Puff, Puff, Pass? What Size Air Compressor Do I Need?

According to a report from IBIS World, the air and gas manufacturing industry accumulated $12 billion in revenue in 2019.

Considering how in-demand air compressors are, that’s no wonder. You can find them everywhere, from your home garage to the car wash around the corner. With so many uses, you may be wondering: what size air compressor do I need?

It’s a common question, especially since professionals and homeowners alike have a hard time choosing the right compressor for the job. We’re here to help you out today with this guide to understanding and picking air compressors. 

Ready to learn about the 3 different types of air compressors plus the questions you should be asking yourself before choosing one? Keep reading to find the answers to all of your burning questions.

3 Types of Air Compressors

When you go shopping for air compressors, there are three main types you’ll find on the market. Each one works a little differently, and understanding these mechanics helps narrow down your options. Let’s explore the 3 kinds of air compressors in depth.

1. Reciprocating Piston Compressors

When you think of an air compressor, odds are you imaging a reciprocating piston compressor. These are the most widely used, especially among non-professionals. 

Here’s how they work: a crankshaft pumps the piston in a cylinder. Pulling back the piston creates a vacuum effect, driving air into the cylinder. When the piston extends again, the compressed air pushes into the tank so you can use it.

The only downside? These compressors can be quite loud. If you don’t want to wake the neighbors with your late-night home improvement sessions, choose an oilless reciprocating compressor or one with a double piston. 

2. Rotary Screw Compressors

Looking for a high-powered compressor that works as hard as you do? A rotary screw compressor such as the Gast air compressor is the one to pick for all your dirtiest jobs. It’s no wonder the automobile repair and manufacturing industries love these so much. 

Here’s how it works: air enters a chamber with two oppositely rotating screws. The chamber is sealed, forcing air to squeeze between these two screws. The compressed air escapes into the tank, ready for your industrial job. 

The best part about these compressors is that they don’t require as much maintenance as do other compressors. That’s because they’re oil-sealed, have fewer rotating pieces, and the two screws never touch.

3. Scroll Compressors

Similar to the idea behind rotary compressors, scroll compressors use two discs. One disc moves in circular motions around another stationary disc. This movement compresses and puts out the cleanest grade air of any compressor. 

Scroll compressors are ideal for industry jobs. With a clean air output that suits ISO-industry standards, these tools are also quiet and completely oilless. 

What Size Air Compressor Do I Need? Questions to Ask Before Making Your Final Choice

Now that you’re a pro in distinguishing the different types of air compressors, you need to ask yourself a few questions before making your final selection. 

How Will I Use My Air Compressor?

Are you a homeowner needing an air compressor for all your DIY projects? Or are you a professional who needs something sturdy enough to handle all your daily work? Maybe you’re a manufacturer, looking for an industrial-grade compressor that’s all power?

You’ll want to choose a product that matches up with the type of job, and the frequency of use your air compressor will support. That means knowing the difference between a professional air compressor and one that’ll suit your home improvement jobs just fine.

Save money by choosing a reciprocating compressor for your home improvement jobs. Professionals are better off picking a gas-powered scroll compressor for maximum output and minimal size. If you’re a manufacturer, choose a compressor with a high power outage like a rotary compressor.

Where Will I Install My Compressor?

Some air compressors are small and convenient; others are so large they practically need a room to themselves. The air compressor you choose should fit the space you have for it.

That means picking a compact reciprocating compressor that fits in your trunk if you want to fix flats. Or choosing a two-stage air compressor that may be huge, but perfect for powering your nail gun all day long. 

What’s more, you need to decide if you want a stationary or a portable air compressor.

Stationary compressors are bolted into the wall and wired to the building’s electrical system. These bad boys typically hold between 60 to 80-gallon tanks with motors that put out 4 to 10 horsepowers. 

You’re probably more familiar with portable compressors. These compressors come in a variety of sizes, from 2 to 6 gallons up to 30 gallons. As their size suggests, portable compressors aren’t meant for more serious jobs and are ideal for home and car owners. 

How Much Power Do I Need?

When it comes to the size of your air compressor, smaller doesn’t always mean less powerful. However, the opposite statement does actually hold true: the bigger your compressor, the more powerful it usually is. With that said, small compressors are typically good enough for most homeowners.  

Aside from size, other considerations regarding power include whether you choose a reciprocal compressor vs. a powerful scroll or rotary compressor. The latter choices are best for fueling nail guns or even heftier jobs. Meanwhile, reciprocal compressors are absolutely sufficient for home improvement projects. 

Finally, a gas-powered compressor will put out much more power than an electrical one. If you want something compact that still puts out robust results, we recommend choosing a portable reciprocal compressor that’s gas-powered.  

The Bottom Line on Air Compressors

So, what size air compressor do I need? The bottom line is: it depends on what you’re using it for, how you plan to use it, and how much power you need to get the job done. 

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