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7 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Commercial Ice Machine

For many businesses (such as the food and beverage service industry), a commercial ice machine is a must-have to keep the business running everyday. If you’re one of these businesses, at some point you’ll find yourself looking to make a purchase decision on an ice machine – whether you’re a first-time buyer or replacing an older machine. But before you make this big purchase, there are a few important questions you need to ask yourself to ensure you choose the machine that best fits your business’s needs.

We recommend asking yourself these 6 questions before buying:

1. What type of ice machine is best for your business?

When it comes to deciding on which type of machine you need, you will find that you have a variety of options. Though you may see a variety of terms for ice machines when doing research, there are 2 main types of ice machines to know: modular and self-contained.

Modular Units

A modular unit (sometimes referred to as an “ice machine head”) is a machine that produces ice but does not store it. An additional dispenser or storage bin can be installed to attach to the unit, but you will have to purchase this separately. However, you can easily replace the dispenser or bin depending on how much ice you use daily. This is convenient for businesses that scale up, and end up needing more ice on a daily basis down the road. 

Modular units come in a variety of sizes, but typically are larger machines. They produce a higher output of ice – ranging from 45 to 3,000 lbs of ice per day. This makes them great choices for industries that use a large amount of ice regularly – including hotels, hospitals, and large restaurants or bars.

Self-Contained Machines

Self-contained ice machines produce and store ice within the same machine. They come with a bin already built in. Self-contained machines come in a variety of types, such as an “under counter machine” that conveniently fits underneath a counter space, or a “counter top machine” which sits on top of a counter. 

These machines tend to be smaller than modular units and normally provide a moderate output of ice daily – around 60 – 300 lbs. If your daily ice requirements are low or you have storage constraints, a self-contained machine is your best bet. With a lower ice output, a self-contained machine can meet the needs of small restaurants and bars, day care centers and churches.

2. Do you want to purchase new or used?

You will have the option of choosing to buy either a new or used ice machine. Of course, buying used will save you money up front, compared to buying new. However, it’s important to know that ice machines withstand a lot of wear and tear on an everyday basis. When you buy a used machine, you risk the need to pay out-of-pocket for necessary repairs, maintenance, and cleaning – since the warranty has likely expired. Plus, you may end up having to pay more for these services than you would if you had bought new.

Before buying used, make sure to look at the unit in person before buying. That way you can inspect it for any damage you will be responsible for fixing. When inspecting, look for:

  • Corrosion or excessive wear and tear on the components
  • Bent or corroded condenser coils

Additionally, speak to the ice machine’s dealer and request a history of the machine. This should give you information like the previous owner, location, and maintenance services performed. 

Also keep in mind that you have the option to purchase a refurbished machine. These units are usually around 50% off the cost of a new machine, and may give you reassurance about overpaying for servicing and maintenance.

3.  What is your daily ice output and usage? 

The amount of ice you need daily will determine the machine you need to buy. Commercial ice machines with a “moderate” output produce anywhere from 300-600 lbs. per day. High capacity machines can produce upwards of 3,000 lbs. per day. Of course, in every business, your daily needs will fluctuate. However, it’s important to make sure your ice machine meets the demands of your busiest days. Don’t buy a machine with a low production rate simply to save money! Low ice production on a busy day could lead to unhappy customers. Remember to plan for the growth of your company. Find a machine that can exceed your current needs by 10 to 20% so you are prepared for the future.

How do you know how many lbs you are using per day? For your reference, here are some guidelines depending on your drink sizes:

7-10oz cups 40 lbs. per 100 drinks
12-16oz cups60 lbs. per 100 drinks
18-24 oz cups90 lbs. per 100 drinks

4. What type of ice do you need? 

Many businesses overlook the need to select an ice machine based on the type of ice it produces. Different types of ice are ideal for specific applications. Determining which type of ice best suits your business can increase profitability. See the chart below to learn more about different types of ice:

TypeDescription / UseUses
Shaved (Flake)Shaved ice has a large surface area that can cool down items quickly and be packed down easily. Downside: it melts quickly.1. Produce, seafood, meat
2. Salad bars
3. Cocktails
4. Hospitals and nursing homes 
Nugget (Pearl, cubelet, sonic ice)A type of lightweight shaved ice that is molded into larger chunks. Prevents drinks from fizzing or foaming and does not stick together.1. Carbonated drinks
2. Salad bars
3. Cocktails 
Half cubeA heavier weight half-cube that melts more slowly than shaved ice. Keeps drinks cooler for a longer period of time, and allows more ice to fit in glass.1. Mixed and soft drinks
2. Carbonated beverages
3. Ice dispensers
Full cubeLarger than the half cube, very common and easy to make. Melts slowly.1. Ice displays
2. Banquets
3. Mixed drinks
4. Ice dispensers
Gourmet“Premium” cubes used for upscale environments. Melt slowly, and do not stick.1. Weddings and banquets
2. Upscale restaurants and bars
3. Waiter stations

4. What kind of condenser do you need?

After you’ve decided on a commercial ice machine type and ice type, now you have to think about what kind of condenser you will need. A condenser is like the engine for your machine - it’s responsible for ice production. Consider the following three types of condensers:


Air-cooled condensers are normally the most cost-effective, and the most common. In fact, about 70% of all commercial ice machines in the U.S. use an air-cooled condenser. These units use air to make sure heat is being released from the machine and keeping ice at the ideal temperature. Because they release hot air, air-cooled units have vents that need empty space on all sides in order for air to escape safely. One drawback of these units is that they can start to malfunction when exposed to environments of 70-90 degrees or more. Another drawback is that they can be too noisy for some commercial environments.


Water-cooled condensers keep the unit cold by using water instead of air. Compared to an air-cooled unit, these units do not need extra space around the unit to release hot air. They also produce less noise. However, they are best for environments of 80 degrees or hotter. Additionally, they can be taxing on your resources and utilities, since they require a constant water supply.


Remote cooling condensers are similar to air-cooled, in that they use air to keep the unit’s temperatures cool. However, the condenser is actually located separate from the machine - usually mounted to a wall or ceiling. Oftentimes, they are installed on the business’s roof. They eliminate the noise concern with air-cooling units. However, they are much more costly compared to standard air-cooled condensers.

5.  Is the Machine the Right Size for your Space?

It’s important to make sure the commercial ice machine you want to buy will fit well in the area you designated for it.  Exterior components such as ventilation fans, water filters, tubing/hoses and ice bins can add width and depth to your total measurements. For instance, a machine that uses an air-cooled condenser will need about 6 inches of space on all sides to allow safe ventilation of hot air. 

The best way to plan for this is to measure the space you want to keep the ice machine - to the inch. Then, take exact measurements of the machine - including ventilation areas and ice bins. You also want to make sure the machine will clear hallways, doorways, etc. when moving the machine into your space. Lastly, make sure the area has all the necessary electrical and plumbing hook-ups to run the machine, and assure they meet all national, state, and local codes.

6.  What’s your plan for maintenance, cleaning, and repairs?

As mentioned briefly earlier, maintenance, cleaning, and repairs will likely be part of your budget when buying an ice machine. This is especially the case when you buy an older used machine, as it will require more upkeep compared to a new machine. When buying, make sure you ask the dealer specific questions about the machine - such as its maintenance history, warranty (if applicable), and prices for replacements. The dealer should be able to tell you typical prices for commonly replaced parts, cleaning fees, and maintenance fees, as well as how often the unit may need to be serviced.

Once you take note of this information, come up with a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule. Typically, you should schedule an appointment every 6 months. This is imperative to keep the machine running properly - especially if it’s a used machine.

7. Are you prepared for delivery?

Having an ice machine delivered takes preparation! Before your supplier comes to deliver and install your new machine, make sure you take care of the following:

  1. Measure the area around the machine, assuring it will fit properly. Include enough space for the machine, bin, and filter, adding 6 inches of room on all sizes.
  2. Set up your water supply and floor drain. Is there a cold water supply source with a shut-off valve? Do you have a floor drain nearby? Make sure these are up to par with local code requirements.
  3. Set up your power supply, depending on the machine’s needs. Check to make sure the machine doesn’t require any additional, special electrical installments.

Ready to Shop?

If you’re unsure about any of these items, you can always ask your ice machine supplier for expert advice and guidance. If you are ready to get free price quotes on commercial ice machines for your business, just fill out our form. We put you in touch with up to 5 suppliers who will answer any further questions you may have. There’s never any obligation to buy!

Get free quotes from up to 5 ice machines suppliers!
Just answer a few questions and get matched to top suppliers near you.
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