Buying Guide: Ice Machines

Buying Guide: Ice Machines

Ice machines are a critical component to any food service operator. They are expensive to buy, operate and maintain, but cheaper than buying ice by the bag! Whether it’s your first time buying an ice machine or 50th time, there are some major considerations before making your new ice machine purchase. You may have questions such as: “what size do I need?” or “why is this seemingly identical product twice the price?” With this in mind, these buying guide tips can help shed some light into the detailed process of buying an ice machine.

Types of Ice Machines

Undercounter Ice Machines
Modular Ice Machines
Countertop Ice Machines


These machines are an all-in-one solution. They have the ice machine built into the storage bin and are ideal for small bars, cafes or businesses that don’t need as much ice. They come in a wide array of sizes, from the 15” wide residential size which holds about 25 lbs. of ice, to those that hold up to 100 lbs.! Though a smaller option, these machines still require a floor drain, so if you don’t have one, you’ll need to look into a condensate pump.




Modular ice machines, more commonly called “heads”, are designed to sit atop a storage bin, an ice dispenser or a soda/ice dispenser. They are available in the standard widths of 22”, 30” or 48”. Depending on the installation, you might need to purchase an adaptor so that the unit will fit correctly on top of the bin or dispenser.



Countertop Dispensers:

These ice machines are another all-in-one solution. They hold anywhere between 12 and 20 lbs of ice, with a dispenser. They usually produce nugget style ice and though they have a smaller storage bin, they can produce up to 400 lbs of ice in a 24 hr period. They can handle a high demand.

Ice Machines Size Guide

The amount of ice used daily is rarely uniform. Consider the fact that you will use more ice in summer than winter and weekend usage is sure to be more than weekdays. Be sure you size your machine and bin to meet your peak usage needs.


Try not to base your decision solely on what your current machine does. Take into account the age and condition of your present equipment, as well as the surrounding air and water temperatures at your peak usage times. Production charts can be found on the spec sheets for each machine that will tell you 24-hour production under your particular conditions.


Ideally, your company is a growing one. Consider adding 20% to your current usage estimates to account for future business growth.


Check out the sizing guide by Manitowoc, or use the following chart to help guide you in your usage decision:


Usage Chart


Ice Types

Ice Types

There are several types of ice cubes to choose from. The most common are: cubes, flakes and nuggets.


Cube Machines:   

Cube machines usually come with two choices in size: Half Dice or Whole Dice. You can generally find the size of the cubes by looking on the spec sheet for the machine. These machines are the most popular. They produce a hard cube that melts slowly and provide the best drink product.

Recommended for: Mixed Drinks, Carbonated Beverages, Ice Retailing, Salad Bars, Ice Dispensing


Flake Ice Machines:

These machines produce small, hard bits of ice. They cool quickly and have a low production cost. Flakes mold to any shape and are great for salad bars, hospitals and limited specialty drinks.

Recommended for: Produce, Seafood or Meat Displays, Blended Cocktails, Salad Bars, Hospitals


Nugget Ice Machines:

These machines produce a softer, chewable texture ice that still provides a maximum cooling effect for drinks. In a dispenser, the ice will melt and stick together, so be sure to order the proper agitator kit.

Recommended for: Carbonated Beverages, Blended Beverages, Salad Bars, Produce Display, Hospitals

Cooling Systems

Air-cooled machines 

These machines are easy to install and cost less to purchase and operate. They are affected by air temperature and incoming water temperature, and require more breathing room. More environmentally friendly, the industry is turning to the air cooled machine.


Water-cooled machines 

These cost a bit more up front and are more difficult to install. They are costly to operate due to high water costs, but because they put off less hot air, they will not raise the room temperature nor do they require as much breathing room. Really, there are only 3 reasons to purchase a water-cooled machine:

  • If it will be in a small storage space
  • If the ambient air contains several contaminants (i.e. grease)
  • If the ambient air will be over 80 degrees

If you do go with the water-cooled model, make sure it does not violate any local water conservation laws.


Remote condenser systems 

These machines are generally reserved for larger machines, greater than 800 lbs per 24 hr. The condensing unit is usually mounted on the roof of the building to minimize the noise and heat put off. In general, the self contained unit is the way to go. It’s easier to install and is what you will find most places.

Operating Cost – Major Brands

Manitowoc, Scotsman and Hoshizaki are leading popular manufacturers. The operating costs of electrical and water usage vary significantly between brands. Both Manitowoc and Scotsman ice machines utilize a system that efficiently minimizes water wasted and the cost to produce ice. The cost to operate a comparable Hoshizaki unit can be substantially higher than competing brands and is not recommended.


Manitowoc and Scotsman machines are the most reliable in the market place. Available service reports rate both highly.

Other Considerations


Before ordering, measure doors, hallways and installation space to be sure your new machine will fit – allowing for 5 to 8 inches of clearance above, behind and on both sides.



Electrical and water connections and the floor drain must be within 6 feet of the ice machine. Most machines are offered in a variety of voltages to meet your requirements, be sure you order the correct voltage. All connections must meet local, state and national codes.


Plumbing Requirements:

Ice machine must be connected to a cold water supply and have separate drain lines for the machine and the bin.