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Renovating your kitchen? Beware of demolition pitfalls

Renovating your kitchen? Beware of demolition pitfalls

Foster Frable is an NRN contributor and a founding partner of Clevenger Frable LaVallee Inc. in White Plains, N.Y. He has designed more than 400 foodservice projects, including restaurants and operations in hotels, colleges and more. He can be reached at [email protected]

There is an inevitable moment when the kitchen renovation you’ve been postponing goes from “hold-off-a-while-longer” to “must-do.” You also know the project will require great planning skills if maintaining sanity is a personal goal. The potential pitfalls in any kitchen renovation project are plentiful, but one of the most manageable is the demolition of the overall space.  Mismanagement of this task creates delays and budget busters, especially when existing equipment needs to be moved and stored off-site.

Dealing with existing equipment

Do you take it (off-site) or leave it? Sometimes heavy equipment is just too impractical to move during a major renovation, so these items are left in place, and the project moves on around them. Examples include exhaust hoods, walk-in coolers, compressor racks, large ice machines, and floor pans and troughs. These items need to be protected, not just during the demolition period, but through the entire project. The method of protection has to be more than plastic tarps. Anything that could easily be dented from scaffolding, building materials, and ladders should be completely covered with hard board panels that are securely mounted.

This prep takes time upfront, but saves lots of time and money at the back end of the project. Always assume that any flat surface can and will be used as a work platform by trade people. Items like charbroilers, ranges, and open-top refrigerators should be stripped of their removable parts—grates and food pans are examples—and covered with plywood that is capable of withstanding several hundred pounds being placed on top.

It might seem easier to temporarily remove all equipment from the construction area, but doing so actually sets up the possibility the equipment will be damaged beyond repair. The following equipment examples have a high risk of repair problems when they are disconnected, moved, and then reinstalled:

Flight-type dishwashers are manufactured in multiple sections that are wired and piped together during installation. What might appear to be a simple disassembly to get the equipment out of the kitchen can turn into a nightmare if the seals between the sections no longer hold, the conveyor belt doesn’t track properly, or the control wires are reinstalled improperly. If a flight-type dishwasher needs to be moved, be sure to lift the entire machine—intact—onto dollies and then roll it to a temporary area on the same level.

Refrigeration units—particularly uprights—are vulnerable when moved, even if it’s just a short distance. Also keep in mind the industry rule-of-thumb that calls for a 12-to-24 hour wait period before a relocated refrigerator is restarted. Even with this precaution, there is still a high risk a unit will fail: a compressor loses its lubrication, or refrigerant drips out of pinhole-sized leaks in the piping. If temporarily moving a refrigerator is the only option, keep the unit upright and as level as possible. Avoid moving it up or down stairs or putting it on a truck where it could get jostled and bumped around.

For items like cooking and prep equipment, there is lower risk of damage from movement and storage. The shorter the distance, the better the chances the equipment will be reusable when placed back in the new location. Rather than move equipment to an off-site warehouse, try storing the equipment on site—perhaps locked in a walk-in cooler—or rent a shipping or storage container that can be located just outside the building.

Designate someone to manage the move

When decisions are made regarding what equipment should be saved and stored (versus thrown away), make sure a qualified person monitors the disconnection and move. It’s also important to develop a list of any missing parts and repairs that may be needed. An often missed opportunity: a piece of equipment that has been moved out of the cooking line-up and onto an open aisle is easy to inspect. Take a good look at the unit’s body, parts, and rear for hidden damage. When damage is discovered early in the project, there is time for replacements to be ordered (whether parts or an entirely new unit) before the kitchen is reassembled.

Be clear about what should be kept versus thrown away

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Carefully label and protect all the auxiliary components and accessories for any equipment that is moved. This includes gas hoses, pressure regulators, filters, cleaning hoses, interior racks and shelves for refrigerators and ovens, clips for wire shelving, and similar components. If these items are inadvertently discarded as part of the demolition process, it can be expensive and time-consuming to replace them. The lack of available parts for existing equipment could delay an opening because replacement parts or even new equipment have to be ordered. In some cases, parts may not even be available if the equipment is more than five years old. Keep loose parts and components in large plastic zipper bags that are clearly labeled to assure they will be available when the equipment is reassembled or connected to utility services.

Review contractor requests for existing wiring or plumbing to be discarded because they say it’s less expensive to rewire or re-plumb than to rebuild what is already in place. This kind of request is often a ruse to later secure approval for a change order to replace wiring and conduit for an electrical panel that has already been unnecessarily stripped clean. At that point, there is no other choice than to approve the request and pay the bill.

Also consider the following if anything gets demolished that wasn’t included in the original plan:
•    project time has to be added to the schedule,
•    cost needs to be added for hauling away debris, and
•   tradespeople need to be rescheduled and brought back to the site for the work to continue after the demolition.

While an unplanned demolition or clean-out may have seemed like a good idea at the time, it will likely add to the construction timetable. The question that needs to be asked and answered ahead of time: is a two-week delay of the project worth it?

Refurbish what you intend to reuse

Remember this: equipment that’s working properly and intended for reuse doesn’t always mean there should be a simple disconnect and reinstall. Pulling equipment away from its long-term habitat sometimes yields surprises. That’s why the time between shutdown and reinstallation actually provides an advantage: gaskets or missing knobs can be replaced and equipment can be thoroughly cleaned and/or degreased. Cleaning and degreasing is no small point as most food service equipment doesn’t have lift handles. Maneuvering and resetting heavy items presents a risk for accidents if the outside of the equipment is slippery because of a greasy coating.

Have tips for making a kitchen renovation run smoothly? Share them in the comments below.

The choice to reuse equipment may surprise employees coming back to work at the end of the project. They may have assumed that a renovation meant replacing old equipment—and they have been looking forward to a fresh, new kitchen. Don’t disappoint them with the same baked on dirt and missing knobs they were dealing with before the renovation. Equipment that is clean, polished, and renewed before being reinstalled makes a statement to your employees: you care about the tools they work with. There are equipment service agencies with specific groups dedicated to rehabbing existing equipment. Scratches can polished out, rusted frames or side panels can be repainted, new nameplates and labels can be installed—equipment can be made to look almost new. When this work is done on site, the cost and risk of damage during transport are minimized. Be aware that the work area to refurbish equipment will require a drain, power supply, and accessibility to the equipment in order for technicians to perform their work.


Renovating and renewing a commercial kitchen provides several benefits: it can add capacity, correct layout deficiencies, replace worn-out finishes, and/or correct issues with drains and other utility services. Renovations often involve reusing some (or even most) of the existing equipment. Proper protection, refurbishing, and managing reinstallation of retained equipment should be a priority so that budget and schedule expectations are met.

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