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Air-Cooled and Water-Cooled: What's the Difference?

Updated: 2 days ago

In today’s ever-diverse market, you’ve got a plethora of options to choose from–even for commercial ice machines! If you’re in the market for a brand new ice machine, there are many things to consider: ice size, shape, and volume.

However, one thing you may not have considered in your ice machine quest is the manner in which your prospective ice machine exhausts heat. Exciting, right? Luckily here, you’ve only got two options to choose from: air-cooled or water-cooled. Not sure what this means? We’ll break it down for you!

Let’s jump right in with the lowdown on air-cooled ice machines and how they work. Simply put, these machines use air to transfer heat out of the machine using a system of internal vents and fans. Through the vents and fans, the air circulating within the machine will pass through condenser coils, which remove the heat. Once that heat is removed, it is then transferred out of the machine using ventilation–and viola, your ice machine has just completed its air-cooling process!

On the other hand, water-cooled machines work a bit differently. You can probably guess at this point that water-cooled machines use the medium of water to expel heat from the machine. The condenser coils pass the heat into the water as the water runs through them on its way out. Once the water has absorbed the heat from the condenser coils, it is then drained from the machine, and your machine is now officially cooled!

What’s right for you and your business can depend on a few different factors. It’s been agreed upon that water-cooled ice machines are hands-down the best choice to run with if your space has a recirculating water system. If your space already has this installed, great! You’ve got an advantage! However, most commercial spaces, unfortunately, don’t have this luxury. While water-cooled ice machines boast their lower level of required maintenance and the potential to lower your electricity bill, the cost-effectiveness might stop there. If your business isn’t so lucky as to already have a recirculating water system in the building, installing a water-cooled ice machine would require a pretty penny in waterline installations (and a higher water bill).

Cue the ease of the air-cooled ice machine. Unlike its water-cooled brother, air-cooled ice machines are typically much easier to install, since plumbing can be taken out of the game. The easier and faster installation also equals a lower upfront cost. Like the water-cooled ice machine, these can have their cons as well! This manifests in the form of needing lots of space for the machine to be able to ventilate properly–all that air needs somewhere to go! Likewise, that hot air being expelled from the machine can also heighten the overall temperature of your space, which can cause your A/C system to work more than it used to in order to cool your space down. Air-cooled ice machines are also quite sensitive to dust and grease since it relies so heavily on air! Therefore, you need to be much more attentive to the cleanliness surrounding your ice machine and its environment to keep it running smoothly.

So…when is one or the other a good fit for you and your business? Let’s think about the environment in which you plan on installing an ice machine. Is it…

  • Air-conditioned?

  • Free of dust and grease?

  • Spacious?

If you answered yes to all these questions, an air-cooled ice machine might be right for you. So long as you are committed to a regular maintenance program (which we provide!), an air-cooled machine could work perfectly for you.

But, when is a water-cooled machine right for me? Does your space…

  • Have a recirculating water system?

  • Have low-cost water? (you’ll be using a lot of it!)

  • Unpredictable temperature?

If you answered yes to all these questions, a water-cooled machine might be right up your alley. Likewise, we still absolutely love an ice machine that’s signed up for our regular maintenance program! This way, we can keep whichever machine you choose in tip-top condition and running as smoothly as the first day you got it.

Still not sure? Start right here by giving us a call here at Tri-Point Refrigeration and we would be ecstatic in helping you in your ice machine journey! We’re excited to help you along the way, and our professional technicians can help you decide on the perfect machine.

For a direct line to any of our employees ready on the line to help you, please call…(512) 651-4565 for our Austin, Texas community (806) 686-0050 for our Lubbock, Texas community. Or check out our website at


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