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Should You Buy a Built-In Kitchen Ice Maker Or Save $$ With a Portable Unit?

ice ice and more ice cubes

Ice makers have gone from luxury item to an everyday kitchen appliance. Most homeowners have one that comes with their kitchen refrigerator. Some pay a little more to have them built into the kitchen. Some turn to smaller, more portable devices for their needs. Either way, more and more homes now have some form of ice maker within. They are popular because of the convenience of having ice on demand for chilling drinks. There are clearly plenty of options, but which way is the best?

When designing a new kitchen, there are questions to ask about the ice maker and here we discuss things you need to know before buying an ice machine. Built-in under-counter machine or portable ice maker? Is it worth finding a way to include a built-in ice maker somewhere in this new space? Or, is it better to go with a portable ice maker?  There are several benefits to choosing a portable model. However, the advantages of built-in models and counter-top models shouldn’t go ignored. Below we will consider the pros and cons of both, as well as some of the different functions and considerations of portable models.

ice cubes and water

The Benefits Of A Portable Ice Maker

There are many clear benefits in choosing a portable model. They include the following:

  • the portability of this model over built-in options
  • ease of use for new users
  • lower cost compared to other examples
  • great features on some top-of-the-line models

1. Portability away from the house

Clearly, the main benefit here lies in the name. The portability of these machines means that users can set up a convenient ice supply wherever required. This means access to ice at any time and in any place – provided there is the power supply to do so. This makes the most sense at parties, move to the kitchen, patio, backyard area, travel trailer/ RV. This means that guests can add ice to their drinks, often at a bar area.

The added benefit here is that they don’t have to stray too far from the pool and other refreshments to get their ice. Guests welcome this convenience, as they are more likely to come back to another party. There is a knock-on benefit here too for party hosts. Hosts don’t really want an endless stream of people walking in and out of the kitchen. They end up leaving wet footprints, making a mess and potentially causing damage. On that note, some also won’t want less familiar guests entering areas of the home unsupervised. Keep the pool party out at the pool.

2. Ease of Use

The best portable models should be easy enough to use. They are beginner-friendly machines that do most of the hard work for users. They have clever programs to create the ice and recirculate the water. All users need to do is apply the settings and refill water as need. The best have simple controls for all preferences and functions. It is easy to fill it up, make the ice and then fill the drinks. This means that there is no time wasted during the party. Also, guests can try and have a go with it.

3. The Low Cost

These machines are also less expensive. Again, this is a great benefit to less familiar, guests that might cause some damage to the appliance. This is also more appealing to those unsure whether this is such a permanent fixture in the home. Prices can vary depending on the functions, size, and brand. Some cheap models are no more than $100. Cheaper models are less durable and have fewer features. Still, there is a choice for those that are on a budget.

4. Variety of Features

Those high-end machines can have a greater range of features to help users out further. They include a timer, which can set machines to start running on a schedule, and other preferences. There are often options for different sized ice cubes or effects. Many also have self-cleaning functions to help users take better care of the machine.

On the subject of the size of the pellets, there are different machines with different styles of ice.

Ice doesn’t always have to come in cubes. This is what we are used to, and what many prefer in certain alcoholic drinks. Still, there are choices between ice cubes, shaved ice and ice nuggets. Some machines will offer different sized cubes. Others will go further with options for shaved ice. This is often preferable on hot days as it cools drinks faster. Those that have a slight obsession with sonic ice will love the chance to recreate those chewy pellets at home. Therefore, it pays to know precisely what type of ice the machine produces.

nugget ice cubes

Potential Challenges With Portable Ice Machines

There are clearly plenty of advantages in turning to one of these devices. However, there are also some downsides that consumers should consider carefully. They include:

  • Exterior Design and overall look of a portable device
  • Shelf or Counter Space used when not in operation
  • Lower production capacity compared to other machines

1. These machines are not the most attractive option

Inbuilt machines don’t take anything away from the kitchen space and the new design. A potable model either sits out on the counter – looking out of place – or ends up in a cupboard and forgotten about. Some of the cheaper options aren’t the most attractive devices in the world. Still, there are some in the higher end of the range with a nicer look or choice of finishes. This allows some homeowners to blend the machine into the décor a little better.

2. They can take up space on the counter when not in use

A sleek, minimalist kitchen doesn’t benefit from a large, plastic machine out on the new granite counter top. The inbuilt models are out of sight and out of mind until required.

In addition to this, there is also the potential issue here that these machines still might not have the capacity that users are actually after. There is a fine line between a portable machine that is too large for the counter space and one that is too small for the needs of the user. It needs to have the optimal capacity for ice production inside that machine. This typically means as much as physically possible to stop owners having to take the ice to the freezer for storage after a small load. Always check the specifications of a machine to learn more about its true capabilities.

3. Compare production capacity and cycle time

Production capacity is usually provided in pounds of ice per day. This means calculations on the number of pounds needed for an event. These quick calculations also determine how many times users will need to top the machine up in order to provide a good supply of ice. This is the other thing about these machines that new users may not consider. Built-in ice machines can have a dedicated water supply, so there is pretty much consistent ice as needed. The problem here is that portability means no direct intake of water. Users have to add the water themselves. Therefore, someone has to be on ice duty at the party to keep an eye on the water supply, which could be the bartender if you hire one. If the bartender is making lots of frozen drinks with the blender it is to their best interest to stay on top of the ice supply.

Those in need of high capacity ice machines for significant quantities may do better with a built-in ice maker.

Three Types Of Ice Machines Available

It is important to look at these approaches when considering the disadvantages of portable machines. Those other options are:

  • modular ice machines
  • under-counter, built-in ice machines
  • counter-top ice machines

1. Modular ice machines

These devices can provide up to 1000 pounds of ice per day. Those that are unfamiliar with this option should think of those machines in hotels. There is a clear advantage here in the production and volume of ice. A direct water supply line and high capacity mean users are rarely going to run out of ice here. They are ideal for commercial ventures and large gatherings. But, this is a bit extreme for the home. They also need enough space in the kitchen, as this isn’t under-counter, and they can be noisy.

2. Under counter ice machines

These models are much more appealing to homeowners. That is because they are the models hidden out the way but still offer great performance. This means 300-400 pounds a day depending on the model. They are effective and offer high capacity, like the modular model, but are less intrusive. This is not a cheap solution, but perhaps the most practical for those that regularly hold large parties or live in a hot climate and use ice daily. The ice cubes can be either a personal scotch on the rocks at the end of the day or ice for chilled drinks at parties.

Scotch on the rocks

3. Counter-top ice machines

This is a great midway point between the portable and under-counter solutions. They are larger than a portable model but still compact and easy to keep out in the kitchen. They are more cost-effective than the under-counter option. A low-cost counter-top model is the around the same price as a high-end portable one. This could be the most practical solution for many users that want a reliable solution.

Under-counter machines can provide more ice, but they can’t travel and are very expensive.

So far this has led to a good balance of pros and cons between the two options for the home. However, there is another element to this portability that may help tip that balance in favor of portable ice makers. Portability goes further than a corded device that can be set up at an outside bar or powered summerhouse. The best, more compact models can also travel. This means that they have great potential in the following situations:

  • Tailgating parties
  • Campsites
  • RVs and Boats

There are many people that have turned to using these machines for tailgating parties. This is a great way to improve the quality of the drinks during one of these long events. A bag of ice won’t go too far if more guests turn up than expected.  You can load up ice chests with bags of ice, but will not stay frozen over the run of a long football game. A portable ice maker – with an adequate power supply – can create clean ice for all the drinks. There is still that need for a water supply and a watchful eye, but it adds to the fun. Then there are those that use portable ice makers while out camping. Some are able to do so with some small solar generator or power source on campsites. Others take these small devices with them on RV trips or on boats.

So what about a solar powered portable ice maker?

All this talk of camping and remote use leads to the potential of solar-powered ice makers. This seems a little contradictory to require hot sunlight for ice production. Yet, it is possible to harness solar powered to create ice in some remote situations. Many will simply use a power pack, power connections to the machine and reliable solar panels. Other may like the sound of the ISAAC Solar Icemaker. This uses solar energy to make liquid ammonia. This is then used to cool the machine and produce vapor, which turns to ice.

Which is the right model for your home?

There are some clear pros and cons to choosing a portable ice maker over an indoor model. Portable models have the benefit of functionality in all kinds of situations. Once consumers find a model they like, they can use it for all kinds of functions. It can sit in the kitchen like a smaller version of a counter-top model for day to day use. It can relocate outside with the right power supply for accessible ice supplies at parties. It can even work for chilled drinks while camping or be tailgating. The downside is that hosts are responsible for refilling the machine with water and staying on top of ice production.

There will be times when these portable machines won’t do. Commercial ventures with high production needs can struggle with smaller portable models. Under-counter models are also less hands-on and more stylish. As long as homeowners understand their priorities, they should find the perfect solution. Cheers!

Cheers drinks with ice

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