The Difference Between Air Cooled and Water Cooled Ice Machines

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Difference between air cooled and water cooled ice machines

Last updated on October 28th, 2022 at 11:25 am

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.

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 subscriptions!

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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