If the refrigerator’s ice maker or ice cube trays aren’t providing the steady stream of ice your family requires, you might want to consider buying a dedicated ice maker. Use of these machines has expanded beyond the traditional commercial settings and they are now also sold for residential or personal use. Different styles and sizes are available, ranging from compact, portable designs to built-in undercounter ice makers for the kitchen or bar.
Built-In Undercounter Ice Makers
Undercounter ice makers are made to fit into lower kitchen cabinetry, islands, or a home wet bar. Some are specifically produced for outdoor use, such as in a patio bar or outdoor kitchen. You can choose from among finished and panel-ready stainless steel, black, or white models to coordinate with the rest of your appliances and decor. Many brands and models offer reversible door hinges for convenient installation. Vents on the front provide air circulation and cooling for the compressor.
In addition to an electrical outlet, built-in ice makers require a permanent water line and drain, and should be installed by a professional plumber. The ice maker needs a continuous supply of water to make the cubes, while the drain flushes away melted ice from the collection bin so the system can make more. Either a gravity drain or drain pump is used, depending on a number of factors such as the machine’s distance from the drain, any uphill water flow, or a line connection to the sink.
Production Rate and Storage Capacity
Ice makers are available in a wide range of production rates and storage capacities. A machine’s production rate is always higher than the storage capacity rate, which means it stores less than it makes. For some brands, the capacity or storage rate is significantly lower than the machine’s production rate. The production rates for residential undercounter machines generally range from 12-65 pounds of ice every 24 hours (a bag of ice from a convenience store is about 10 pounds).
Most undercounter machines are highly automated and run continuously until the bin is full of ice. A bin thermostatic or manual control will shut the machine down when the ice reaches a certain height. After ice is removed from the bin, or it melts, the ice maker starts another cycle.
Freestanding Ice Makers
Freestanding home ice makers have the same production rates and storage capacities as built-in ones, and many can also be installed under counters. Most freestanding models need a drain, and all require water lines.
One main difference between freestanding ice makers and built-in models is their versatility — they can be set up anywhere appropriate. The sides are finished, so they can complement the decor of any setting. Reversible door hinges on many models provide the best placement options. Any machines with side and back vents need ample space around them for air circulation.
Freestanding ice makers approved for outdoor use are ideal for garages, patios, pool areas or outdoor kitchens. Often castors are provided, which makes them easy to move around. For machines with leveling legs, the height can be changed for various settings.
Portable Ice Makers
Portable ice makers are compact in size and are designed to sit on a countertop. They produce ice very quickly compared to undercounter or freestanding models, sometimes in as little as 7-15 minutes. Typically, portable machines are less expensive, and are available in a number of finishes to suit the surrounding decor — black, white, stainless steel, or bold colors like red.
Do I Need a Water or Drain Line?
A portable ice machine doesn’t require a dedicated water line or drain. Just plug it into a power source and fill the reservoir with water. Once the water is frozen into ice cubes, they’re deposited into a storage bin. The bin is monitored by a sensor that shuts down the ice maker if the bin gets full. Because the ice maker isn’t a freezer, the ice in the bin will slowly start to soften and melt if not removed right away. Most machines recycle the melted water for the next batch of ice.
Production Rate and Storage Capacity
The production rates for various portable ice machines range from 18 to 50 pounds of ice a day, and the storage capacities run from 1.5 to 5 pounds.
The size of portable ice makers is one of their greatest advantages. They’re easily moved from the kitchen to the patio for a barbecue, or into the recreation room for a party. People take them camping, boating, tailgating, on road trips in their cars or RVs, and to many other outdoor activities. All that’s needed for a plentiful supply of ice is a power source and water.
Types of Ice
Ice is available in a variety of shapes and sizes, and each ice machine specializes in a different type of cube. Some ice makers are capable of making more than one size and shape, but this isn’t a standard feature for most models. Here are some of the different ice shapes to choose from:
- Full cubes. A classic form, these are slow to melt, which makes them ideal for beverages and for use in coolers.
- Half cubes. Considered the most versatile, they’re half the size of full cubes. They won’t water down drinks quickly and are also a good choice for coolers.
- Crescents. These have a half-moon shape, with one flat edge and one curved edge. They fill a glass better and melt slowly in drinks.
- Nuggets. Also called sonic ice, pellet ice, or cubelet ice, these have one of the smallest ice cube shapes. Nuggets are popular with people who like to chew on ice, and they melt quickly with their small size. They’re also great for coolers because it’s easy to mold them around the items placed inside.
- Bullets. These look like bullets — rounded-off cylinders with an opening down the center. They add an interesting look to drinks because liquid flows inside the indentation.
- Gourmet. Also known as top hat ice, these cubes are large and tapered, with tiny little lips around the base that give them the appearance of a gentleman’s hat. Gourmet ice cubes add an elegance to drinks and are slow to melt. However, their size and shape make it impractical to use in decorative ice buckets or smaller coolers.
Clear Ice Cubes
Clear ice cubes are considered a higher class of ice because they don’t alter the taste of drinks. White, cloudy ice has a distinctive taste due to impurities in the water, such as minerals. Only clean, filtered water, along with a special freezing process at the correct temperature point, will remove these impurities and produce clear ice cubes. If clear ice cubes are important to you, make sure the ice maker you’re buying has this feature.
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