Portable or Commercial Ice Maker: What Works Where?

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As we speak, ice machines of all shapes and sizes are working hard to make nice and cold cubes, flakes, nuggets, and more. These ice pieces go on to chill drinks, make smoothies, nurse wounds, and sometimes even save the day. In the near future we’ll cover a day in the life of a single ice cube, but for now we’re going to run through a list of locales where ice is in high demand. For each location, we’ll tell you if a commercial ice maker or portable ice machine is a good fit. A few may be obvious, but others might surprise you, so read on.

Location: Hotels, Motels, and Inns

Hotel Commercial Ice Maker Dispenser

Commercial Ice Maker – ✅
Portable Ice Machine – ✅

Commercial ice makers vary widely. For example, there are commercial ice machine heads, which make ice, but have no storage space for the cubes. These generally get placed on top of dispensing appliances, such as soda machines. Then there are commercial ice bins, which store ice, but can’t make it. There are also self-contained ice makers, which both produce ice and store it where it can be scooped out, but they don’t actually dispense the pieces. And then there are commercial ice maker dispensers, which can make and store ice, and also spew the pieces out at the touch of a button.

The last is the one most often found in hotels, because it’s the fastest and most sanitary option in terms of commercial ice makers. Guests have access to essentially unlimited ice without having to grab it out. Such hotel ice dispensers, as with other commercial ice making machines, require connections to a water line, electrical outlet, and drain.

In contrast, a portable ice machine is a rarity in hotels, if you see it at all. That being said, it is a viable option. Boutique hotels, quaint bed and breakfasts, and even larger establishments that want to add a dash of personalized convenience for their guests could provide a portable ice machine in each guest room, instead of a big commercial ice maker in the hallway. “Portable” simply means the ice machine does not need to be plugged into a water line or a drain, and is lightweight enough to be moved around to different rooms or spaces if needed.

For example, the Avalon Bay AB-ICE26R Portable Ice Maker makes 9 cubes every 6 to 13 minutes, with a maximum of 26 pounds every 24 hours. That’s the ideal output for a guest in a hotel room to make drinks, nurse their headache, etc. Portable ice makers don’t use much energy — the aforementioned model uses 230 watts — and even better, don’t need to be connected to a water line or drain to work. Accordingly, a countertop ice maker is also a good alternative to a commercial ice maker in hospitality settings where utility hook-ups and space are issues.

Location: Restaurants and Bars

Restaurant Commercial Ice Maker

Commercial Ice Maker – ✅
Portable Ice Machine – ✖

The food service industry is a biggie for ice. Americans love their cold water and their blended frozen coffee beverages and their hard liquor on the rocks. In such environments where there’s high demand, a commercial ice maker will almost always work better than a portable ice machine.

For example, if each guest at a restaurant requires 1.5 pounds of ice total for their meal (drinks, food preparation, etc.), then 100 customers would need 150 pounds of ice. Any portable countertop ice maker, including the one mentioned above, would not be able to hold up against that type of demand. In contrast, a commercial ice machine can spew out around 400 pounds of ice per day, with a 500 pound bin capacity. If a restaurant is super busy, then two commercial ice machines might work even better –having more than one machine is also useful for cutting down the distance to the ice supply.

Since visual appeal is a major component of food service, another major consideration for those in the restaurant and beverage industry is the shape of the ice made by the machine. The most common are ice cubes, half-cubes, nuggets, flake ice, and gourmet ice. A fine-dining restaurant, for example, would want to purchase a commercial gourmet ice maker, while a buffet would want to invest in a commercial flake ice machine for displaying seafood.

Location: Home

Avalon Bay AB-IC26R Home Portable Ice Maker

Commercial Ice Maker – ✖
Portable Ice Machine – ✅

This is fairly obvious, since the word “commercial” generally means that the appliance is being used outside of the home. And indeed, having a commercial ice maker in your kitchen would be big time overkill on the ice front, unless you’re running a home catering business, creating a winter wonderland in your backyard, or something similar.

A portable ice machine would work much better, though there can be some confusion about the options within this category as well. For example, some people will classify “freestanding” ice makers in the same category as portable ice makers. In reality, freestanding ice machines are similar to commercial models, since they must still be connected to a water line, drain, and outlet, and will often weigh more than 100 pounds.

Conversely, a portable ice maker is truly portable in the sense that it only needs to plugged into a power source to operate. This means they can be set on countertops, taken to tailgating parties, used in campers, and will even work in a cabin if you have a generator. Since the ice maker isn’t connected to a water line, you have to manually pour water into a reservoir. Then, once the ice-making cycle is started, the pieces begin to collect in an internal bin, where you can scoop them out. Most portable ice makers have a side or bottom drain to remove the excess water when you’re done.

As such, a portable ice machine would work well as a residential appliance, even if you already have a fridge ice maker. If you have a bar area, a pool, a workout space in the garage, etc., the portable ice machine could easily be used in one of these locales with no installation required.

Location: Offices and Employee Areas

Office Break Room Portable Ice Machine

Commercial Ice Maker – ✖
Portable Ice Machine – ✅

Office environments, i.e. indoor, cubicle-driven areas with a break room, along with employee-only spaces in retail businesses, would both benefit from a portable ice machine over a commercial ice maker. With a footprint of just 11.00″L x 14.80″W x 14.70″H, the Avalon Bay AB-ICE26R would fit right in on the counter space next to the coffee maker and microwave. And while you can find fairly compact commercial ice machines with a relatively small ice production capacities of around 50 pounds, in this scenario, the portable appliance would still be a better solution for 3 reasons:

1) Many break rooms don’t have an available connection to a water line with a shut-off valve and/or to a floor drain. As we mentioned before, a portable ice maker doesn’t need these to work. Many commercial ice making machines also don’t come with a power cord and must be hard-wired.

2) A portable ice maker comes complete and costs significantly less out the door. The AB-ICE26R, for example, costs around $150, while even small commercial ice makers start at upwards of $1500, not to mention transport and installation costs. If the portable machine’s output is appropriate for employees, which 26 pounds/24 hours should be, there’s no need to invest extra money on a heavyweight break room appliance.

3) Portable ice makers also cost less to operate. Not only do they consume less energy and can be unplugged to save even more, they don’t waste water. They utilize only as much water as is poured into their reservoir, and also recycle any unused/melted water for subsequent ice-making cycles. In contrast, many commercial ice machines are only anywhere from 5% to 66% efficient at using water to make ice. That is, they use way more water to work than is actually outputted as ice cubes.

Furthermore, a portable ice maker would be convenient for mobile, temporary, and construction environments, such as work trailers. Above all, anyone interested in an ice machine, whether commercial or portable, should pay attention to the ice output. If you need some ice, but the demand isn’t exorbitant, getting a commercial unit that makes and stores too much each day can lead to mold and bacteria setting up camp in the ice bin. If you’re unsure about employee ice consumption needs, an initial investment in a portable ice machine would be wise, since these appliances generally top off at 50 pounds per day.

Location: Medical Buildings

Hospital Commercial Ice Maker

Commercial Ice Maker – ✅
Portable Ice Machine – ✅

In terms of hospitals and emergency care centers, there’s no grey area as to which appliance is most appropriate: a commercial ice maker. There’s even a type of specialty ice nicknamed “hospital ice” (which is really nugget ice), and this can only be made by specific commercial machines. At big medical establishments, ice is always called for, whether for chewing, chilling water, or nursing wounds, and commercial ice makers have the output capacity to meet these demands.

On the other hand, private doctor, dentist, and other medical professional offices may have a more sporadic need for ice than hospitals. Purchasing a commercial ice machine that exceeds this need could result in the aforementioned issue of mold and bacteria growing in the ice bin, which would be a very bad thing indeed for patients in a doctor’s office! Rather than having no ice maker available, a portable ice maker would work in small-scale medical offices to produce sufficient ice on-demand.

Location: Sports Facilities and Events

Sports Portable Ice Machine

Commercial Ice Maker – ✅
Portable Ice Machine – ✅

Gyms, athletic training facilities, and sports physical therapy centers are akin to hospitals in that ice needs to be available 24/7. There’s perhaps even greater demand, since even the most minor of sports injuries calls for ice as part of the treatment process. For these sports-related establishments, a commercial ice machine is an essential investment.

However, athletic events take place literally everywhere, from mountaintops to fields to riverbanks to rinky dink school stadiums — you name it and somebody has run, jumped, or thrown a ball there. For major stadiums with high volume concession stands, installing a commercial ice maker would be more appropriate. But for applications such as cross country races with sparse facilities, swim meets with no snack bar, basketball games at the rec center after-hours, and hometown booster club snack bars, a portable ice maker would be effective at providing emergency ice for injuries and a modest quantity of cubes for thirsty athletes to use in their sports drinks.

What Ice Machine Works Where: Summary Chart

Here’s a chart summarizing which ice machine type you would need in the locales we just covered, along with a few others where ice might be required. Remember, the most important factors when deciding whether a commercial or portable ice maker would work better are:  1) required ice output per day, 2) access to utility connections, and 3) your budget. If you’re unsure which is best for your situation, as a general rule of thumb, a portable ice maker is always a wiser first choice. It costs less and can always be transferred to another location, such as your house, without breaking a sweat if you realize you need a commercial ice maker.

LOCATION COMMERCIAL ICE MAKER PORTABLE ICE MACHINE
Hospitality
Restaurants and Bars
Residences
Offices and Work Areas
Health Services
Sports Events
RVs
Mobile & Temporary Spaces
Camping & Outdoors
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