 at 2:51 pm

I saw one of these in an issue of Science and I believe they plan on going into production in 2010 last time I heard. I’d definetly wear one.

21 EdH May 14, 2008 at 6:22 am

For item #3, The EV Seat, what did you mean by “more available”? There is an order page on the site that lists the local distributor

22 tron June 12, 2008 at 1:09 pm

Are these for sale anywhere at this time, I would buy for sure.

23 air conditioning Northridge June 25, 2008 at 8:30 am

this is insane!
i cant imagine wearing an ice cold vest!

24 Marcus July 18, 2008 at 3:48 pm

I actually saw the Water-Cooled vest on Modern Marvels the other day.

It just pumps the water from a source like an ice chest around your body.

25 Robert July 21, 2008 at 10:22 am

Here is another cooling seat cover that I found and it requires not electricity. Couldn’t find any reviews on it though.
http://www.autobarn.net/maxsa-cool-cushion.html

26 Spoot July 22, 2008 at 2:17 pm

I will wear this shirt and everyone will rue the day when they see my hard nipples!

27 bubindinly September 22, 2008 at 3:20 am

favorited this one, man

28 blake September 30, 2008 at 4:21 pm

my cool suit was purchased commercially, the cooler system i use was purchased used on ebay, used by someone for thermal therapy, about $40. The tube ends mated with each other fine. In my racecar im required to have dry disconnects for safety reasons, and this is standard on _some_ of the coolers. I bought an adapter at radio shack that hooks my 9ish volt DC cooler pump to my cars 12v supply.

hope that helps someone

29 Rick July 12, 2015 at 10:25 pm

I think myths busters did a show that disproved the reduce fuel mileage while using the A/C. That was the initial assumption that stayed this whole thread. But if it’s false then where does that leave us? Just turn on the air conditioning. Lol.

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