Can this TikTok hack make your cheap cooler as good as a YETI? | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Summertime is party time. And when it gets hot outside many Northeast Ohioans are trying to solve the same problem. How do I keep my beer cold without shelling out hundreds of dollars for a premium cooler?

The answer, if you watch enough TikTok and YouTube videos, is a power drill, a can of spray foam and a little bit of caulking. You can insulate your old Coleman cooler and make it just as good as a YETI.

Or can you? I sure as heck couldn’t.

I put this life hack to the test and ran an experiment to see if this was true. And at least for me, it wasn’t worth the time or cost.

So, here’s the idea. Expensive coolers, made by brands like YETI or RTIC, have become much more popular over the last few years. So much so that if you walk through a Walmart or a Sierra Trading Post (the TJ Maxx of outdoor stuff), the usual suspects like Coleman and Igloo now make coolers that look just like the more expensive counterparts.

I don’t own a YETI, because I’m admittedly too cheap to buy one. But they are essentially overbuilt super coolers. They have thick walls with 2 to 3 inches of polyurethane foam. The lid and body of the cooler interlock with each other to keep cold air sealed inside.

The coolers we all grew up with, like the Coleman I’m picking on today, have thinner walls with less insulation. And many of them have no insulation in their lids.

Here’s the hypothesis: You buy a can or two of insulating spray foam. You drill holes in the cooler’s walls and lid, fill them with foam, and now your cheap cooler has more insulation.

It’s a sound theory. Perfect for a science experiment.

How to modify your inexpensive cooler

The test subject was a 48-quart Coleman cooler I had in my garage. A similar cooler is $40 on Coleman’s website — well below the $325 you might pay for a Yeti that size. I got mine for free off someone’s tree lawn. Sure enough, the lid was hollow.

I removed the hinges and took the lid off the cooler’s base. Then I used a quarter-inch drill bit and made 12 holes.

Filling these holes was tricky. But I ended up spraying about a one and a half cans of Great Stuff. It sure did expand, eventually spilling out of each hole.

Then I drilled holes into the top of the cooler’s walls, with the intention of filling them with foam. Turns out, they aren’t hollow.

The foam expanded and I heard a cracking sound, likely the Great Stuff breaking apart the already installed insulation. No serious damage was done, but the cooler does have a bulge now.

A reporter fills his cooler lid with Great Stuff in an attempt to make it better.

Following the instructions found online, I came back 24 hours later and chipped off the extra foam that expanded through the holes.

You don’t want to let water inside the cooler’s body, so you need to reseal the holes you drilled. I used an adhesive caulk meant for kitchens and bathrooms. Hot glue might be an easier alternative.

This took a few days, but only about two hours of actual work if you include washing foam and caulking off your hands.

When an 80-plus degree day came on Tuesday, I put the cooler to the test.

The experiment

Ideally, I would have tested the cooler BEFORE I modified it. And then retested it after. The problem my editor Rich Exner and I ran into is that weather is an uncontrollable variable.

Sure, two days may look similar on the weather forecast. But sunshine, humidity and how long it stays makes a big difference. The most scientific thing, we decided, was to test my cooler against the most similar cooler we could find under the exact same conditions.

Funnily enough, he had an almost identical Coleman cooler in his basement.

The results were disappointing. Here are my notes:

7 a.m. – Both coolers have been set up in the middle of the yard, where they should get the same amount of sunlight. I filled each with a 7-pound bag of ice, a can of locally-brewed cider and a thermometer designed to test refrigerators.

8:30 a.m. – Both coolers were between 34 and 40 degrees — the temperature range considered safe for a refrigerator. No noticeable ice melt in either cooler.

5:45 p.m. – The workday is over, and Rich’s cooler seems to have more ice. Both are still in the “safe temperature” zone for a refrigerator.

7 p.m. – Somewhat annoyed by my the lack of success, I call off the experiment. Rich’s cooler has very little ice, but my cooler has almost none. Both thermometers are drowning in water, so that measurement isn’t reliable. However… both coolers appear cold enough to safely store food.

7:05 p.m. – I pick up my modified cooler, the lid closes and slams on my nose. This isn’t really part of the experiment. Just nature punishing me for trying to beat it.

Is this a perfect experiment? Not really. But if you’re going through the trouble of modifying a cooler, it should be heads and shoulders better than its competition. A tie, and especially a loss, dooms the life hack.

I used about $15 of material and spent a few days modifying my cooler. My conclusion is that it wasn’t worth it.

Is it my fault?

My Coleman cooler, which I got for free off of someone’s tree lawn, sitting on my workbench at home.

Part of any science report, at least in high school, is spelling out where you might have gone wrong. And there’s a few things that might have doomed me on this experiment.

• Coolers are inefficient when filled halfway — at least according to YETI. My cooler is slightly larger than Rich’s cooler, so this could have affected the results. But again, I think the modifications need to be good enough to overcome this challenge to be worth it.

• Great Stuff, while great at filling gaps, isn’t necessarily as good at insulating. Great Stuff also needs air to cure/harden. There’s no guarantee that the foam set correctly.

• Drilling holes may be counterproductive. Double-paned windows entrap air and use it as insulation. I may have inadvertently destroyed an air barrier that was helpful.

• Also, I probably should have installed some sort of door seal, which could mimicked the interlocking lid on a YETI.

• I put these coolers in direct sunlight. Other tests I’ve seen put coolers in the garage or in the shade. The harsh conditions I chose might have melted the ice in any cooler — making the experiment inconclusive.

So, what’s the point? And should you buy a YETI?

Should you buy a YETI? No. If anything, this experiment shows that a cheap cooler is fine. Both coolers were in direct sunlight and stayed cold for 12 hours.

You may be asking, Why write about a failed idea to save money? Especially if I didn’t even test the idea thoroughly?

Social media is full of life hacks and tricks. And in a 30-second video they sound great. But many “money saving” ideas don’t hold up to scrutiny. Even the intuitive ones.

Videos that recommended this trick are common and get tons of praise. Videos testing them were not common. But some people have tested out their modified coolers and got much better results than I did.

If you want to try this, go ahead. But I feel like this myth is busted.


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