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Ice Maker Buying Guide

Ice Maker Buying Guide

Fill an ice tray with water, place it in the freezer, and wait a few hours for it to freeze, crack the ice out of the tray and place in a bin… Repeat. This used to be the process for how to obtain ice. It was long, tedious and typically did not produce enough ice.

Ice makers are appliances that produce pounds of ice automatically that is quickly available for usage. Sometimes ice makers are built into a refrigerator for convenience, however they do not produce as much ice as an ice maker appliance. The ice makers in this guide are not included within a refrigerator but stand-alone appliances whose sole purpose is to produce (and store) ice.

Things to Consider When Buying An Ice Maker

How Much Ice Do You Need?

Determining how much ice you’ll need will help you decide which type of ice maker you should get. Small appliances produce between 20-30lbs per day, while the large commercial ice makers can make up to 400 pounds or more a day. Of course, there is a huge price difference between the two. Average ice production for most residential ice makers range from 25-50lbs; which is more than sufficient for the average household, or for those who may host a moderate sized party or gathering occasionally.

NOTE: To measure ice in pounds, consider the standard bag of ice you purchase from a store or gas station, they contain 10lbs of ice. Therefore, an ice maker that produces 20-30lbs of ice is equal to approximately 2-3 bags of ice.

What Will The Ice Be Used For?

Do you host elegant dinners and events often? Do you own a restaurant or food service business where you need large quantities of ice?

Knowing the purpose for your ice also aids in deciding which ice maker would work best for you and your needs. There are various types of ice that are more common for particular usages and in certain industries. If you host formal dinners consider an ice maker that creates top hat ice to correlate with a premium presentation. Or if you have a business that serves drinks and food, maybe an ice maker that produces half cube ice will work best for you. We will identify the various types of ice shortly.

Whatever the case may be. It is important to review these questions prior to making a purchase to ensure that you are getting exactly what you need.

Ice Production vs Storage Capacity

Ice production is the amount of ice able to be produced within a 24hr period. The storage capacity is the amount of ice the ice maker can hold. The amount of storage is significantly less than the amount that is able to be produced. When determining use, be sure to think about how much ice will potentially be leftover and will need storage. Ice makers will stop producing ice, once the storage bin is filled.

Types Of Ice

square ice

Square Ice (Full Cube, Full Dice, Medium Cube) – Traditional ice cube. Approximately the same height, width and depth, this ice is often used in beverages in food service, as they cool beverages quickly but melt slowly. Best for soft drinks, mixed drinks, bagged ice, ice dispensers.

half cube ice

Half Cube Ice (Half Dice Cube, Small Cube) – Half of a traditional cube. This ice is also used in food service, but typically at self-serving machines. It allows for more ice and less liquid, keeping costs low on high cost beverages. Best for soft drinks, mixed drinks, frozen cocktails, bagging, ice dispensers.

crescent ice

Crescent Ice – Flat on one side and curved on the other like a half moon, this ice is good for beverage dispensers and doesn’t clump. Most popularly used by Hoshizaki and U-Line brands. Best for soft drinks, mixed drinks, bagging, ice dispensers.

flake ice

Flake Ice – Small chips of ice usually used for product preservation, similar to snow cone ice. This ice is most commonly used in seafood displays to prevent spoilage. Also, used for medical purposes to cover injuries. Best for produce, chilled foods on a buffet, seafood or meat on display, blended cocktails and medical uses.

top hat ice

Top Hat Ice (Gourmet Ice) – Is the highest quality of ice, perfectly clear and shaped like a small shot glass. This ice is formed by eliminating air during the freezing process. Typically used in fine dining, scotch drinks, bars, and hospitals. Best for high-end liquors, drinks at premium eateries or events.

nugget ice

Nugget Ice (Cubelet, Sonic Ice, Chewable) – Soft, chewable and flavor retentive, this ice was popularized by Sonic restaurant. It’s small and typically round or spherical and splash resistant. Nugget ice has many different names, depending on the brand; Hoshizaki, U-Line and some Scotsman call it cubelet ice. Best for fountain beverages, specialty soft drinks, and blended cocktails.

Installation Type

freestanding ice maker


Free standing units are just that, they are able to be installed in an open space. These models do not fit into your existing kitchen layout, but will require floor space to be housed. Most commercial ice makers are freestanding, as they need to be placed in a spacious area.

built in ice maker


Built-In ice makers are built into your existing cabinetry and layout. They fit seamlessly into your kitchen design, or chosen area of installation without taking up any floor space. They require a dedicated water line.

portable ice maker


Portable ice makers are able to be moved around without a water hookup. Just plug into an outlet and pour fresh water inside and they will produce ice. However, they are not meant to hold ice in them for long periods of time like freezers. These appliances are typically small and light weight in order to transport them from one place to another.


It is suggested to have a professional install your built-in (also known as under-counter) ice maker for the best results; the process is a bit challenging. However if you are DIY-saavy the appliance comes with installation directions to follow. Before installing it is vital to consider several factors; draining, water lines, electrical demands, and having a designated space for it to fit appropriately.

Drain Options

All ice makers need a place to drain (except portable and some compact models). There are two options for this process to take place: gravity drains or drain pumps.

Gravity Drain – This process requires a drain to be located near the ice maker so the excess water can flow down with the assistance of gravity. Two things are necessary for this method; the drain must be lower than the drain outlet, and the drain must be no further than 12 inches away from the ice maker.

Drain Pump – This is an accessory generally sold separately from the ice maker, but some models feature a built in pump. The drain pump transports excess water to the closest drain. It is necessary when the ice maker is not near a drain or the direction the water must travel goes up instead of down, preventing gravity to be utilized as a tool.

Air Cooled vs Water Cooled Condensers

This information is for commercial kitchens, feel free to move on to the next section if it doesn’t apply.

Air cooled condensers utilize interior fans and vents to pull air from outside to cool the condenser coils. It is important to note that these appliances need cooler, consistent air temperatures around it to work efficiently. Warm air in the atmosphere would be pulled in and take much longer to help it cool down.

Water cooled condensers use a waterline outside of the one used to make ice to remove heat from the condenser coils. The hot water is later released out of the unit. These types of appliances can function in warmer temperatures, however they use a large volume of water. They are never Energy Star Certified for this reason.

NOTE: Some states have banned water cooled condensers due to the large amount of water used for it to function appropriately.


  • Under-counter: These ice makers fit under the counter, and are built into the existing cabinetry. Typically accompanied with the term built-in, most of these models fit in without taking up extra floor space. They can be used as freestanding units as well.

  • Counter-depth: These units fit flush with existing cabinetry, they are meant to be built into a designated area with cabinets. For a flawless look that keeps your kitchen or bar area layout consistent, this feature is for you.

  • ADA Compliant: This feature means that the ice maker meets the standards that require accessibility for individuals with disabilities. For office type environments that provide access to ice makers for all employees, this feature is significant to include.

  • Energy Star: The ice makers that are Energy Star Certified meet energy efficiency standards set by the government to save money and protect the environment. Ice makers require a lot of energy, if you are eco-conscious and/or would prefer to keep your energy bills low, consider this option.

Ice Maker Brands

GE Ice Makers Whirlpool Ice Makers Summit Ice Makers
Electrolux Ice Makers Avanti Ice Makers Avalon Bay Ice Makers
Coyote Cunningham Gas Danby
DCS Haier Hoshizaki
Koolatron Luma Comfort Marvel
NewAir Perlick Scotsman
U-Line Vinotemp Vintage Luxury Grills

For more information about how ice makers work and why your ice maker may not be working check out This Article