These two designs can both perform well, so know which to choose before installing a new commercial chiller system.

Key Takeaways:

  • Air-based chillers are ideal for smaller spaces
  • Water-cooled systems are better for large commercial spaces
  • Regular maintenance is essential for both designs with some specific steps for each model
  • Only licensed electrical professionals can provide risk-free chiller care

Odds are your workplace has already gotten uncomfortably hot if you’re considering installing a chiller system. You may be rushing to get any system into place that will supply the cool air you need and help avoid the risk of heat-related illness. If you’re in a hurry: freeze! You don’t want to rush into a purchase before you’re sure which design fits you. 

The size, interior, and exterior of your building all have an important part to play in the selection, as does how your budget currently stands. This guide will look at air-cooled and water-cooled chiller systems, highlight some ways both are good cooling choices, and underline why regular maintenance goes a long way.

Air-cooled chiller systems

You’ll want to install this design if less maintenance is your preference. Air-coolers are less complex overall with fewer components to take care of than water-based models that need things like condensers and cooling towers to function.

Air-coolers use propeller fans to pull air in from outside the building and draw it across coils to condense the refrigerant inside the chiller system. Internal heat is then shifted outside thanks to the condensation that builds inside the cooler.

Less internal complexity leads to two further reductions: Air-cooled chiller systems are on the smaller end of the size scale because there are fewer moving parts inside. This makes them ideal if space is at a premium and the site you’re looking to cool isn’t too big. A smaller system also means you won’t pay as much to own one.

More air-based savings and things to consider

Being the simpler of the two chiller systems makes installation quicker and less labor-intensive for electrical professionals (and that’s another financial saving for you). Air-coolers won’t leave you high and dry in a water shortage; a fact worth noting if your site is in one of the country’s hotter states and/or you’re running a workplace that can hit high heat levels, like a data center. Air-based chillers also won’t impact the ambient temperature or humidity levels of a building.

Lower maintenance costs and other cheaper aspects would seem to make choosing an air-cooled system a no-brainer. It’s all about the payoffs, but even those can be minimized when you consult with experienced technicians. Lower maintenance doesn’t necessarily mean less maintenance because air-based chiller systems last less time than water-based ones. How long they do last is essentially up to their owners.

Speaking to experienced technicians will help you make the most of an air-based design. They’ll also help you optimize unit placement, which can help avoid insufficient airflow, poorly directed fan noise, and vulnerability to human or elemental damage if the unit must be outside. 

Water-cooled chiller systems

Water-cooled designs circulate a mixture of water and glycol through sealed tubes. Warmed coolant is passed through a cooling tower, which discharges the contained heat and lowers the fluid’s temperature, allowing further cooling cycles to take place.

Some of the potential drawbacks associated with air-cooled systems don’t exist with water-cooled options. Water-cooled systems are much longer-lasting (provided the owners are smart with regular maintenance), will require less ductwork on the property, and are also much quieter since there are no fans whirring away.

The initial cost to install one of these more complex coolers is higher. The good news? Water-based systems are often more energy-efficient than air coolers, leading to lower utility bills over time. 

Adding a water-cooled chiller system can take more planning because they’ll need their own room due to the greater size and complexity. This isn’t usually a problem because larger businesses often choose to install water-based chillers since they need much bigger interior spaces cooled. The upside is that the unit won’t be sitting outside for Mother Nature or vandals to get rough with.

The maintenance process for water- vs. air-cooled systems

Water-based chillers are prone to corrosion caused by scaling when metal components suffer an accumulation of crystalized deposits like calcium from dissolved salts. These compromise the heat transference capabilities of the chiller along with rusting it. This can be avoided by removing any impurities in the water before it’s first used and as needed afterward. Filters and tubes also need to be looked after to prevent clogging.

Leaks should be looked for regularly as they can indicate a loss of water in the chiller system. Leaks can also allow oil and potentially toxic refrigerants or lubricants to escape. Professional advice is needed so the water flow rate isn’t too fast or slow, which both negatively impact performance.

Air-cooled chillers will require regular attention. Their fans and fins can suffer when debris and dirt block their function. Fans may become noticeably louder and/or excessively vibrate over time, which usually indicates impaired function. Wire contacts and motors can wear down (this can be visually appraised) while all bearings, fixings, and fastenings on both air- and water-cooled models should be regularly checked.

Maintenance logs should be kept as a record of problems, times, and solutions. This is a big help to maintenance personnel. Any kind of chiller maintenance should always be conducted with the chiller disconnected. Don’t forget that this is delicate and potentially hazardous work that should only be carried out by licensed professionals.

Speak to the cooling system experts to get answers to your questions

The team at Universal Electrical Services has been Florida’s power pros for more than 20 years. We can help you assess your property to select the perfect chiller for the space and make sure it stays in good working order for as long as possible. Visit our contact page if you need cooling advice, installation, or maintenance assistance and we’ll be there in a flash!