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Ice Machine Buying Guide



The basics - The typical self-contained ice machine produces ice from water fed through an exterior supply line. A pump inside the ice machine pours water over the ice tray to make cube ice or a cylinder in the flake ice machine, freezing the water a layer at a time by an internal coolant system. There are two types of coolant systems, water-cooled or air-cooled. The ice machine loosens the ice from the tray or cylinder by a heating coil. The ice is then dumped into a collection bin that has a sliding or lift door for easy access. A flake ice machine uses a crusher to break the ice before it is deposited in the collection bin. The size flake is determined by the crusher. Some crushers produce fine flakes, while others produce larger nugget size ice. A drain in the bin removes water away from standing ice. Purchasing a commercial ice machine is a large expenditure so you’ll want to make sure you’re buying one that will produce enough to supply your needs without wasting energy on one that supplies too much.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I purchase an ice maker that produces cubed or flake ice?
First, you’ll need to determine what kind of ice you need, cubed or flake. Everyone has a preference, but you’ll want to choose one that best suits the purpose you’ll be using it for. Cubed ice is most often used for beverages. It melts slower than the other types and tends to better fill a glass, which can be a savings when you’re serving a scotch on the rocks. Flake or nugget is ideal for chilling salad bars, packing fresh fish/chicken or seafood displays.
How much ice will I need?

Do your arithmetic. After all, the main ingredient of ice tea is ice. Running out of ice on a hot summer day with a restaurant full of thirsty customers isn’t a crowd pleaser. Then again, you don’t want to serve your customers in an igloo due to an over abundance. The volume of ice noted by manufacturers is based on 50 degree water and 70 degree air temperature. Temperatures behind the counter at a restaurant are usually much higher, particularly in or near the kitchen area. This could drastically reduce the volume of ice produced. You should consider increasing the size of the machine to ensure that you have a sufficient supply.

  • Restaurant: 1.5 lbs. per person
  • Cocktail Lounge: 3.0 lbs. per person
  • Water service: 4 oz. per 10oz. glass
  • Salad bar: 30 lbs. per cubic foot
  • Fast food: 8 oz. per 14oz. drink
  • Guest ice: 5 lbs. per room
  • Catering: 1 lb. per person
  • Cafeteria: 1 lb. per person
  • Consider buying a stackable machine that can grow with you as your business does, but don’t be to conservative, it is two to three times more expensive to produce a pound of ice than it is to store it!

    Do I need a water-cooled system or an air-cooled system?
    Ice machines cool the refrigeration compressor/condenser systems by using either air or water. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Air cooled machines are the least expensive and easy to install, but they make a lot of noise and can heat up a room very quickly with warm exhaust air, which might not be ideal for an already overly heated kitchen area. A water cooled model is efficient and quiet, and easy to install. However, if water prices in your area are high, you’re operating cost will be too. If you are in an area where there is little rainfall, its best to check with local authorities to ensure that a water cooled model is permitted.
    How much space do I need? Measure twice, purchase once.
    Now that you know what type of ice, how much your need, and the type of ice machine you’d like to purchase, measure the space vertically and horizontally to ensure that the ice machine you purchase isn’t larger than the space you want to put it in. Is it convenient to an electrical outlet and a plumbing hookup?
    Should I purchase additional ice bins for storage?
    You can purchase separate ice bins for additional storage for your busiest days or to have easy access to ice at waitress or bar stations.
    Is a water filter important?
    Having a water filter and changing it according to manufacturer’s specifications is as important as keeping and changing the oil in your car. In fact, it is estimated that over 60% of ice machine maintenance calls are water related. A water filter not only improves taste and removes odors, it also removes sediment, controls calcium and hi-scale buildup which can lead to a malfunctioning ice machine. It also filters out parasites, lead and other harmful chemicals, With some manufactures (Ice-O-Matic) the purchase of a water filter with the machine will extend the warranty on the evaporator.
    What is considered to be an energy efficient ice machine?
    The U.S. Department of Energy outlines efficiency recommendations. Please note that the recommendations are based only on commercial ice machines that produce cubes.
    What is the lifespan of an average commercial ice machine?
    Most ice machines will last up to 10 years depending on usage volume and the water quality in your area. Environmental conditions such as humidity, dust and salt can shorten its lifespan.
    What kind of warranty and customer service should I expect from the manufacturer after the sell?
    A reliable ice maker vendor should offer a solid warranty and dependable customer service. Get a comprehensive warranty for your ice maker. Most dealers will offer a short-term warranty on all parts and labor, and a longer warranty on the more expensive components such as the evaporator, compressor, and condenser. A vendor should also provide several means of contacting their company if something goes wrong - by cell phone or pager or through an emergency help center.

    Helpful Tips

    • It is 2 to 3 times more expensive to produce a pound of ice than it is to store it. Keeping costs in mind can maximize equipment efficiency and minimize capital expense.
    • Follow the manufacturer’s suggestions on water usage. If your municipal water supply is high in mineral content, buy a ice machine that filters the water or install a filter on the water line that goes into the ice machine.
    • Your local health department can tell you what the sanitation standards are for ice machines. Icedispensers are often found to harbor a lot of dangerous bacteria, including e-coli, if not properly and regularly sanitized.
    • Ice machines that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without shutting off are too small for your operation, causing premature wear. In addition, you may also have to purchase ice on your busiest days.
    • Make sure your ice maker is part of your emergency power planning. If you don’t, you may lose income from lost wages and spoiled food.
    • The lower your water temperature is, the more ice it will produce. Water temperature shouldn’t exceed 90 degrees.

    Did You Know?

    • That 80% percent of restaurants choose cubed ice rather than shaved or round ice?
    • That Ice makers areeither air-cooled or water-cooled? Water-cooled cost more, but saves on future utility costs.
    • That an ice machine can cost $500-$5,000?That’s a lot of dough so you should do your homework.
    • That a commercial ice maker should produce a clear cube unlike what you’ll find in your home freezer? The reason – commercial cube icemakers form a cube in thin layers. At home, the water in your ice cube trays is frozen all at once and the gases and microscopic bubbles are frozen in place, giving it a cloudy appearance.
    • That an ice maker will use more water than it takes to make the ice. It takes 7 to 20 gallons of water to freeze 50 pounds of ice. The extra water is used to melt and release the ice.
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