A water-cooled air conditioning system differs from a traditional air-cooled unit in that it uses a constant water flow over the condenser coil to transfer heat into the water. Once the AC unit transfers heat to the water, you can dump the heated water into a drain or recirculate the water by using a cooling tower for less waste. These AC units require a connection to your home’s water supply, but by using water instead of air to cool your home, water-cooled air conditioners are generally more energy-efficient than their air-cooling counterparts. There are pros and cons to both water-cooled and air-cooled AC units, so in this article, I’ll show you all the ins and outs of water-cooled air conditioners and why they might be the best fit for your home.

Still wondering how these HVAC units operate? Watch this video from ACS Installations to understand what water-cooled units are and how they work:

    Why Choose Water-Cooled Air Conditioning?

    There are several different types of AC units to consider, but water-cooled air conditioners are a great option because they can operate at lower condensing temperatures, giving them lower operating noise and more energy-efficiency than other HVAC systems.

    Water-cooled systems aren’t common in homes since they have higher equipment costs and they require more maintenance than most air-cooled systems. For this reason, air-cooled systems are more practical for most residential houses, retail shops, and small factories.

    What Are the Different Types of Water-Cooled Air Conditioners?

    There are 3 main types of water-cooled air conditioner condensers to consider.

    This is the most common water-cooled air conditioner design, and it’s also the easiest to produce. In it, the inner tube is inserted into the bigger outer tube and both pipes are formed into the shape of a coil. Then, water flows through the inner tube to cool the refrigerant that’s in the outer tube. The water and the refrigerant are designed to flow in opposite directions, also known as a counter-flow arrangement, to keep their temperatures consistent during heat transfer.

    This configuration consists of a steel shell with a copper coil inside it. In this design, the water flows through the coil to cool the hot gas refrigerant in the shell. Hot air flows from the top of the shell and condenses as it contacts the coil, which then reaches a subcooling state at the bottom of the shell.

    This design consists of a steel shell with copper tubes inside it. Water flows in the tubes to cool the refrigerant flowing in the shell. This design is mainly used in large industrial settings.

    Advantages of Water-Cooled Air Conditioners

    Efficiency

    Water-cooled air conditioning systems cool spaces more efficiently than air-cooled systems because water has better thermal conductivity than air, making it easier to transfer heat using less energy.

    Less Noise

    Most water-cooled systems use a separate chiller plant or cooling tower to cool the air, which means that any noise it creates won’t be located where the air comes out. This process also cuts down on compressor and fan noise, making for a much quieter operation.

    Build Quality

    Water-cooled units are typically made with higher-quality components than air-cooled AC systems, meaning that the parts themselves should last longer and be more reliable than their counterparts. This build quality also gives water-cooled units better performance over long periods of time.

    Disadvantages of Water-Cooled Air Conditioners

    Water Supply Issues

    Water-cooled systems need a constant water source, so if you have low water pressure or problems with the quality of your water, it could affect its cooling ability.

    Maintenance

    The cooling water in water-cooled air conditioning units can cause mineral deposits and scale build-up in its pipes, which means you may need frequent maintenance to clean any build-up.

    Corrosion

    Constant exposure to water can cause corrosion in your AC unit’s components, particularly if your water quality is poor. This can lead to even more repairs, adding to its overall cost.

    Cost

    Water-cooled AC units are generally more expensive than air-cooled systems when it comes to installation costs, but they’re more energy-efficient to operate, so they tend to be more cost-effective in the long run. Still, initial costs are higher, which can be a disadvantage.

    Using a Cooling Tower For Water-Cooled Air Conditioners

    Instead of pouring the hot water down the drain after it’s used, you can recirculate the water by using a cooling tower. Simply pipe the water away from the AC unit and into the cooling tower, then send the cooled water back to the condenser so the whole process can repeat itself.

    Cooling towers use two common types of heat rejection methods:

    • Natural Draft uses natural air to cool the water.
    • Forced Draft uses a fan to move air over the warm water.

    Read also: What is an Evaporative Air Cooler?

    Water-Cooled Vs. Air-Cooled Air Conditioner Video Overview

    So, Are Water-Cooled Air Conditioners Worth It?

    If your main concern is energy efficiency, water-cooled air conditioners are definitely worth it. According to Energy Resources Group, water-cooled AC systems are up to 215% more energy efficient than a standard air-cooled unit, giving you a substantial discount on your electric bill. Water-cooled systems are quieter, which is another big benefit. They don’t require an outdoor condenser unit, and they don’t use hazardous chemicals, so there are plenty of perks to choosing a water-cooled air conditioner.

    While they may be more pricey up-front, water-cooled air conditioners tend to be more cost-effective in the long run, so if you’re looking to install a new AC unit, I highly recommend checking out a water-cooled unit.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Do water-cooled AC units work as well as air-cooled units?

    Yes, water-cooled units are actually more efficient than air-cooled units. Because water has better thermal conductivity than air, it can transfer heat more effectively using less electricity.


    Can water-cooled units work in large spaces?

    Yes, water-cooled units are more suitable for large buildings because of their energy efficiency and high initial price. Most homeowners don’t opt for water-cooled units because they can be expensive to install.


    Do water-cooled AC units waste water?

    If you use a cooling tower to recirculate te water, your water-cooled AC unit won’t waste any water. However, if you dispose of the heated water after use, then it will waste water.


    How much water do water-cooled AC units use?

    Water-cooled AC units need constant water flow to work effectively. For example, a one-ton water-cooled AC unit needs up to three gallons of water per minute for optimal performance.


    Can I install a water-cooled AC unit in an area with water scarcity?

    Unless you plan on recirculating the water by using a cooling tower, it’s not wise to install a water-cooled AC unit if you don’t have reliable access to water. Using a constant flow of water and then dumping it out will go through a lot of water quickly, which could use up your available water supply.


    Article Update Log
    6/21/2024
    Reviewed for accuracy, cost data, industry best practices, and expert advice by Mitchell Layton
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    Alora Bopray

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    Alora Bopray is a digital content producer for the home warranty, HVAC, and plumbing categories at Today's Homeowner. She earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of St. Scholastica and her master's degree from the University of Denver. Before becoming a writer for Today's Homeowner, Alora wrote as a freelance writer for dozens of home improvement clients and informed homeowners about the solar industry as a writer for EcoWatch. When she's not writing, Alora can be found planning her next DIY home improvement project or plotting her next novel.

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    Mitchell Layton is a former professional mover who currently lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mitchell spent years packing and moving for REAL Rock N Roll Movers, a commercial and residential moving company based in Los Angeles that’s primarily staffed with up-and-coming musicians. That gave him plenty of experience navigating box trucks up and down the winding streets of LA. In addition to moving hundreds of happy customers into new homes and apartments all across Southern California, Mitchell has also performed corporate moves on company lots for Nickelodeon, Warner Bros, Universal Studios, Paramount, and more. After pouring blood, sweat, and tears into his profession, Mitchell has all the helpful tips you need for your next move.

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