Is a Rotary Screw Air Compressor Worth the Cost?

If you're ready to buy an air compressor, there are a few pieces of information you should have before making your investment. In no order of importance, you need to know the following:

  • Operating duration (e.g., 100% continuous duty, 50/50 duty)
  • Will loud noises negatively impact your work?
  • Duration of planned ownership
  • Home or industrial use

You need to know all of the above because that knowledge will answer a very important question: is a rotary screw air compressor worth the additional cost over a reciprocating air compressor? We're going to explore the value of a rotary screw design to evaluate all of what you're getting. Please note that the terms "piston-type" and "reciprocating" refer to the same type of air compressor.

A row of BendPak rotary screw air compressors

Do You Need a Continuous Duty Air Compressor?

Generally speaking, a traditional piston-type air compressor will need to rest after an extended period of continuous use. BendPak's reciprocating air compressors feature improved designs that can go much longer than others, but even they will need to rest after a long day of heavy use. If you need an air compressor that runs 100% of the time, then a rotary screw air compressor is going to be worth the cost. It draws less electricity over time because it is a more efficient unit, and it doesn't have to cycle the way a piston-type compressor does.

RS7580V-601 rotary screw air compressor

Do You Need a Quiet Air Compressor?

Many industrial shops use rotary screw compressors because they're quiet. This is especially true for shops that use air compressors indoors or near busy workers. Reciprocating pistons are loud, making it difficult to hear. Techs might miss important information, or else have to shout over everyone. Long-term hearing damage is also a risk. If you work in a home garage, there are ways to protect your ears, such as using protective headphones.

Do you need a quiet air compressor

However, many professional techs need to be able to hear one another over other noise. This is where a rotary screw air compressor like BendPak's Hush Quiet comes into play. Its greatly reduced noise level lets you carry on a normal conversation, even if you're standing right next to the unit. Quiet operation is the standout feature of a rotary screw, and if that's necessary for your shop, don't even look at piston-type models.

Using a professional air compressor

Unless you're super picky about noise, a home garage environment is best suited for reciprocating units. Rotary screw air compressors command a significantly higher sticker price but have the potential to save industrial shops many thousands of dollars over time (more on this in the next section).

How Long Do You Want to Own This Air Compressor?

It's important to decide how long you want to own an air compressor. Are you the kind of person who likes to buy a new model every few years instead of repairing what you have? Does your budget require you to sacrifice long-term savings to meet short-term goals? It's usually more cost-efficient to get a unit that rarely needs repair and will last a long time. A rotary screw model is likely to be your cup of tea if you can pay more now in order to save more down the road.

Reciprocating air compressors are not "bad" by any means. When maintained properly, they still last for many years, but they will wear out faster than rotary screws. This is simply due to the fact that they have more moving parts, namely, those banging pistons. Aging reciprocating compressors will eventually need to be rebuilt, further adding to the cost of ownership.

On the other hand, a rotary screw air compressor will last longer, but the higher upfront cost might deter smaller budgets. On the other hand, rotary screws need less maintenance, which means the 10-year cost of ownership is less than it would be for a reciprocating model. To put this in a different perspective, consider the long-term savings of a hybrid gas-electric vehicle. It takes about 8 to 10 years of vehicle ownership for the gas savings to counteract the higher price tag of the hybrid vs. that of a comparative fuel-efficient combustion vehicle.

Do You Own a Home or Business?

If you're a weekend warrior that needs occasional air for your power tools, you're unlikely to require a rotary screw model. Of course, if you do get one, you'll enjoy the benefit of a much quieter machine. Is that alone worth the extra cost? That's up to you! For most people, however, rotary screw air compressors are not ideal for simple power tools and occasional home use.

Air compressor in a home garage

To put all this into context, rotary screw air compressors are probably worth the cost for businesses that have heavy-duty or continuous air needs, need to eliminate as much noise as possible and plan to keep the compressor for a long time.