A Commercial Ice Machine Buyer's Guide
Whether your business is a nightclub that goes through hundreds of pounds of ice per night or a mid-sized office that enjoys iced beverages on demand, commercial ice machines can serve a variety of needs. Because of their size and power, commercial ice machines can produce large amounts of ice quickly and regularly. If you are considering buying a commercial ice machine for your business, it is important to understand the differences among the products in order to choose a machine that best meets the needs of your business.The Commercial Ice Machine Buyer’s Guide will educate you about the following:
- Types of Ice
- Types of Ice Makers
- Types of Condensers
- Choosing a Supplier
Types of Ice
Generally speaking, there are three main types of ice that can be produced. They are:
- Cubed Ice
- Nugget Ice
- Flaked Ice
Cubed ice is produced by a machine called a cuber. Over 80% of the ice machines in the U.S. produce cubed ice. This form of ice typically melts slower than other forms, making the total consumption lower than other forms of ice. Cubed ice is available in full, half or regular size cubes that range from 7/8”x 7/8” to 11/8”x 11/8”.
Cubed ice machines are common in all of the following industries:
- Convenience stores
- Fast food establishments
Nugget ice comes in pellet or nugget form. It is often called ‘chewblet’ or compressed nugget ice. Because it is soft and chewable, it is commonly used by healthcare facilities for their patients. It is also popular among certain fast food restaurants and bars whose customers prefer its soft and chewy texture over the harder cubed form.
Common industries that use nugget ice include:
- Fast food establishments
Flaked ice is produced by a machine called a flaker. Flaked ice typically comes in a shaved or crushed form. It is most commonly used for packing, preservation and cooling purposes. Flaked ice is not typically used for consumption.
Flaked ice machines are common in all of the following industries:
- Health care facilities
- Research laboratories
- Grocery stores
- Fishing/Meat Packing Plants
Types of Ice and Usage
Types of Ice Makers
Ice machines are generally available in three different configurations:
- Undercounter Ice Machine
- Countertop Ice Dispenser
Modular Ice Machine (IMH)
Modular ice machines (also known as ice machine heads or IMH) are stackable units that come in a variety of sizes, but the most common include:
- 22″ wide
- 30″ wide
- 48″ wide
An IMH is designed to stack on top of its other components (the storage bin, ice dispenser, or soda dispenser, if applicable). The typical ice output for a modular ice machine ranges between 200 lbs. and 1,900 lbs. per day. The storage bin on an ice machine head can typically hold about 12 hours of ice production.
Undercounter Ice Machines
For smaller businesses that don’t need as much ice, an under counter or self-contained unit (SCU) may be the best fit. These ice makers combine the storage bin and ice machine so that the unit can fit beneath a standard 40” high countertop. The average ice output for an under counter maker is about 350 lbs. per day, although some units can produce more. Talk to a local supplier about options.
Countertop Ice Dispenser
Countertop ice dispensers (also called countertop makers) are most commonly used in the health care industry. Even though these ice makers are usually smaller than their larger counterparts, they can still produce as much as 400 lbs. of ice per day. Some of these machines come with a water dispenser option. This is a great option for any business that needs a lot of ice but doesn’t have space for a larger machine. These machines usually dispense nugget ice, which is easier to chew and, therefore, popular in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
3 Types of Ice Machines
Types of Condensers
Once you decide on the type of ice and ice maker you need, the next thing you need to decide is the type of condenser you want.
There are three basic types of condensers:
- Air cooled
- Water cooled
In an air cooled condenser, air is blown over the refrigeration lines to draw heat away from any high-pressure, high-temperature areas. Fans and air vents are used to keep the air flowing. This is the most common type of compressor.
A water cooling condenser uses water (instead of air) to cool refrigerant vapor so that it turns to liquid. A water cooled ice machine runs on a continual water supply.
There are two separate water lines in a water cooled ice maker. One line flows into the ice-making compartment. The other line runs along the condenser and draws heat away from the refrigerant.
Water cooled compressors are typically quieter and more efficient, but they can end up costing you in water utility bills because of the high amount of water required to operate them. In some places, water cooled compressors are no longer even permitted because of the amount of water they use.
This makes water-cooled compressors less common, except in a situation when:
- the surrounding air temperature is higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit
- the surrounding air contains a high level of contaminants, such as grease
- the surrounding air has poor circulation
- there is not enough space for an air-cooled machine
Similar to an air cooled condenser, a remote condenser is also cooled by the outside air. But the remote condenser unit (RCU) is installed outdoors, rather than indoors, usually on a roof. A refrigeration line is run from the condenser to the ice machine.
Because the condenser is outdoors, away from the main unit, the ice machine is very quiet. The downside is that installation and maintenance are usually more expensive. Remote condenser units (RCUs) are commonly used in grocery stores and other large-scale operations.
Different Types of Condensers
Storage Bin Sizes
An ice maker storage bin is the compartment where the ice is stored until it’s ready for use. Storage bins can hold as little as 40 pounds and as much as 100 pounds of ice.
When you are choosing an ice bin, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Bigger ≠ Better. If your ice bin is too large, you will end up wasting ice and therefore, money. You want to estimate for growth within your business, but don’t go overboard.
- Sitting Water = Contaminated Water. Ice that’s gone unused for long periods of time tends to melt, then refreeze. Melted pools of water can become a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. The last thing you want to do is serve contaminated water to your employees or clients. Ask your supplier if they offer a monthly tune-up/cleaning service as part of their package.
- Replacing your ice machine. If you are replacing or upgrading your ice machine, you need to evaluate how much capacity was lacking (if any) and forecast any growth.
- Take note of peak times. Ice consumption during peak hours should be considered as part of the total equation when determining what size bin you need.
- Your storage bin doesn’t have to match the capacity of your machine. If you own a restaurant and your peak time is the weekend, you might need 900 lbs. of ice, but during the week, you only need half that amount. In that case, you might consider pairing a small ice machine with a large bin so it won’t over-produce during the slower periods, yet can still hold enough ice during peak times.
Here is a standard ice sizing chart showing daily ice usage per number of customers per industry.
Note: These are estimates only. Talk to your local supplier for specific recommendations regarding the needs of your business.
Once you know you need an ice machine, the next question people usually ask is: how much is it going to cost?
The answer: it depends.
Ice makers range widely in price, generally anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000. The price is influenced by all of the following factors:
- Type of Ice
- Type of Ice Maker
- Type of Condenser
- Daily Ice Output
- Size of Storage Bin
- Price of Local Water Utilities
- Local Temperature/Humidity
But as a general rule: the higher the ice output, the higher the price.
Choosing a Supplier
Once you’ve decided your business needs a commercial ice machine, it’s time to start shopping. There are a lot of ice machines and ice services out there, which can be overwhelming for buyers. We’ve created a list of questions to ask potential suppliers so that you can make an educated decision before investing a lot of money in an ice machine.
- How long have you been around?
- What industries do you serve?
- What areas do you service?
- Do you stand behind your product when there is a problem?
- What differentiates you from their competitors?
- What are customers saying about your products?
- Are they reliable?
- Any common maintenance needs or repairs?
- Do you offer the size, type of ice and capacity that would meet the needs of our office?
- How much do your machines cost?
- How do the prices compare with their competitors?
- If their prices are higher, find out why.
- Are there any additional fees, like delivery, maintenance, etc.?
- What are people saying about them as a company?
- How was your experience when you talked with them?
- How quickly did they respond to your needs?
- How knowledgeable did they seem?
- What is their maintenance/repair policy?
- What kind of ratings and reviews are they getting? (Yelp, BBB, etc.)