The Truth About Water-Cooled Ice Machines


There has been much debate over the benefits and disadvantages of water-cooled ice machines and air-cooled machines. Many manufacturers are trying to phase out water-cooled ice machines entirely. Some standardization systems, like Energy Star, will not qualify water-cooled models.

The Problem with Water-Cooling

Most water-cooled ice machines use a once-through cooling system, where the water used to cool the machine issubsequently dumped down the drain. This wastes tons of water and generally causes water bills to skyrocket. Water-cooling does have some advantages, though. It is a more effective method of cooling and will keep the heat out of your building. It uses significantly less energy than air-cooling. However, these advantages rarely make up for the much higher water and wastewater costs.

Choose an Air-Cooled Ice Machine

In general, air-cooled systems are better for the environment and for your utility bills. Although the heat from an air-cooled machine makes your air conditioning work harder, the higher air conditioning costs are small compared to the costs of water-cooling. If you invest in a remote condenser, the heat exchange will occur outside and the air-cooling will not significantly increase your air conditioning costs. A remote condenser can be placed on the roof of a building or on a ledge along the side.

Water-Cooling Bans

Because of water shortages, many cities have discouraged the use of water-cooling systems, usually by offering rebates for air-cooled machines and/or banning single-pass water-cooling systems. The following cities are just a few examples:

  • Austin
  • Seattle
  • Phoenix
  • San Antonio
  • Denver
  • Santa Fe

Perform a Cost Analysis

While water-cooled machines can waste a tremendous amount of water, they do use less energy than air-cooled machines. Water-cooling can be more cost-effective than air-cooling in a few regions, where energy is expensive but water costs very little.

Generally, compared to air-cooled models, water-cooled ice machines use an extra 100 gallons or more of water per 100 lbs of ice. Usually they use about 2-4 kWh less electricity per 100 lbs of ice. Determine how much ice you will need and perform a cost-analysis before you choose a machine. Remember that the extra water use in a water-cooled machine increases your wastewater bill as well as your standard water bill. For this reason, in the large majority of cases, an air-cooled machine is more cost-effective.

Hot Regions

Many advise that very hot areas require water to properly cool the machine, since the air is too hot to do so. However, it is important to remember that water pipes also get hot, and these hot regions are often the very same regions with water shortages and high water costs. Even in higher-temperature regions, letting your air conditioning do the cooling is probably still less expensive than paying for water-cooling.

Use a Closed-Loop Water-Cooling System

As opposed to a once-through system, a closed-loop cooling system reuses the water that cools your ice machine. If you have access to one, a water-cooled ice machine can actually be more efficient than an air-cooled model. According to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), it will use less energy without wasting water. However, for the large majority of commercial kitchens, such a complicated cooling system is not an option. For some bigger establishments or restaurants located in a large-scale building, it might be worthwhile to install a closed-loop water-cooling system or to use one that is already available.

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