How to choose the best home air compressor - buying guide

How to choose the best home air compressor buying guide

Updated on 03/17/20
8 minute read

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In this article, I will share with you 13 air compressor specifications that are important to consider before buying your home air compressor.

This list is gathered and built from my personal experience using air compressors. 

Keep reading to learn more about how to choose the best home air compressor and the reason to have an air compressor at your house.

In the next section, I am going to explain important things to consider when buying an air compressor for house use. If you feel like jumping to the usages around the house, click here.

 

What is an air compressor and how it works?

The Basic Description

Air compressor is a powerful tool used for industrial purposes, garages, carpentry shops, paint shops for cars, for painting houses and bridges and more. 

The tool is widely used in many areas of life. Its uses vary from small usages to heavy-duty ones.

Air compressors come in many sizes and contain many components. Usually, the tank size is measured in Liters/Gallons

The bigger the thank, the more compressed air is available at your disposal.  

 

The Basic Functionality

Air compressor, when stripped down to main components, has an engine of a sort, usually electrical, and a tank of air. The engine like many engines, needs fuel to run smoothly. Modern compressors models come with 'oil-free' engines.

The engine has a cylinder to compresses air into the tank. This creates the typical compressor noise. 

Speaking of noise, old compressors were LOUD. The engine used to create these massive pumping noises. One reason I believe people considered it more of a power tool for workshops rather than a tool you can use in your house.

Luckily, compressors get quieter with time. 

When the tank is full of air, the compressor stops compressing more air into the tank. When air is let out of the tank, a sensor recognizes a drop in pressure in the tank and it fires the engine again until the tank is full or you turn off the air compressor. 

 

Recommended air compressor specifications

Here is the deal: 

You want a compressor for your house usage. How big of a compressor should I buy? 

Air compressor has some key specifications and components to take into consideration before getting one for your house. 

I will list them and recommend my favorite specifications that will help you narrow down your best home air compressor specs.

  1. Oil-free compressors. Compressors used to have an oil basin or an oil tank. The owner of the compressor would check the oil gauge once in a while, and refill when needed. Luckily, today you can find oil-free air compressors. No more oily hassle, and you don't get nasty oil stains all over the floor. Now that's great. 
     
  2. Silent technology air compressor. Compressors used to be extremely noisy. Even the small ones. I am not joking, sometimes it was impossible to hear other person's voice if you were to have a conversation next to a running compressor.
    By silent compressor, I mean that the engine is silent. The air blow gun might be noisy as well, depends on the structure and the pressure of air that is blown out. The latter can be easily addressed by buying a better blowgun. But a noisy compressor? You can't do much, rather buy a new one or something. Look for a low dB (Decibel) value when you buy a compressor.
     
  3. Tank capacity. Tank capacity is important. It affects more than just the potential compressor airflow. It also affects the size of the compressor.
    The greater the tank, the bigger the air compressor. When you are buying one for house use, you need to move it around and store it somewhere. The size is a crucial factor. I use a 24 Liter or 6.3-gallon steel tank. You can go as I do or double that. That's the range pretty much. More than that can become cumbersome to move around and for storage.  Normally, bigger ones are for prolonged usage and more heavy-duty tasks. Less than that, it is just too weak. I need relatively a little amount of air when I use the air compressor, that is why I went with the 6.3 gallons tank. 
     
  4. Rubber feet - Make sure the air compressor has rubber feet or something similar. This is important for 2 main reasons. It reduces vibrations when the air compressor is compressing and reduces the chances of scratching the floor or wooden floor at your house. 


     
  5. Compressor speed. Usually measured in RPM (Revolutions Per Minutes). This specification point to how fast the compressor is revolving.
    It really affects the noise levels of the compressor and the speed it compresses the tank.

    Tip: If you replace an air compressor engine (or compressor unit), make sure you use the same engine speed. The whole system is designed to work at a certain speed, and changing it may cause faults and damage to the unit and to people. my air compressor's engine works at around 1400 RPM.
     
  6. Power. Measured in Watts or HP (Horse Power). The Watt part affects electricity consumption. The higher the Watt value is, the more electricity the air compressor consumes but the stronger it is. I usually go with 1.2 KWatts which is roughly 1.5 HP. I don't see any reason to go bigger for house usages.
     
  7. Airflow. This is what it sounds like. How much air the air compressor discharges. Notice it is not related to how much air the compressor can compress. Think of how much air shoots out from the blowgun. I would go with 180 - 200 Liters per minute. This is enough air for me. 
     
  8. Compressor CFM (cubic feet per minute) - This air compressor specification really measures the amount of air the compressor can output. This is another way of measuring the air compressor's airflow. 

    This value is usually specified also on tools like air guns.

    My compressor value is around 2.5 CFM at 90 PSI. Here is an article that explains how to calculate the air compressor CFM. Also in this article. One issue is that you need to have the compressor already in order to perform the calculation. If you plan to buy one, try to look for this value in the specs or ask the seller or supplier.

    See a use case for example. In it you will find how to fit a nail gun to a compressor, considering the CFM value. 
     
  9. Maximum pressure. Well, this is a number that represents the maximum pressure the tank can hold. It is measured in BAR or PSI. You can imagine what happens if for some reason the tank is over-compressed. EXPLOSION. Do not worry, make sure the compressor's tank has safety valves and mechanisms. My air compressor is an 8 BAR unit or 116 PSI. This is what I recommend for a small air compressor. If you need an air compressor for larger projects and for larger pneumatic tools, I'd double the tank size. 
     
  10. Compressor noise level. Go with quiet or ultra-quiet compressors. They still produce some noise and vibrations but it is worth your money. Noisy compressors are terrible and make you do not want to use them. My personal home air compressor is around a noise level of 55DB. That is due to the fact that it is really small (24L / 6 gallons). As bigger as you go with the tank size and the HP, the compressor will get louder or will maintain lower DB but the price will jump high. 
     
  11. Belt. Old or bigger compressors come with an engine belt. For a house use, most compressors do not have an outer belt. Get a belt-less compressor.  
  12. Pressure Regulator. I can't say enough about that feature. It helps reduce the pressure for different usages. I use to try and do it manually by squeezing the blowgun in different ways but it never works well. Why? The blowgun is not always designed to be squeezed like so. Get yourself a compressor with a pressure regulator. I will not regret that.


     
  13. Metal air-valve. I feel like it is important to share this with you. Some air compressors come with a plastic air valve. I mean, seriously? In the past, I felt like the plastic valve is going to explode in my face every time I used it before. Even the ones that are covered with plastic and have metal inner parts. Don't like those. Buy a compressor with metal stainless parts.

     
     

To conclude so far

There are many things to consider when buying an air compressor, especially for home use and especially if it is the first purchase.

Air compressor components are pretty similar across brands and models.

I listed my personal references above but needs may change from person to person. The right way is to read the small print and make sure you buy what is good for you and all the pieces that fit. Here are 2 air compressor for comparison:

DEWALT DWFP55126 6-Gallon 165 PSI Pancake Compressor 10-Gallon and a bit bigger one California Air Tools 15020C Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free 2.0 HP 15.0-Gallon.

 

Fitting a nail gun to an air compressor or vice versa

Let's say that you plan on buying a nail gun. You also need a small air compressor. How can you know if they will work well together?

In this example, I will use the CFM value to estimate if a gun fits a certain compressor. I will ignore the hose diameter and similar factors.

 

The nail gun

Here is an example of a nail gun. In its specs, it says that its CFM per Shot is 0.075. If we take a compressor, that has a CFM of 1.5, we can calculate the number of shots per minute.

1.5 per minute / 0.075 per shot = 20 shots per minute. Now, it can be sufficient for some people and an extremely low volume of nails per minute for another person. 

You can read more about CFM in the list above. I also recommend reading more online to make sure you buy what you need.

 

What if there is no CFM specified in the nail gun specs?

Sometimes, the CFM is not specified on the nail gun but a range of working PSI. for example 70 - 120 PSI. 

Most compressors with a rate of 2 CFM and up will run a nail gun easily. Even with a reasonable number of shots per minute.

 

Air compressor compress time to discharge time

My home air compressor, the one I use at home is small. The reason is that I use it mainly for cleaning stuff and small in-house tasks. I rarely get to operate tools with it or expect it to work more then a few minutes at a time. 

One factor I considered is how much time it takes the tank to completely discharge when starting full and how much time it will take the air compressor to compress a full tank.

These are the numbers:

completely discharging the compressor: it took around 40 seconds to reach the point that the air stream is not strong and useful.

Re-compressing the tank all the way to 8 BARS: It took around 1 minute and 40 seconds.

It is clear to see that my compressor takes more than double the time to compress than discharge air.

What do I learn from that?

My compressor compress time is longer than the discharge time. Meaning, I will never be able to perform continuous jobs with it, Like using a sender on a large piece of wood, without taking breaks for the tank to fill up with air.

 

The air hose and blowgun

These parts also affect the experience of using the air compressor. 

The hose

I recommend going with a coiled hose. It is much more comfortable in terms of usage and storage. I use 1.8 meters / 6 feet long (when coiled) hose. When stretched, the hose doubles its length, sometimes even more than that. Depends on the hose. 

It is also important to fit the right connector size to the air valve. Hoses come in many sizes and lengths. You can check out air hose prices on Amazon.

 

 

Blowgun

I use a standard blow gun, with a replaceable nozzle for more length if I need to reach hard places. The nozzle is very important and there are many shapes and quality levels. The Nozzle of the gun creates noise. If it is important for you, I would also consider that. Check out some metal made air blow guns and sets on amazon.com.

 

 

Air compressor types

There are many types of air compressors. Some more popular than others. 

If you are really into understanding the technical side of it, rather than other common specifications (such as tank capacity) I recommend reading this link about air compressors and this link about compressors and compression types mechanics.

There you can find a lot more information and links about compressors types and how they work. 

 

Uses for an air compressor around the house

Home air compressors are great for many tasks around your house or garage. 

Here are some usages.

Clean your computer and keyboard.

Really annoying things to clean since most of their parts are not reachable. Also, they happen to be dust and food crumbs MAGNETS.

So what to do?

Lower the pressure regulator on your compressor.

Clean your computer and keyboard gently.

 

Tip: Feel the pressure of air before you dispatch air on the computer. You do not want keyboard keys flying all over the place, or another possibility that strong air discharge will damage your laptop fans and inner parts of your computer.

 

Fill up with air your basketballs, balloons, bike tires,  inflatable mattresses for guests and more.

Much faster than your lungs. I promise. Though there are pumps for this use, The air compressor is much faster.

 

Clean those small crevices in your car

Take the compressor near your car. 

Open your car.

Blow air in those places you can never clean with a vacuum cleaner or with a rag. 

Example for places you can clean in your car:

  1. Air conditioner openings. Those pesky places you can never reach easily.
  2. Coin niches. They contain a lot of dust. They are sometimes square-shaped so cleaning them can be hard.
  3. Glove compartment. Who really cleans that? Much easier with an air compressor.
  4. You car seats. Especially beneath the seats and on the sides of the seat. The seat rails area is hard to reach. It is an easy task for a burst of air.
  5. All the small buttons areas on the inner side of the car doors.
  6. The trunk. Oh man, this is much simpler. 
  7. More and more. 

Clean your TV and sound systems

Similar to computers, those are dust MAGNETS. Those electrical devices have sides and niches in them that is impossible to clean.

 

Start your charcoal BBQ with air

OK, this can be done also with a fan or air blower. But if you set the blowgun of the compressor to low pressure, and blow the charcoal while they are in the process of catching the fire or even if you just want to blow the burnt ashes away, the air compressor is ideal for that. You will be amazed by how it affects the fire.

 

Maintain your air conditioners around the house

Good use of the air compressor is to clean the air condition evaporator (the inner part) or the condenser (the outer part). It tends to catch dust in its grille part (those bunch of thin metal sheets, not sure what is the name).

Clean filters, all of them

The Air compressor is perfect for cleaning all kinds of filters. Air conditioner filters, vacuum cleaner filter, car filters (for knowledgeable guys and gals), etc.

Here is how I clean my iRobot Roomba filter with my air compressor.

For handymen and handywomen - use pneumatic tools like nail guns, paintbrushes, etc.

There is a variety of tools to use at home and DIY is a growing movement. One compressor can support many tools.

I recommend reading the tool needs before buying. Some need a certain amount of pressure and if your compressor is not strong enough the tools will not work properly.

 

To Conclude

Choosing the best home air compressor is not a complicated task to accomplish. 

Define your needs and common future usages and select an air compressor that answers most of them. 

Most of the time, there are no perfect solutions. Find what fits your needs according to what you think are your uses for an air compressor.

Consider the tank size, the noise levels, the equipment you are planning to use, the storage and more. 

I hope you enjoyed this air compressor buying guide and it helps you find your best home air compressor!

 

Resources:

Wikipedia Watt definition.

Wikipedia Horse Power definition.

Wikipedia BAR (unit) definition.