What Is The Difference Between Air Cooled And Water Cooled Ice Machines?

After you determine the style of ice you need for your foodservice business as well as the equipment configuration, you will need to decide what type of condenser your equipment will use.

The cooling system that lowers the temperature of the evaporator and removes the heat from the condenser can be a water-cooled or an air-cooled system. Air cooled condensers can either be internal, self-contained components within the unit or remote condensers with the condenser located external to the unit, typically mounted outdoors, and often on the roof of the establishment.

Air Cooled Condensers (Internal)

COMMON APPLICATIONS: Commercial Kitchens, Sandwich Shops, Delis, Convenience Stores, Healthcare Facilities

An Air-cooled, internal condenser utilizes fans and vents in the ice machine cabinet to pull in the surrounding air. This air is circulated around the condenser coils that have heated up because of the compression of the refrigerant. The heat is transferred to the circulating air and hot air is vented out of the ice machine cabinet, which can add to the heat of the potentially already hot environment of a commercial kitchen, for example.

Air-cooled condensers need cooler, well-regulated air temperatures in the surrounding area. Good quality air circulation or an air conditioning system is highly recommended for use with an ice machine with an internal air-cooled condenser. If the surrounding air is warm or hot, the fans and vents will suck the warm air into the unit and try to cool off the condenser with that warm air. This will take much longer to cool the condenser down and will strain and overtax the unit. The air that is released from the vents into the surrounding area will be hotter than recommended. And if this extra hot air remains close to the ice machine, it will be re-cycled through the system again, raising the temperature of the air further and making the machine work even harder until it can eventually burn out.

Thus, air temperature and air circulation is very important when considering an air-cooled, internal condenser. This can increase your air-conditioning electrical costs, so bear that in mind when selecting the condenser’s cooling system.

The advantages of Air Cooled Ice Machine Unit:

  • Low machine running cost.
  • Easy installation, no required additional equipments. Just connected to City water, Plug-in and play.
  • Environmentally friendly.
  • Idea for where water is shortage and water resource is not available.

Water Cooled Condensers

COMMON APPLICATIONS: Commercial Kitchens, Foodservice Operations with Low Water Utility Costs

A Water-cooled condenser utilizes water coils to transfer the heat from the condenser coils. A waterline, separate from the water used to make ice, brings the water into the cabinet. The water circulates through the system, efficiently removing the heat. This hot water is then drained out of the ice machine unit.

In an establishment where the surrounding air temperatures are typically 80 degrees to 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a regular basis, such as in a commercial kitchen, a water-cooled condenser may make more sense since an air-cooled unit would soon be overtaxed trying to cool the condenser with excessively warm air. Particularly in states where the climate is hot for many months, a water-cooled condenser can function more effectively, meaning a longer lifetime for your ice machine equipment.

Note that in most water-cooled systems, the water used to cool the condenser is used once and then sent out the drain. This is called a once-through system. The water-cooled method keeps the heat from being vented as hot air into your facility and keeps air-conditioning electrical costs down. However, this uses a large volume of water and can be expensive in states and cities that have high water costs. Generally, water-cooled ice machines use an extra 100 gallons of water per EACH 100 LB of ice produced. So an ice machine with a production rate of 500 LB of ice per day will use 80 to 90 gallons of water to make ice PLUS an extra 500 gallons of water to cool the condenser.

Some cities have actually banned water-cooled condenser systems altogether because of water shortages and the environmental impact. These states often offer rebates for installing air-cooled ice machines. Check with your city or local utility company regarding bans or rebates.

Comparing Air-Cooled and Water-Cooled Condensers

Air-cooled systems use much less water and have a smaller impact on the environment. The heat from the ice machine’s heating coils is released into your facility through the air discharge vents, but the increase in air-conditioning costs will typically be less than the water costs in a water-cooled system.

Water-cooled machines tend to use less electricity since they are not running any internal cooling fans. However, electrical costs will likely be offset by the increase in wastewater and water supply utility costs.

As a point of interest, environmental agencies such as ENERGY STAR will not put their seal on any water-cooled machines despite the electrical energy saved. In the current business culture of “going green”, water-cooled systems will likely continue to be banned increasingly in more locations.

Remote Air-Cooled Condensers

COMMON APPLICATIONS: Commercial Kitchens, Supermarkets, Institutional Cafeterias, Hotels and Motels, Fast Food Restaurant Chains.

An alternate solution to either an air-cooled internal condenser or a water-cooled condenser is a Remote Air-Cooled Condenser. A remote air-cooled condenser has been essentially separated from the ice machine cabinet and installed in a location some distance from the ice machine, oftentimes on the roof of the establishment. Using refrigerant tubing line sets to connect the condenser and the machine, all heat transferred from the machine is vented by fans in the remote condenser unit, typically far away from where the ice is being made and used. Some manufacturers have tubing sets of up to 75 feet. The air outside the establishment is used to cool off the unit.

Heat from the condenser will therefore be entirely removed from the location, meaning less air conditioning requirements and a cooler work environment for employees. Effectively achieving the cooling potential of a water cooled model without the wasted water, a remote air-cooled unit can save energy and water over the lifetime of the equipment. In fact, many remote air-cooled ice machines have received the ENERGY STAR rating.

Additionally, an ice machine with a remote condenser will be quieter than other ice machines, since the fans and condenser are not located in the cabinet. The only sounds in the remote cooled ice machine will be the water pumps and the sound of ice dropping into the storage bin. This can make a remote-cooled ice machine an ideal choice for public areas where ice is needed, such as a hotel floor vending area. Remote cooled condensers are also popular with grocery stores where large amounts of ice are needed and plenty of roof space is available for mounting the remote units.

However, note that installation of a remote condenser unit can be more expensive up front, since the condenser is a separate piece of equipment with line set connections requiring professional installation. Also a rooftop installation can become more costly over time considering maintenance and possibly repair, since access will likely be more difficult. Consider these installation and ongoing costs when looking at remote air-cooled ice machine models.

Despite any installation issues, ice machine models with remote air-cooled condensers have become increasingly popular, particularly in locations where the kitchen facility can get warm and where water costs are excessive.