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 of the biggest considerations to make when selecting an ice machine will be how and where the ice cube maker vents the heat it generates when making ice, and this is where air-cooled vs. water-cooled machines becomes relevant.

Know the differences before you buy your next commercial ice machine with the information below!

Air-Cooled Ice Machines

Air-cooled units circulate 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 will draw heat from the system. Vents in the rear or sides of the ice machine expel air, and the removal of this exhaust air keeps the system cool.

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.

3 ice cubes

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Our ice machine experts will help you choose the right ice machine and install it for you. We also provide ongoing cleaning and maintenance as part of our all-inclusive ice machine managed rental!

One of the challenges with an air-cooled condensers is that the air that is pulled through the machine to cool the condenser also brings in airborne contaminants such as yeast, grease, and dirt. In kitchens, airborne grease coats the fan blades and coils, followed by 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.

Easy Ice provides two professional cleaning per year on any ice machine we install under our managed rentals. For more challenging work environments, we provide additional cleaning to keep air cooled ice machine in top performance.

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, which slows 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

In contrast to to air-cooled ice machines, a water cooling system runs water 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 a air cooling depends on 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.

manitowoc ice machine with warehouse background

The challenge with water-cooled machines is their water consumption. With water cooling, ice makers require a separate water line feeding about five times more the water an air-cooled machine needs. 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.

3 ice cubes

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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.

Water-Cooled or Air-Cooled Ice Machine—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 differences 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. Those savings often outweigh 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 an 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!