Chiller Systems

Differences Between Air-Cooled and Water-Cooled Chillers

Air-Cooled and Water-Cooled Drake ChillersIndustrial chillers are essential for keeping your equipment cool throughout its various processes. But not all chillers work in the same way – some cool the refrigerant using air and others use water. While they’re both effective in the right environment, each one has unique benefits and considerations to explore before taking the plunge. In this article, we’ll outline the differences between air-cooled and water-cooled chillers to help you determine the best one for your application and needs.

Air-cooled chillers

Air-cooled chillers use ambient air to remove heat from your processes by expelling heat from the refrigeration circuit through the condenser. The units have attached air fans to help expedite the cooling process.  Air-cooled chillers can be used in various industrial applications, including medical, brewery, laboratories, injection molding, and more.

Benefits of air-cooled chillers:

  • Cost – Many air-cooled chillers are part of an easy-to-install packaged system that includes the condenser, compressor, and evaporator. Quicker installation and fewer components translate to lower upfront and maintenance costs.
  • Energy efficiency – While water-cooled chillers are best known for their energy efficiency, air-cooled units feature options such as electronically commutated (EC) fans that can help minimize energy consumption. Additionally, the expelled heat from the cooling process can help warm facilities during colder months.
  • Space – Because air-cooled chillers are housed outdoors, they take up less interior space, making them ideal for facilities with space restraints.

Considerations to keep in mind:

  • Lifespan – Air-cooled chillers are set up outside in an open space where they are exposed to environmental elements that can shorten their lifespan.
  • Noise – The cooling fans can generate a certain level of noise, which may not be suitable for quiet environments.

Water-cooled chillers

As opposed to air-cooled units, water-cooled chillers use water from an external cooling tower to reject heat from the condenser. They are commonly used in large industrial applications, including manufacturing and food processing.

Benefits of water-cooled chillers:

  • Long-lasting – Water-cooled chillers live indoors where they’re protected from damaging elements like snow, ice, rain, and heat, which helps extend their lifespan.
  • Quiet operation – Water flows through the system relatively quietly, making a water-cooled chiller ideal for low noise environments, such as hospitals.
  • Energy efficiency – The lower refrigerant condensing temperature and pressure help water-cooled chillers operate efficiently.  Additional green options, such as heat reclaim options, and variable frequency drive on pumps deliver even more earth-friendly benefits.

Considerations to keep in mind:

  • Cost – Water-cooled chillers tend to be more expensive upfront because they take more time to install and require extra parts, such as cooling towers and additional fluid plumbing. However, many companies find the energy savings and extended lifespan worth the initial investment.
  • Maintenance – To keep your water-cooled chiller running strong, it will need timely inspections, water purity treatments, and routine cleanings.
  • Water supply – Water-cooled chillers require water to function, making them less suitable for areas prone to drought where water is in short supply, and water costs are higher.
  • Humidity – If your industrial environment is already damp, a water-cooled chiller may add more fuel to the fire and could inhibit performance efficiency.

Which chiller is right for you?

No matter which chiller you choose, we’ll create a custom engineered solution for your specific cooling needs. We have a robust line of custom-capable products, short lead times, and excellent customer and technical service. We manufacture our chillers right here in the USA in Bensalem, PA, and serve customers from coast to coast. If you’d like more information about air-cooled or water-cooled chillers for your application, contact us to request a quote online, email us, or call (888) 289-7299 today.