A restaurant’s refrigerated equipment — walk-ins, reach-ins, ice machines, prep tables and more — draws electricity 24/7. So anything a foodservice operator can do to reduce energy use can help save money around the clock.
Energy Star-approved commercial refrigerators and freezers can be up to 40 percent more efficient than standard models, thanks to components such as ECM evaporator and condenser fan motors, anti-sweat heaters, or high-efficiency compressors. All of these pieces of equipment will significantly reduce energy consumption and utility bills.
However, if you’re not in the market for new cold equipment, here are some practical tips that will keep refrigeration systems running efficiently.
Launch a preventative maintenance program
Start by developing a relationship with your local cold equipment service agent. “Too often the refrigerator repairman is called only when there’s a critical problem,” says Mark Drolet, master electrician in charge of installations for National Resource Management, a Canton, Mass.-based supplier of walk-in control and monitoring systems. “A quarterly preventative maintenance schedule can help prevent major service calls and higher fees. Plus you will build a working relationship with each visit.”
Clean the coils
Any equipment with a heat exchanger, including walk-ins and reach-ins, ice machines, cold prep tables, cold drawers, blast chillers and beverage dispensers, will have coils that attract airborne grease, which traps dust. The more dust on the evaporator and condenser coils, the more constricted the airflow — and the higher the electric use as the unit strains to stay cold.
Coils should be cleaned at least every three months, but for optimum efficiency a monthly cleaning would be ideal. “You can save between 10 and 15 percent in power use for the various pieces of cold equipment, just by cleaning the coils,” Drolet says.
“It’s best to have professionals do the cleaning,” Drolet adds. “Someone not trained properly on how to clean coils can damage the delicate fins on the evaporator coil, leading to major repair bills.”
Pay attention to defrost cycles
Freezer equipment includes pre-programmed defrost cycles designed to prevent ice buildup on evaporator coils. Defrosting works by heating the coils for about 15 minutes in order to free them of ice buildup. Manufacturers generally set defrosters to run three to four times daily. You should check with your service agent to make sure the clock controlling defrost times matches your restaurant’s slower times or the defrosting is done overnight.
“The worst time for a defrost cycle is when the truck has just arrived and your crew is busy loading product into the walk-ins,” Drolet says.
A “big-picture” option is to consider installing a master energy control system that will monitor your walk-ins’ operating stats. “That way, components such as the compressor, defrost, door heater and evaporator fans only run when needed,” Drolet says. Such systems can reduce overall energy use for each walk-in by up to 50 percent, depending on size and location.
Use strip curtains...
Strip curtains, designed to hang just inside the door of your walk-in, serve as a low-tech method of blocking warm kitchen air from filling the walk-in interior. The curtains can be easily installed by mounting them on the unit’s interior wall.
“Best practices call for walk-in doors to stay closed, but that’s not practical during food prep and receiving times,” says Randy Rawlings, design consultant for Cleveland-based foodservice equipment dealer TriMark SS Kemp.
Strips come into constant contact with people, so be sure to clean them regularly to prevent mold or potential cross-contamination. Your maintenance staff also will need to replace worn out or broken strips to ensure maximum efficiency.
“A damaged or missing fin from your walk-in’s strip curtain is just like leaving the door open,” Drolet says.
Some kitchens install strip curtains at exterior entrances as well. “Doorway strip curtains both keep conditioned air inside, and they block flying insects from entering the kitchen,” Rawlings says.
...and night curtains, too
Consider installing night covers on cold display cases for use when the restaurant is closed. These woven aluminum fabric retractable shades block out heat and light, and can be easily retrofitted. Night covers can help reduce refrigeration loads by up to 30 percent, specialists say.
Install LED lamps
“LED lamps should be used wherever possible, especially in locations where they’re always on, such as walk-ins, display equipment and hoods,” Rawlings says. LED lamps draw a fraction of wattage compared to incandescent and even compact fluorescent equivalents. Their low wattage means they generate little heat, reducing the load on your walk-in’s compressor motor.
You’ll save money in the long run by opting for lab tested, durable LED products that have earned approval from UL or DLC (DesignLights Consortium, https://www.designlights.org). Also, make sure to specify LED lamps that have been designed for the intended specific area of the kitchen.
Talk to your local utility company
Utility companies in many states have been challenged to help their customers cut back on power use. Check with your local utility for rebates and incentives as you work to make your kitchen more energy efficient.