Outside Insights | By Jason Waters
Just as regular oil changes keep your car running at peak performance, proper maintenance can significantly increase the life and efficiency of your commercial refrigeration equipment. According to Focus on Energy, commercial refrigeration can account for as much as 50 percent of a restaurant’s total energy bill. The company contends that by implementing routine preventive maintenance, restaurant operators can save between 5 and 10 percent on refrigeration energy costs. In some instances, the care requires simple, easy solutions that can be performed by the owner or staff, saving additional money on service bills.
Basic Refrigeration Preventive Maintenance
- Clean evaporator and condensing coils every 30 days. There are coil-cleaner solutions on the market, but many are corrosive and can be expensive. Some professionals suggest that only soap and water be used, as harsh chemicals can damage the metal surface of your cooler. You can also use three parts water to one part de-greaser mixture with a soft-bristle brush, just be sure to rinse with water when you are done. A spray bottle is convenient for flushing, and the mess is easily mopped away. When cleaning condenser coils, be sure to always scrub with the coils (up and down). Never scrub side to side, as it will damage the coils.
- Clean fan blades to reduce drag. You will need to remove the fan cover and clean that as well. The de-greaser solution is fine for this also. Be sure to rinse when done. Have a service technician check periodically that the fan motor is running at optimum speed.
- Clear all trash and weeds around condensing units located outside to maintain adequate airflow and better performance.
- Lubricate door hinges annually. Cooler doors that don’t shut properly can cause your unit to overwork to maintain proper temperature. Spring hinges that automatically close are ideal for high-traffic walk-ins.
- Check for decay in the insulation on suction lines between condensing unit and evaporator coil. This can cause condensation and water damage. Replace as needed.
- Check door sweep for tears.
- Periodically have a professional inspect electrical connections to ensure they are tight. Loose wires can result in high amperage, which will increase the amount of energy used by the unit.
- At least once a year, get a technician to check that drain lines are clear of debris.
Ways to Save on Energy Costs
- Purchase strip curtains for walk-in units to minimize the amount of hot air entering the cooler.
- Do not allow staff to leave cooler doors propped open for extended periods of time.
- Remind employees to turn off the lights when they exit the walk-in. Not only do the bulbs waste energy when the cooler is empty, the lighting also produces heat which causes the unit to work harder to maintain temperature. In addition, try fluorescent bulbs in the cooler. They give off less heat and are more energy efficient.
- Teach managers not to set the holding temperature too low on units because that will overwork the equipment. Walk-in coolers should be kept between 35 and 40 degrees and freezers between -5 and 5 degrees.
- Make sure all cracks are properly sealed and replace worn gaskets.
- Do not stack anything around the coil; this restricts airflow and decreases the performance of your cooler.
- Have the defrost frequency set at minimum requirements (every four to six hours for 20 to 40 minutes depending on the amount of traffic in your walk-in).
With a little instruction, your staff can play a significant role in taking care of your valuable equipment. These simple precautions can save restaurant owners a great deal of money in energy and service bills, help to avoid costly breakdowns during peak business hours, and extend the life of refrigeration units.