The Difference Between Air Cooled and Water Cooled Ice Machines

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Difference between air cooled and water cooled ice machines

When it comes to choosing your commercial ice machine there are plenty of options out on the market today. You have to consider ice cube production, ice storage, size, and plenty of other factors before you make a final choice on the best commercial ice machine for your business. One consideration is how and where the ice cube maker exhausts the heat it generates when making ice. There are two designs for accomplishing this, air cooled and water-cooled ice machines.

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Let’s explain the difference between air-cooled and water-cooled ice machines in an effort to help you determine which one is right for you.

Air Cooled Ice Machines

Often referred to as simply “air cooled,” these ice machines use air to transfer heat out of the machine. Internal fans and vents inside the machine circulate the air. When air flows through the condenser coils, it removes the internal heat, which is then let out through vents in the rear or sides of the ice machine.

Air cooled ice machines are more popular than water-cooled machines because they can be cheaper to operate in most locations. They are also more energy efficient than water cooled machines and therefore, better for the environment. The ENERGY STAR program is an initiative of the US Environmental Protection Agency that certifies appliances based on their energy consumption. Many air-cooled ice machines have an ENERGY STAR seal of approval, meaning they consume less energy than similar, but less energy efficient ice machine models.

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One of the challenges with air cooled machines is that the air that is pulled through the machine to cool the condenser also brings in airborne contaminants such as grease and dirt. In kitchens, airborne grease coats the fan blades and condenser coils followed by the dust and dirt which sticks to the grease. This creates an insulation layer on the condenser, which means the condenser can’t transfer the heat to the air, resulting in lower ice production and potential damage to the equipment.

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Air cooled ice machines work best in clean, temperature-controlled environments. When used in hot environments, the already warm air passing over the condenser coils will not remove as much heat as cooler air, thus slowing down the rate at which the machine can produce ice. Put in a enclosed space with limited ventilation around the ice machine, the recirculating hot air gets hotter and hotter until the machine shuts itself off due to heat overload. Regularly running an air-cooled ice machine in a warm environment can lead to an overworked unit and reduced life of the machine.

Water Cooled Ice Machines

The difference between water cooled ice machines and air cooled ice machines is these models use water instead of air to transfer heat out of the machine. In these machines, water coils run along the condenser coils. The condenser coils release heat into the water, and then the hot water drains out of the unit, removing heat from the system and allowing it to maintain a cool temperature.

Water cooled ice machines are most often used in areas where it is difficult to control the temperature. As noted above, the performance of an air-cooled machine is greatly affected by the surrounding air temperature, where a water-cooled machine doesn’t depend on the ambient air to remove the heat. This allows them to operate in warmer temperatures without reducing the output of the machine.

The challenge with water cooled machines is their water consumption. Water cooled machines typically need 5 times more water than an air-cooled machine to product the same quantity of ice. If your building has a recirculating water system with a cooling tower, then you can use that system to re-use all that cooling water. However, this is not common with older buildings, which means all of that water is dumped to the ice machine drain. Many municipalities are outlawing or severely restricting the use of water cooled ice machines due to amount of water they consume.

Just like air cooled ice machines, water cooled ice machines need a routine cleaning to maintain their performance. Scale buildup from hard water can create a chalky, plaque-like covering around condenser coils.

These cleanings require specialized cleaners, so if you need your water cooled ice machine cleaned, you should call a qualified ice machine technician. We provide routine professional cleanings on all of our ice machines. We also fit water cooled ice machines with specialized water treatment and filtration to reduce the buildup of harmful scale.

Air Cooled or Water Cooled Ice Machines? Which One Is Right for You?

An air cooled ice machine could be a good fit if:

  • You will be using it in a cool or air-conditioned environment
  • The environment is relatively grease and dust free
  • You are committed to a regular maintenance program
  • You want a more environmentally-friendly machine
  • You want to reduce energy costs

A water cooled ice machine might work better if:

  • You live in an area with low water costs
  • You have a cooling tower to reduce water waste
  • It will be used outdoors or in a non-temperature controlled environment

When examining the difference between air-cooled and water-cooled ice machines, water-cooled machines are the hands-down choice if you have a recirculating water system. They require less maintenance, are less subject to variations in air temperature and cleanliness, and typically use 10% less energy than a similarly sized air-cooled machine.

Unfortunately, recirculating water systems are not available in most commercial buildings which is why air-cooled machines are more common. The combined water/sewer bill on an air-cooled machine is often 90% LESS than that of a water cooled machine. That savings far outweighs the increased maintenance costs on air-cooled machines, making the overall cost of operating an air-cooled machine lower than that of a water-cooled ice machine.

Need Help Choosing Between an Air Cooled or Water Cooled Ice Machine?

At the end of the day, choosing between a air cooled and water cooled ice machine should come down to necessity and cost. If your workplace has limited ventilation, a water cooled ice machine might be right for you. If you run an open workplace with limited air-borne particles floating around, an air cooled model is the most cost-effective.

Our revolutionary ice machine subscription program comes with top-of-the-line air cooled and water cooled ice machines from Hoshizaki and Manitowoc. We include preventive maintenance, cleaning, and repairs to keep your ice machine running like new.

If you’re looking for commercial ice equipment for your business, our Ice Machine Experts can point you in the right direction 24/7. We’ve also put together everything you need to know in this commercial ice machine guide.

Our team is available to help you get started today!

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6 Comments on “The Difference Between Air Cooled and Water Cooled Ice Machines”

  1. I am looking for a ice maker capable of at least 100lb + in 24 hr capability with at least a 150lb + storage bin. I want a machine that can be installed and maintained by a local business. The machine will sit in my garage. It will be on an exterior wall next to my well equipment. I am on my own well so I want to consider water cooled systems as well.

    1. Hello Rian, thank you so much for reaching out. One of our sales representatives will be contacting you shortly to discuss your sphere ice options with you!

  2. Hello There,
    I have had an air cooled machine at the docks in Clearwater beach, Florida for years. Every summer it struggles to make enough ice for our charters. I was wondering if it is possible to run salt water through a water cooled machine and use fresh water for the ice maker? Maybe pump it in from the bay under my dock and back in the bay after it cools the system. Could you let me know if this is possible.
    Thank you Tom Sprague, Capt of the Dos Amigos fishing charters.

    1. Hello Ron.

      Thank you for reaching out! It is possible to run salt water through a water cooled machine’s water cooled condenser if the machine is designed for it, as salt water is very corrosive. Hoshizaki does not currently market such a product. Their standard KM line of cubers are not designed for salt water.

      Manitowoc does offer a “marine” option on some machines. You would need to download the installation information for the model you are interested in to obtain required cooling water volume, pressure, and temperature range to properly size the piping and pump.

      Another option would be to install “closed loop” water piping. It would simply recirculate the same fresh water by means of a system water pump.
      The materials would need to resist corrosion and the system piping would have to be sized for adequate volume and heat rejection for the size and model of machine to be installed. If freezing conditions were to be encountered, it would require addition of some antifreeze/glycol. Local codes would need to be observed and followed.

      Note: You have air cooled machine currently. It would have to be replaced.


  3. I have a unique situation where we have an active Villa bar for 15 guests a day hanging at the pool drinking Margaritas and Pina Coladas. The bar is under cover and in the shade but temperatures outside run from 68 to 85 degrees typically but could hit 95 in the summer. We are right on the ocean so the salt air is pretty harsh. Water or air cooled? Also when we don’t have guests for a week or two does it make sense to turn the ice machine off?

    1. Hello Roger,
      Thanks for reaching out. You have a few concerns, so I’ll respond in order:

      Anytime air temperatures exceed 90 degrees, an air cooled machine will struggle to make ice. This can create nuisance service calls. Also, air cooled machines condensers will be affected by the salt air, causing deterioration of the coil fins, which hampers the ability to dissipate heat. Water cooled machines tend to maintain production better in higher ambient conditions and the condenser will not be as affected by salt due to the difference in construction and materials.

      As for downtime, it would be in your best interest to shut the machine down and empty ice from the storage bin during the down times. It may be best for you to restart the machine 1 to 2 days prior to guests arriving to give time refill the storage bin with fresh ice.

      Your villa is gorgeous. Best of luck!

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