How Much Power Do You Need From Your Air Compressor

Air compressors are an invaluable item to have around for a host of different reasons. Not only are they often required to power a lot of the tools that you’ll need on a job site when working with clients, but they’re also a perfect way to dry vehicles, machines and other surfaces as efficiently as possible.

Not all air compressors are created equally, however, particularly when it comes to power. If you truly want to make sure you’re buying a unit that offers the power you need to work without restriction, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Calculating Your Compressor’s Air Needs: Breaking Things Down

One of the most important things to understand about correctly determining your air compressor’s power requirements is that there isn’t necessarily a “one size fits all” question you’re trying to answer. Your own needs will vary depending on a number of factors, including but not limited to things like:

  • Exactly what tools are you going to be using along with your air compressor?
  • What are their own specific power requirements?
  • Will those power requirements fluctuate from job-to-job, or will they remain relatively consistent based on your use case?
  • Are there any other loads that the air compressor’s engine is going to have to deal with, and will they be running at the same time you’re using the compressor itself?

These are all questions that will likely vary depending on the situation, but they still need to be answered thoughtfully to make sure that you select the piece of equipment that meets your needs.

Case in point: you really need to determine the air requirements of your specific tools before you can correctly determine your practical power requirements moving forward. Every tool that you’re using should have some type of published air requirement specification, usually included alongside the original product documentation. It will be measured in an airflow of cubic feet per minute, otherwise known as CFM for short. It will also be listed alongside the pressure those tools need to function properly – typically somewhere between 90 and 130 pounds per square inch, or PSI. To that point, this is a marker that the vast majority of all commercial air compressors can hit, so luckily that’s one less thing you need to worry about.

For the absolute best results, you’ll need to determine not only the actual air requirements with everything you’re trying to use with your air compressor (not just average air requirements), but you’ll also have to think about the duty cycle those tools will be used for. Obviously, more intensive or heavy-duty jobs will require more power than tasks involving light or even modest work.

Once you have that information, you’ll be able to determine the power requirements of the compressor itself. The number you’ll want to pay attention to here is the HP or horsepower, which refers to the total amount of work that the air compressor’s motor can perform. Keep in mind that if you’re talking about a newer air compressor, more HP isn’t always necessarily better. The industry has advanced quite a bit over the last few years and a lot of modern day air compressors are far more efficient than models from even five years ago, meaning that they now require fewer horsepower to do the same or even more work.

It’s equally important to acknowledge that the fuel source of the air compressor will absolutely impact the amount of power you need. If you take one air compressor with a gas-powered engine and compare it to another with an electric motor, they’re not necessarily going to be able to accomplish the same amount of work, even if they have an identical horsepower measurement. This is because a gas-powered compressor will produce all of its power thanks to combustion, whereas an electrical unit will translate the electricity it’s being fed into what you need to power your tools. As a rule of thumb, it usually takes about twice the amount of horsepower for a gas-powered air compressor to accomplish the same thing that an electric alternative does.

Additional Considerations About Your Air Compressor’s Power Consumption

There are a number of other factors that will dictate not only the power consumption needs you have for an air compressor, but what that compressor will be able to do with the power provided as well.

Chief among these involves the fuel source, as stated above. Low quality fuel in the case of a gas or diesel-powered air compressor will require more power than those operating from higher quality fuel sources. Likewise, by their very nature environmental factors like very high or very low temperatures, or even high altitudes, will also impact what an air compressor is capable of on a job site.

Maintenance will also play an important role in your power needs, as is true with most of the other machinery you’re likely to work with. If you stay up-to-date on changing air filters and servicing the engine, it will be able to do more with less power. If you don’t, it will naturally grow less efficient over time and will start using more power for even basic tasks. It’s really no different from something like the engine in your car to that end.

But regardless, it really is important to acknowledge that your power needs will be unique to your end application. You shouldn’t start with an air compressor and hope it helps you power your tools and complete your work. You need to start with what you’re trying to accomplish, calculate those metrics outlined above, and work your way back to a specific air compressor model that can meet those needs.

If you’d like to find out more information about how to determine the most appropriate power needs for your air compressor, or if you have any additional questions you’d like to discuss with someone in a bit more detail, please don’t delay – contact JHFOSTER today.