13 ways to painlessly improve profitability in 2013: Refrigeration
By Jay Fiske

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How many refrigeration systems do you have in your operation? You might be surprised. Of course, the first thought is of the behemoth walk-in, but what about the under-counter reach-ins, cold drawers, blast chillers, ice machines, milk coolers and other drink machines?


Do you have strip curtains on your walk-ins?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

Following are some tips that may help you take the energy bull by its horns, but let's first talk about the nature of refrigeration. Food Service Technology Center, the independent laboratory that tests for ENERGY STAR, explains that it's not about putting cold into the box, but rather keeping heat out, and in the high-temp environment of the commercial kitchen, that's a big job. So let's get started:
  1. Secure your walk-ins from the outside air. Strip curtains or plastic doors can reduce outside air infiltration by to 75 percent. They're inexpensive and many utilities offer rebates, which can reduce your cost even more.

  2. Enable automatic door closers. This one seems obvious, but it's amazing how many cooler doors are propped open in a restaurant kitchen. Closers are there to save you money and prolong the life of the equipment. Also, maintaining an even refrigeration temperature is critical to preserving the quality of the food inside.

  3. Decrease the number and length of defrost cycles. According to FSTC, 15-minute defrost cycles should be adequate. You may be able to reduce the number of cycles by two, three or even four. Just observe the results and adjust schedules accordingly. And speaking of schedules, never defrost in the noon-to-6 p.m. window as that's when electricity is most expensive.

  4. Give reach-ins breathing room. The coils on the back of the unit disperse heat. Give them some room to do that and avoid heat build-up that will make your refrigerator or freezer work harder and consume more energy.

  5. Clean coils are efficient coils. Condenser coils (the hot ones) in the back of the unit — or mounted on the roof for larger systems — accumulate dirt and dust that contributes to increased service calls and equipment failure. Clean them quarterly. And if you're like most people, you'll be surprised at what you find there. On the inside, do the same with your evaporator coils (the cold ones).

  6. Maintain cooler doors. Make sure doors are properly aligned and they shut completely. Check gaskets and replace as necessary; if you can slip a dollar bill between the gasket and door, the gasket needs changing. All of these things help keep warm air out.

  7. Annual service. Walk-ins and large reach-in refrigeration systems should be serviced at least annually. This includes cleaning, refrigerant top-off, lubrication of moving parts and adjustment of belts. Just like your car, regular servicing helps ensure efficient operation and extends equipment life.

  8. Track equipment performance and savings. The most rewarding part of conserving energy is tracking your savings. You can also uncover surges in energy consumption that can provide an early indication of impending equipment failure.
All of these tips are designed to optimize your refrigeration systems, both conserving energy and extending equipment life cycles. However, like all equipment, refrigeration systems will need to be replaced at some point. When that occurs, consider making the investment in ENERGY STAR qualified equipment that can save more than 45 percent of the energy used by conventional models. To help you with your purchase decisions, tap into the information available from FSTC's life cycle and energy cost calculators. You'll be able to easily compare different brands of equipment using factors such as initial cost, energy usage and expected life cycle so you can make the right purchase for your operation.

See related stories: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Jay Fiske is vice president of business development for Powerhouse Dynamics, developers of the eMonitor energy, asset and water management platform for homes and small commercial facilities. Fiske is responsible for leading the company’s overall sales and marketing strategy, developing and growing market channels, and establishing strategic partnerships.