Efficient kitchens rely on a walk-in cooler solution that provides better inventory management and storage solutions. As one of the most expensive purchases for your business, make sure you get it right the first time. Learn more about the components of a walk-in cooler and what features you should consider for your space.
When adding a walk-in cooler to your restaurant, first consider your space and needs. Walk-ins come in two basic types, prefabricated or built-in and each come with their own pros and cons.
Made in a variety of sizes, these ready-to-ship units come at a lower cost, but, as expected, also with fewer customizations. Good for open spaces with minimal restrictions, prefabricated walk-ins can be an excellent option for those seeking to save some costs. Plus, the configuration of many prefabricated walk-in coolers can be adjusted over time, giving you long-term versatility.
Have a unique space or vision that can’t be achieved with a prefabricated walk-in? Then, a built-in walk- in might be best for you. A custom walk-in can make better use of your back of house space, which can drastically improve your storage and inventory capabilities.
What makes up your walk-in cooler? Read on to find out.
The basic construction of a walk-in cooler includes panels that encase insulation material on all sides. These panels are constructed of different metal "skins" that vary in quality and longevity depending on material type. Ultimately when it comes to walk-in coolers, consider long-term durability and corrosion-resistant properties.
With the strength of steel but 12 times more corrosion resistant than galvanized, galvalume is a steel-coated combination of galvanizing material and aluminum. Grey in appearance, galvalume is often embossed for better aesthetic appeal. As one of the less expensive options on the market, Galvalume provides great value.
G90 Galvanized Steel
Once a popular choice for walk-in coolers, the price increase of G90 galvanized steel has made it less affordable for many business owners. Stronger and more dent-resistant than aluminum, G90 is prone to developing "white rust" that, if not treated, will develop into red rust. Additionally G90 can be stucco embossed for added strength and aesthetic appeal.
Very resistant to corrosion (except in areas with a lot of salt in the area, like oceanfront properties), aluminum lacks the strength of its steel counterparts and therefore is sometimes stucco embossed for added durability.
Painted G90 Galvanized
For the strength of G90 galvanized steel but with better anti-corrosion properties, look to painted G90 galvanized steel. Be aware that for NSF approval of your walk-in, the paint system used here must be approved by NSF as well.
For the best in durability and rust-resistant properties, stainless steel is the material of choise—but it does come at a price. As the premium material option on the market, stainless steel will give you the best long-term performance and can come as either brushed or polished.
The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 requires one of two insulation materials for walk-in coolers: Extruded Polystyrene or Foamed-In-Place Polyurethane. Insulation is measured by an R-value—the higher the R-value, the better insulating properties. Both of these options feature gas-filled cellular plastic which has great moisture resistance, though Extruded Polystyrene edges out Polyurethane due to its ability to retain most of its R-value over the life of the product. Extruded Polystyrene also possesses greater structural strength when compared to expanded polystyrene, making it a great long-term option for your walk-in cooler. Where Foamed-In-Place Polyurethane really shines though, is in custom applications that include intricate parts or harder-to-reach areas.
A walk-in cooler requires a condenser (located inside of the unit) and an evaporator (located within the unit). The configuration of your refrigeration system is extremely versatile and installed as either a remote, top mount or side mount system. Configurations are based on the size of your cooler and the space it resides in. Also keep in mind that EISA requires all walk-in coolers to be equipped with high efficiency motors; for compliance and better energy efficiency, seek out EISA approved refrigeration equipment. In all cases, seek out of a qualified technician to assist in the installation of your refrigeration system.
Top mount system
Self-contained and shipped pre-assembled, top mount systems feature an evaporator that hangs down within the interior of your walk-in cooler; this could take up some valuable storage space, so keep that in mind.
Side mount system
A good option for walk-in coolers with low ceilings, this self-contained unit is installed on the side of your cooler. You may lose some shelf space due to the evaporator coil within the unit.
With remote systems, the condenser is located on the exterior of the building while the evaporator remains inside. For smaller interior spaces where there’s not enough required clearance for circulation, a remote system is probably your best option.
One place that we don’t recommend pinching pennies is on your door hardware. Inarguably the door of your walk-in cooler will take the most wear and tear over time. Invest in high quality hinges and latches that are durable and resistant to corrosion. Also look into door closers to save you a lot in unwanted energy bills.
Over time the gaskets on your door will wear and work less effectively at keeping the cold air in and the warm air out. Look for signs of cracking, perpetually compressed gaskets and even frost build up on the shelves as an indication that it’s time for a replacement.
Floor options vary by manufacturer. Many floors are made out of aluminum, but for better long-term durability consider upgrading to a stronger material. Sometimes walk-in coolers come without a floor and are installed on a ground contact concrete floor (which are a more durable option to aluminum). In these cases, many manufacturers may recommend installing a thermal break under each wall panel for better insulation. Insulation is key to the longevity of your walk-in cooler because your compressor will not have to work as hard to keep low temperatures.
Walk-in freezers will require an insulated concrete floor in addition to the thermal break.
Don’t overlook these helpful buying tips when purchasing a new walk-in cooler for your business.
Step or no step?
Steps are never ideal when pushing large bakers racks full of products into your walk-in. Try to avoid any steps when moving from kitchen to walk-in, and if it can’t be avoided, look into ramp options—your staff will thank you!
Aisle width between shelving
As soon as you settle on a walk-in cooler, your next order of business is shelving. A simple (and yet often overlooked) consideration is aisle space! Be sure to leave at least 40 inches of aisle space so you can bring carts in and out with ease.
Is the cooler going outside?
In most restaurants, back of house storage space is always at a premium. Placing your walk-in cooler outside might seem like a great idea, but consider your environment and local municipality codes for requirements and regulations. Any walk-in coolers installed outside in cold regions require a winter kit that includes: a compressor cover, crank case heater (keeps the oil in the compressor warm) and more. Walk-in coolers installed outdoors in warmer and tropical regions should consider a shade canopy to protect its components from the hot sun, and a rain roof to prevent water from leaking inside. Keep in mind that large swings in temperature may make it more difficult for your equipment to maintain
a consistent interior walk-in temperature, thus utilizing more energy.
Coolers naturally lose their effectiveness over time. If you start to notice condensation or frost buildup, or if your condenser appears to be working harder than usual at maintaining the cooler’s internal temperature, then it might be time for a replacement. Additionally the metal skins may start to separate from the foam insulation, which is another indication that air may be leaking in and out of your unit. If your restaurant location is moving or if you need additional space, that is also an excellent time to consider a walk-in replacement.