How Do Water-Cooled Air Conditioners Work? A 2024 Guide

woman under air conditioner 1000px

The idea is straightforward: many individuals chill their personal spaces by using water to cool the air. Many cafes utilize this kind of conditioner, which is a highly popular outside cooling technique.

Air Conditioners With Water Cooling

There are different methods of cooling air, i.e. air conditioning. One of them is water cooling, where these cooling devices come in. These gadgets chill the air in your house or place of business using a water-based cooling system, giving you a refreshing wind.

Read more: Swamp Cooler vs. Air Conditioner: What Is the Most Cost-Effective Option?

How Does It All Work?

The size of the system doesn’t matter, but, for this example, we’re going to talk about an office building with a large system. There are three larger units at work here, that have to perform the entire process together:

  • The chiller: The mechanism that cools the water that’s going to travel through the system later.
  • The cooling tower: The component responsible for drawing out the excess heat from the water in the system.
  • The AHU: The component responsible for distributing the cooled air, i.e. the air handling unit.

The process is complicated, but we’re going to simplify it for you and explain in steps how it works with these three components. The most important thing is that the air is water-cooled and here’s how it works:

  1. Refrigeration: Refrigeration happens in a closed system which cools the water that’s inside the chiller, but it does it by removing excess heat and heating the water in the condenser.
  2. Cooled water distribution: A pump draws cooled water into the pipelines, where it is then sent to the air handling unit. Several units may be needed, based on the needs and system type.
  3. The cooling process: Water circulating via a network of tiny tubes cools the air in the AHU. The air is cooled by these tubes and subsequently circulated to various rooms and areas via air ducts and outlets.
  4. Chilled water return: The water from the AHU is then returned to the chiller through the pipes exiting the coil. Then the refrigeration process repeats, but something is happening on the other side as well.
  5. Heated water cooling: The other part that helps the refrigeration is the condenser, the condenser pushes the heated water through the pipes to the cooling tower.
  6. The water cooling technique: It involves spraying water over the airflow that fans are drawing in. The water cools because of this surrounding air. Subsequently, the process is carried out once more, this time adding water to the condenser.

The office building’s cozy atmosphere and chilly air are experienced during the whole operation. Both systems and water-cooled air conditioners come in smaller sizes. The distinctions between these and air-cooled air conditioners will be covered in more detail later.

System or Device Types for AC

air conditioning

The one that we described is a vast system, and it’s a central AC that uses an entire system of water pipes and tubes to cool down the interior of a building. Other types are much better for different situations and space types:

  • Water-based portable ACs: These are ideal for rooms or individual workspaces. For them to function correctly, the refrigerant must be cooled by a water supply.
  • Water-based industrial ACs: These systems are extremely robust because they mainly cater to manufacturing industries where there are high levels of heat present.
  • Hybrid water ACs: This is a combination of water cooling and air cooling, and it’s a smarter system because it switches between different cooling methods based on the state of the cooling agent.
  • Systems with water chillers: It’s a system like the one we provided an example with, there are variations in the way the water system works, it can be pumped into the condenser or pulled out of it, and the same goes with the chiller.
  • Dual-unit water systems: They function similarly to standard air conditioners, but they use water to chill the refrigerant rather than air. To remove the hot water, it requires both a water supply and a water drainage system. There’s a chance the second unit is inside too.
  • Heat pumps with water cooling: This is perhaps, the most efficient system out there because it gives you a combination of cooling and heating for a minimum cost. There are air-cooled heat pumps, but we’ll skip them for now.

When Do I Pick This Type Of AC?

There are five particular situations when you should opt for a water-based air conditioner rather than an air-based air conditioner. These are situations where you have limited space outside, where you want to save energy, where you want to reduce the noise, where you have high heat loads, and where you need a precise temperature:

  • Temperature control: If you want to have precise temperature control, water-cooled ACs are a way to go. Medical facilities or labs have these requirements, and you can even control the humidity in those if necessary.
  • Noise elimination: They’re quite quiet because there are no large fans that cool the air, instead water tubes are used to cool the refrigerant.
  • High heat: When there’s high heat, it’s best to use water-cooled air conditioners, because water is better at regulating the heat.
  • Limited space outside: Unlike the air-cooled ACs, you don’t have to have an outside unit with the water-based ACs. You can install the unit inside in the utility closet or somewhere not that noticeable.
  • Decreased energy consumption: When you want to save up on cash, use a water-cooled air conditioner. Also, if you want to be environmentally friendly, this is a good option.

The Two Elements: Water and Air

The water-cooled air conditioner system has more parts than the air-cooled one. Water cooling is much more elaborate, but it’s also much more environmentally friendly. This is all regarding how the chillers work.

Water-Cooled ACs

So, water-cooled air conditioners use a water-based mechanism, they are very efficient when there are high-heat environments that need cooling, and they offer precise regulation of temperature, but there are higher space requirements compared to air-cooled units.

The energy consumption is very low, but they probably consume more water, and if you have an open system for the cooling tower, where the loop also leads to the drain, it’s not that economical. They’re much quieter than air-cooled ACs.

Air-Cooled ACs

It’s an air-based cooling mechanism. But, the thing that gives them an advantage over water-cooled ACs is the space they don’t take up. Fewer parts mean less space occupation. They might not be as efficient as the water-cooled ACs.

Their primary advantage to water-cooled ACs is the fact that they’re more economical in smaller spaces, especially when you don’t have water available. Also, it’s much easier to maintain them because they have fewer components.

Considerations Before You Buy It

woman checkmarks

You should know what you’re getting it for. We know it’s for cooling, but what kind of space? Are there going to be any specific installation requirements, or maybe some constraints regarding space, do you have a proper water supply, will the noise bother you, etc.? Look at this:

  • Where you’re installing it: Take a good look and think about it really long, because it’s a complex system, and you need to put it somewhere where it’s going to be approachable and work properly.
  • How much cooling: Is it for one room, an entire household, or an office building? Determine the cooling capacity that is most suitable to your needs before you get into anything.
  • Where is the water coming from: Make sure that you have a water supply available for the cooling system. Also, if it’s not a closed-loop system, make sure you have drainage as well.
  • Frequency of maintenance: If you don’t maintain it, you’ll notice that the air is getting hotter and hotter, and the bills are just coming in higher and higher. Think about maintenance in advance, because maintaining your AC is a yearly task.
  • Is it loud: It’s not loud, it’s a quieter version of a cooling system. It’s going to be perfect for you if you live in the country or even in a suburban area. You’ll be able to preserve the quiet surroundings.
  • Warranty: Find the best option with the best warranty. This is the warmest piece of advice we can provide. Because, even if you opt for an extremely expensive quality solution, it can mean nothing if the warranty expires and there are errors afterward.

Factors to Consider Before Choosing a Water-Cooled System

The same things you would look for in any device, a good, long-lasting warranty, a reasonable price, easy installation, or a team of professionals to do the entire thing, very little to no noise because it shouldn’t make the same noise as an air-cooled air conditioner.

It’s best to also look for any advanced features this type of cooler might have for you. Like, if you want to go out, but want to return to a nice cool room temperature, then you need a remote, Wi-Fi integration, etc.


Water-cooled air conditioners work by cooling the water and then cooling the air that circulates the room or any other preferred space. There’s no humidity increase, there’s no water escaping the system into the air, it’s a closed system, and it just cools any area inside your home.