Wind Or Water: Should You Choose Air Or Water Cooling For Your Business's Packaged Air Conditioner?

Packaged air conditioners can be a tremendous boon for businesses and industries looking to keep their climate control costs down, providing all the essential parts of a commercial-grade air conditioning system in a single, modular unit. However, not every packaged air conditioner is the same, and you will have a number of choices to make when shopping around for a new one.

One of the most difficult decisions you must make is whether your packaged air conditioner uses air or water cooling to lower ambient temperatures -- both of these cooling methods come with their own inherent advantages as well as a few unavoidable drawbacks.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of choosing an air-cooled packaged air conditioner?

Air-cooled air conditioners provide cooling by piping in cold air chilled by simple radiators, while venting hot air to the outdoors using dedicated ducts. Most small air conditioning systems seen on residential properties use air-cooling, but larger packaged units designed to cool commercial spaces can also benefit in a number of ways from air-cooling:

Ease of installation: Because these conditioners do not require access to a piped water supply, they can be placed practically anywhere that has reasonable access to the outdoors. As such, air-cooled conditioners can be mounted on walls, rooftops and other out-of-the-way locations without requiring complicated piping and water hookups.

Price: Air-cooled conditioners are also simpler to manufacture than their water-cooled cousins, and are commensurately cheaper as a result. They are also cheaper to install, since they do not require evaporators, cooling towers or other equipment seen on water-cooled conditioners.

Simplicity: Air-cooled conditioners have fewer complicated components, and do not require the extensive internal waterproofing found in water-cooled models. As such, they are less likely to suffer from mechanical failures, and are generally much quicker and easier to repair if and when they do.

However, choosing an air-cooled conditioner also has a few disadvantages:

Noise: The fans and air vents of an air-cooled conditioner can produce a lot of noise, especially those found on large, commercial packaged conditioners. 

External vent requirements: Air-cooled conditioners must have unobstructed external vents to discharge waste air, and in crowded industrial estates and business parks, finding unobscured locations for these vents can be challenging.

What about the advantages and disadvantages of water-cooled packaged air conditioners?

These more complicated air conditioners were once the preserve of high-capacity buildings and heavy industry, but are now much more affordable and within the budgetary reach of small business owners. They function by using piped water to chill air before venting it into the room and hold a number of advantages over their simpler, air-cooled counterparts:

Cooling power: Water has far more cooling potential than air, and although some high-end air-cooled conditioners can rival water-cooled units for efficiency, most lag far behind. 

Efficiency: This increased power means that you won't have to run a water-cooled conditioner quite so hard on hot days as you would an air-cooled conditioner. Water-cooled conditioners therefore generally cost less to run over the long-term.

Less noise: With fewer fans and other moving parts required to move air around, and the noise of the water pump muffled by the water itself, water-cooled conditioners are generally far quieter than air-cooled equivalents.

As for their disadvantages:

More infrastructure required: Although packaged air-conditioners are designed to keep all air conditioning components in a semi-portable container, in practice, water-cooled varieties require substantial cooling towers and other components to be built into the package to disperse unwanted water vapour. As such, they can be more difficult to find space for, and can increase humidity to unacceptably high levels if not properly ventilated.

Water access required: Although modern water-cooled conditioners recycled the vast majority of the water they use, they still require constant, reliable access to water to function effectively. This usually limits their potential installation locations to ground level, and can impact your business's water bills.