Heat Exchanger, Fan or Air Conditioner: Which Enclosure Cooling Method Is Best for Your Application?

When deciding which cooling method to use for your electrical enclosure, there are a few options to consider. Among air conditioners, filtered fans, and heat exchangers, there are intrinsic differences which can keep your equipment cool and operating properly if the right cooling method is chosen. If not, the electrical components can be exposed to elevated temperatures or adverse conditions, or the cooling system will be inefficient during cooling operations.

There are a few different parameters to consider when selecting the appropriate cooling system for your particular electrical enclosure application. There may be more than one enclosure cooling method that meets the requirements. In that case, the final decision on which system will work best for your needs comes down to considerations such as budget or installation time.

NEMA Rating

The NEMA rating determines which conditions the electrical enclosure is designed to operate in. A heat exchanger or enclosure air conditioner will be suitable for enclosures with NEMA ratings of 4, 4X and 12. These two cooling methods are designed to provide closed loop cooling, and as such, the electrical enclosure should be completely sealed from the ambient air. While either cooling solution may still operate and cool a non-sealed enclosure, the energy costs would be substantially higher due to the loss of conditioned air through the openings in the enclosure.  In the case of an air conditioner, excess condensate removal from an unsealed enclosure could require a water drain.

A filtered fan may be appropriate when an enclosure has a NEMA rating of 1 or 3R, as these types of enclosures do not require closed loop cooling. Also, these enclosures do not circumvent particulate matter or prevent splash damage from occurring. Using a filtered fan may allow efficient cooling at lower cost, and will not add any hazard even though it is also susceptible to introducing particles or liquids to the interior of the enclosure.

Ambient Air Temperature

The other main consideration for determining whether an enclosure air conditioner, filtered fan, or heat exchanger will be best for your application is the temperature of the air in the surrounding environment. An enclosure air conditioner is the only choice if you require an internal temperature in the enclosure lower than that of the ambient air. A filtered fan or heat exchanger can only approach the same temperature inside the enclosure as it is outside.


After determining which cooling method is required, you will also need to have the device correctly sized for your application. A cooling solution that is too big will be inefficient and may cause unacceptable temperature swings, while a cooling solution that is too small will not cool your equipment properly.

For more information on whether an enclosure air conditioner, filtered fan, or heat exchanger is the right cooling method for your application, contact the sales team at Thermal-Edge today. Our experienced staff can help you determine not only the right cooling method, but make sure that it is sized correctly for your enclosure to keep your energy costs low and operating budget minimal.