Earlier, we touched upon portable air compressors, more suited for inflating truck tires etc. Now, let’s shift our attention to the best air compressor for home garage use, for those of us who can’t pass up a DIY project during our free time. While it is common to see electric-powered equipment used most of the time, others swear that pneumatic tools perform better and last longer.
While it is obvious that the former uses electricity from your home’s outlets, the latter relies on compressed air. As such, we are going to focus on the best air compressor for home garage use. Now, this is where it gets complicated.
Air Compressor Buyers Guide
Depending on the requirements indicated by the manufacturer to run your equipment, consumers need to be aware of the specifications of a certain model or brand. Gauge the amount of pressure and the volume of air needed if you mostly run a single tool or if you will use more than one simultaneously.
Best Air Compressor For Home Garage
Figure Out Exactly What The Air Compressor Is For
Before you even start looking at the brands available online or in physical shops, it is essential that you know what exactly it will be for. If it is just for inflating sports equipment or air mattresses and maybe for airbrushes, a compact version would be enough. Stepping up would be portable models with wheels or casters that can be used for spray painting and for powering at least one tool.
Just because we have specified the types that are intended for use in garages or workshops earlier, it does not mean that portable models or some smaller freestanding ones cannot match their performance.
Gearheads and craftsmen who spend most of their time in the garage to work on their rides and other similar projects will benefit from a bigger air compressor. These are types with massive tanks and are usually bolted down to withstand all the vibration from the motors.
Meanwhile, others who prefer a more mobile solution will find that those with wheels can come in handy. Just remember that a decent-sized air compressor – even with wheels – will still require some effort to drag or move around. These types are actually useful for work that needs to be done outside of the garage. Just be sure to have a power outlet accessible. If not, a lengthy extension cable with proper specifications should do the trick as well.
Power Requirements Depending On Size
We often assume equipment such as air compressors that use electricity are practically plug-and-use. Relative to the voltage running through your electrical systems at home, some mid-size or larger sized air compressors will not operate.
Standard outlets in most places have a 120V output. This should be adequate if you will be using smaller air compressors as well as electronic tools. On the other hand, when the job demands more power and efficiency, a certified electrician can help.
Homeowners who keep their laundry machines in their garage likely have a 220-240V socket available. Those who do not should get in touch with a professional and have them rewire certain outlets according to what the machine needs.
Once completed, you now have the flexibility to go for bigger air compressors as well as more powerful tools. Moreover, the more 220-240V outlets there are, means you have more options as to where you want to install your new equipment.
If you can recall earlier, we stated that some air compressors have wheels to make it easy to move in and out of your garage. While it does appear convenient, using an extension cable may not always work in your favor. Depending on the length and thickness of the wire, your unit might not operate at all or might even get damaged.
Hence, an ideal approach is to install an air line that runs through your garage. If it is impossible for any reason, owners can always purchase a longer air hose to service tools that will be used outside.
Considering The Noise And Space
While it does seem that buying a new air compressor is just like purchasing a new appliance that you just use whenever or wherever you want, let us remind you that there are other factors in play here. Just like most machines that have motors, it will generate noise. Depending on how big it is, the sound it makes might be unbearable for you and your neighbors as well.
Thus, finding the right space that can accommodate the size of your new air compressor as well as muffle the noise should be the top priority. Remember it will require enough ventilation so it can draw in the air more efficiently and keep its components properly cooled.
If you intend to work even late at night, be courteous to the people around you and invest in some heavy-duty soundproofing materials to keep it from disturbing other people. In general, portable models should be ok, but those that are large enough to be bolted down will definitely make a racket. To help reduce the noise even further, set a thick rubber mat to absorb the vibrations.
Meanwhile, those with direct-drive motors tend to be noisier than belt-driven counterparts. A popular opinion among users is that the former is better thanks to its maintenance-free nature. Nonetheless, with proper care and lubrication, the latter runs smoother with reduced noise, but it supposedly loses out when it comes to power.
Single-Stage Or Dual-Stage Air Compressors
What we have established at the beginning is that we will be working with air compressors intended for use in your garage or workshop. Those who just plan to use the machine for inflating tires, pool toys, or sports equipment would be better off with a portable air inflator in the first place.
Going back to the topic at hand, the reason behind the use of a medium or large-sized model is the number of tools and the respective specifications in order to operate at maximum capacity. You’ve probably heard experts throw these words around so let us understand what this means and how it will affect your tasks.
Unless you own a big workshop or have a larger than usual garage with pneumatic tools and equipment that require higher PSI, a single-stage air compressor is an ideal choice. The process starts with air sucked into the cylinder, compressed with a single stroke up to 120 PSI, and then moved to a storage tank. As long as the air pressure needed does not exceed 100 PSI, this variant is the most cost-effective option.
Meanwhile, if for some reason you need to go higher than the values stated above, then a dual-stage model will deliver the numbers required. The mechanics start off similar to the single-stage air compressor, but after the first compression, the air moves to a second chamber with a smaller piston where the second stroke compresses it even further up to 175 PSI before it heads to the storage tank.
Price-wise, single-stage air compressors are the way to go. Dual-stage types are normally more expensive due to the maximum PSI it can produce, which some bigger pneumatic systems actually need in order to activate its functions. Thus, it is mostly used for industrial-grade equipment and commercial scenarios.
Specifications That Matter
We usually assume that the electric motor’s rated horsepower determines its performance. While this can be true when PSI is involved, those used in home garages rarely exceed 6.5 horsepower anyway. Thus, anything higher rightly belongs to industrial applications.
While PSI is essential, Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) is what we should be on the lookout for. It seems like an easy enough number to consider as long as the PSI rating of the tools match. If not, then standard CFM (SCFM) comes into play to determine how many tools your air compressor can run simultaneously.
A good rule of thumb as detailed by experienced users is to add the SCFMs of all the pneumatic tools you plan to use and throw in another 30% of the total. Then there’s the tank size, this where the compressed air is stored before it flows out to your equipment.
The longer you need to operate your tools, a bigger tank will make sure there is enough pressurized air for the task. If it is for short sessions at a time only, an air compressor with a smaller storage tank should do nicely. Likewise, the capacity is normally measured in gallons.
Not all air compressors can run continuously for long periods. The motor and other parts will eventually heat up during prolonged usage. This is usually referred to as the duty cycle of the machine.
The ideal number would be 100% percent, but this can often be found on industrial models only. A more realistic duty cycle rating for models intended for home use is usually below the aforementioned value.
Extra Features And Functionalities
An air compressor’s main function is exactly what the name suggests, but it does not mean manufacturers cannot add a few extras here and there. Perhaps the most useful one comes from the addition of a pressure switch. This gives your unit an automated start/stop action that keeps the motor from unnecessarily operating even when the storage tank is full.
Another feature is called continuous speed or variable speed (on some models). Air compressors with this function can operate constantly in order to keep the storage tank filled for those times when you might need to use multiple tools at any given time. Even though the motor turns the piston to pressurize air, a pilot valve prevents damage by releasing whatever exceeds its capacity.
Then there is what we call the dual control types that can be toggled to automatically start/stop or stay activated until the user turns the power off. Therefore, if the air compressor you like has this, it would be a big advantage over those that can only operate under a single function.
The materials used by its components likewise matter a lot when talking about durability. Cast iron seems to be the recommended metal for the compressor pump assembly. Next is the orientation of the tanks, which might not sound like much, but when space is scarce, a vertical configuration can maximize the area within your garage. Most horizontal tanks are typically paired with portable types.
Safety Guidelines When Operating Your Air Compressor
A place to start would be to go over the owner’s manual supplied by your air compressor’s manufacturer. These often include instructions on how to care for your garage’s new equipment to ensure optimal operation. The documents will have almost everything to help you understand the nuances of the machine, its accessories, and its features.
Since we are mostly dealing with models that are powered by electricity, there are no risks of inhaling toxic fumes. On the other hand, if the air compressor is mated to a small gas-operated engine, never use it in enclosed spaces such as your garage due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
To minimize injuries when using the machine, always wear safety goggles and gloves. The air might seem harmless in normal conditions, but once pressurized, it can cause serious damage to some of your body parts. There are reports of users losing an eye due to a direct stream of pressurized air fired at their faces.
Then there are the accessories that connect to our tools and to either the air line or directly to the air compressor. Poorly made options will not last long and since we are dealing with something that can cause bodily harm if used incorrectly, never skimp on high-quality products. Look for OSHA-approved items to be on the safe side.
Air hoses and cords also pose a safety hazard that could trip or tangle with other objects. Hence, for those who prefer to keep their work area organized, a self-retracting hose will keep the lines off of surfaces.
Finally, always conduct regular checks for leaks or damages to the air compressor, the air hoses, and the air lines (if you have installed them). We suggest that you contact a professional to fix these if you found any.
Reviews of The Best Air Compressor For a Home Garage
1. Powermate Vx PLA4708065 – $1,099
- 14.0 CFM @ 90 PSI can handle most pneumatic tools
- Belt-drive system protected by a wired enclosure
- Cast iron compressor pump construction
- 80-gallon ASME-approved vertical storage tank
- 155 maximum PSI
- 2-year limited warranty
- An oil-level sight glass for quick maintenance
- No automatic fill/shutoff function
- Requires regular maintenance
- Single pressure gauge
- Requires long air hose or connection to air lines to reach other areas
- Stationary type
- 240V power requirement
We want to have a good balance of portable and stationary air compressors and the Vx PLA4708065 is another 80-gallon model that would fit nicely in a busy garage. Craftsmen should also consider getting this if they plan to use more tools at the same time. Despite the size, this is a single-stage compressor configuration with a maximum pressure rated at 155 PSI
What you have here is an upright freestanding model that measures 31.5 inches long, 24.75 inches wide, and 77 inches high at 354 lbs. Never forget to position it somewhere close to the air lines with enough ventilation and noise insulation. Although the decibel rating was not specified, a machine of its size will likely require some form of protection for your ears.
The pump system is fashioned out of cast iron for durability. Furthermore, the heavy-duty 240V 4.7-horsepower induction motor and the belt-drive assembly are encased in a wire housing for additional safety. Unlike direct-drive units, the owner should regularly check and replace the synthetic oil lubricant to keep the air compressor functional for longer.
Its pressure gauge and on/off switch are conveniently positioned on the top for easy operation. The Vx PLA4708065 can support 14.0 CFM @ 90 PSI, which means more versatility when it comes to different types of pneumatic tools. Additionally, it can go as high as 16.2 CFM @ 40 PSI. Powermate provides a two-year limited warranty upon purchase.
2. California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S – $112.99
- Operating noise level of only 56 decibels
- Portable at only 29.5 lbs
- Rubberized ergonomic carrying handle
- Compatible with 110V power outlets
- Piston life cycle listed at 3,000+ hours
- Direct-drive motor
- Stainless-steel air tank
- Can only operate limited types of pneumatic tools
- Airflow is on the low side
- Storage tank capacity is only a gallon
The first on our list is a model that should be enough to operate a single pneumatic tool. With just a 1-gallon stainless-steel storage tank, what it lacks in capacity is made up for by the bearable noise levels generated by the assembly. California Air Tools describes it as ultra-quiet at only 56 decibels. We noticed that the rubber feet at the bottom of its metal frame help dampen the vibrations made by the 0.6-horsepower motor.
The CAT-1P1060S is considerably lightweight at only 29.5 lbs, which makes it easy to move around using the ergonomic rubberized handle. This single-stage air compressor uses a direct-drive oil-free single-stage mechanism to produce a maximum pressure rated at 120 PSI.
As with most portable types, the tank is positioned horizontally but does not take up too much space. The dimensions listed by the manufacturer shows 12.5 inches long, 14.17 inches wide, and 14,75 inches high.
Given its size, this machine will work on power outlets supplied with 110V with a 4.5-amp draw. The built-in thermal overload protector should give owners a peace of mind during use. Airflow is rated at 1.20 CFM @ 90 PSI and 1.60 CFM @ 40 PSI. this should be enough to use airbrushes, blowguns, nail guns, and staple guns.
According to California Air Tools, this air compressor model boasts a piston life cycle of more than 3,000 hours, while others in the same class can only manage 250 hours or less. Overall, this should be enough for owners who just need to use simple pneumatic tools occasionally.
3. WEN 2202 – $197.98
- Reinforced 20-gallon stainless-steel tank
- Wheels and handle for superior mobility
- Automated shut-off feature
- Rubberized wheels and legs for stability while in use
- Two-year manufacturer’s warranty
- Airflow rates seem serviceable for more demanding tools
- Easy-access drain valve for moisture build-ups
- The noise level during operation requires ear protection when used indoors
- Maximum CFM rating can barely power a pneumatic impact wrench
- The motor needs to be regularly serviced
Let’s move on to something a little bigger this time. We are talking about this portable air compressor from WEN called The 2202, which would be a perfect workhorse for gearheads who want to run more tools simultaneously in their garage. The 20-gallon reinforced stainless-steel storage tank should be enough for tasks that will require more powerful gear.
To push all that air into the vertical-mounted tank, it uses a 1.5-horsepower motor to pressurize air up to 135 PSI. Please be aware that it is listed as “oil-lubricated” and as such, will require regular maintenance if you want to keep using it for a long time. The official product page does not specify the measurements, but sources list it at 19.5 inches long, 15.5 inches wide, and 42 inches tall.
Thanks to the large rubberized wheels and rubber-footed legs, this upright air compressor does a good job when it comes to stability. However, since it is intended to handle pneumatic tools that require higher airflow, it would be safe to say that The 2202 will be a loud one. Therefore, if this will be used indoors, we suggest that owners use proper hearing protection at all times.
With two pressure gauges mounted on top, owners can quickly check the internal pressure of the tank in addition to one for the airflow. As an added bonus, the automatic shut-off feature adds another layer of safety into the mix. This single-stage air compressor can manage 3.8 CFM @ 90 PSI and 5.0 CFM @ 40 PSI.
4. Stealth Professional 12 Gal SAQ 11215 – $322.99
- 7-inch rubberized wheels for mobility
- Rubberized stand to withstand vibrations and reduce noise
- 68-decibel noise which is lower than most air compressors in its class
- 6-foot power cord
- Rubber-reinforced ergonomic handle for transport
- Vertical tank configuration to maximize space
- A maintenance-free direct-drive motor
- 12-gallon capacity
- 4.0 CFM @ 90 PSI
- Limited lifetime warranty
- Short duty cycle
- Heavy for a portable air compressor at 95 lbs
- No automatic start/stop function
As you can see, we have already included a freestanding model for users who demand heavy-duty performance in their garage or workshops. However, we want to prioritize air compressors that offer great value along with impressive and convenient features. Stealth might have one with the Professional 12 Gal SAQ 11215.
One look at this air compressor will tell you that it is designed for mobility and easy storage. Nevertheless, as hinted by its name, it packs a 12-gallon stainless-steel vertically-mounted tank, which is not common among portable types. Therefore, you are looking at a space saver that can sit almost anywhere. The large 7-inch wheels and rubberized stand keep it stable during use.
No need to rewire your outlets for 230V because it is compatible with standard 120V at 10A. The 1.5-horsepower direct-drive induction motor operates the single-stage pumping system with a compression rating of up to 150 PSI. the Professional 12 Gal SAQ 11215 is equipped with the brand Innovative Quiet Systems for a max output of 68 decibels, which is lower than that of a household vacuum cleaner.
This portable air compressor measures 20 inches long, 18 inches wide, and stands 29 inches tall. Weighing in at just 95 lbs, owners can use the ergonomic rubber-reinforced handle to position it close to where it is needed. Plus, the 6-foot cord should allow it to reach nearby power outlets without needed an extension cord.
The two quick couplers are set up front for easy access with two gauges nearby. We think Stealth has delivered a reliable air compressor that promises up to 1000 hours total life cycle with a limited lifetime warranty. Therefore, this is an investment that will last you a long time. At 4.0 CFM @ 90 PSI, it can power bigger equipment and up to two medium-class pneumatic tools.
5. Campbell Hausfeld HS5180 – $1,579.53
- 80-gallon tank with vertical configuration to save space
- Enclosed belt-drive system for added safety
- Two-stage pump system for up to 175 PSI
- 14 CFM @ 90 PSI to operate multiple pneumatic tools
- 12,000 hours estimated usage life
- Can operate continuously for 80 minutes with a 20-minute cooldown
- 3-year limited warranty
- Cast-iron components for durability
- Freestanding stationary model
- Requires air supply lines installed to reach other areas
- 230V power supply required
- Requires regular maintenance
- Produces up to 87 decibels of noise (hearing protection is required for indoor use)
For serious craftsmen and those who love to work with some pals over the weekend, you’re going to need a lot of firepower. Especially if there are several tools that will be simultaneously in use. Thus, the HS5180 is equipped with a massive ASME-certified 80-gallon tank that sits upright to save some space in your garage.
You can be sure that Campbell Hausfeld designed this air compressor with commercial duty in mind. Expect an operating time of 80 minutes straight maximum before the motor needs a short 20-minute break. Before you know it, you’re back in action. The dual-stage system can pressurize air up to 175 PSI for even the most demanding equipment.
Running the show is an oil-lubricated, cast iron compressor pump mated to a dependable 5-horsepower electric motor. For added safety, the belt-drive mechanism and components are housed within a metal enclosure. Before operating this beast, check with your electrician to see if your outlets are wired to support 230V and up to 22 amps of draw from the motor.
The HS5180 can deliver 14.00 CFM @ 90 PSI, 15.20 @ 40 PSI, and 13.70 CFM @ max PS. You’re looking at an air compressor that can practically meet the requirements of a wide range of pneumatic tools. Owners can expect the machine to last up to 12,000 hours of extended usage before it might need servicing from the manufacturer.
This freestanding model weighs 429 lbs and should be bolted down in a well-ventilated area in your garage. Owners can then connect it to pre-installed compressed air lines with multiple outlets strategically located for easy access. This air compressor is loud at 87 decibels, hence proper hearing protection or sound insulation is recommended.
Reviewing and comparing the performance and features of each of the five models featured in our best air compressor for home garage buyer’s guide was difficult. Each brand has its own advantages and disadvantages but can operate reliably with proper care. Tank size does not really matter as well since it is entirely up to the consumer’s needs and the available space they have to work with.
Since we want to recommend the brand and model that delivers the best value for the user, the aforementioned features will not be the basis of our selection. We want our air compressor to be adaptable enough to handle even the most resource-hungry pneumatic tool, but want to strike a balance with portability. As such the two stationary models we presented before did not make it to the final round.
We also noted that the noise generated by the motor can make it difficult to use indoors or late in the evening, which can be a dealbreaker for night owls. Some users prefer to do their projects after leaving work in the afternoon and depending on the task at hand, it might take longer to finish.
As such, after considering the performance and features, we are going with the WEN 2202. At only $197.98, it delivers a mixed blend of portability, with a capacity to operate most types of tools. The 20-gallon tank should have enough pressurized air for continuous usage.
Moreover, the automatic shut-off function lets users focus on their work instead of monitoring the air compressor regularly. Just be ready with hearing protection and a steady supply of lubricants for the mechanical components. So there you have it, a portable variant should be able to adapt to whatever the owner requires.
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