Walk-in coolers are one of the biggest investments you can make to the back of the house. Simple updates in your walk-in cooler parts can make a big difference in the performance of your restaurant equipment and help you drastically reduce your energy costs. In this buying guide, we'll walk you through all of the components that make up your walk-in cooler.
When thinking about maintaining your walk-in cooler for the long haul, it's helpful to know its construction. Many walk-in coolers are simply sheets of metal encasing foam insulation (either extruded Polystyrene or Polyurethane). Both of these insulation options consist of gas-filled cellular plastic, which has great moisture resistance.
Due to the nature of a walk-in cooler, the biggest threat to your equipment is the development of rust. When the metal surrounding your insulation corrodes, it becomes less effective at maintaining a low internal temperature, and causes your equipment to work harder to keep things cool. Common metal skins for your walk-in cooler include: Galvalume, G90 Galvanized Steel, Aluminum, Painted G90 Galvanized and Stainless Steel. Galvanized has long been used for walk-in coolers, however it is prone to developing "white rust" that, if not treated, can develop into red rust. Aluminum on the other hand is very resistant to corrosion (except in salty areas, like the beach), however it often needs to be embossed with another material like stucco to increase strength. Galvalume is steel-coated with a combination of both aluminum and galvanizing material. The result is the strength of steel but much more resistant to corrosion than just galvanized material alone. The most durable (and expensive option) is stainless steel, which is extremely strong and rust resistant.
By far the walk-in cooler parts that experience the most wear and tear are the hinges and door latch. These mechanical pieces are moved back and forth many times throughout the day. When it comes to this hardware, look for high quality pieces (like those made by Kason) for a stronger, long-lasting unit that's resistant to rust and corrosion.
When purchasing a replacement hinge for your walk-in cooler, you first need to determine if it is a flush mount or raised mount hinge. A flush mount hinge indicates that the wall and door will be at the same level, whereas with a raised (also called offset) hinge, the door will sit slightly out from the wall. Next, find out the brand and part number, which is located on the back of the hinge (this can be seen once you remove the hinge from the door). For more information about replacing your walk-in door hinge, check out this video with Chef Chris Tavano.
Lighting is a well-known energy guzzler in the foodservice industry. Not only that, but traditional incandescent bulbs emit a tremendous amount of heat that your walk-in has to combat to keep internal temperatures cool. For many years, fluorescent lights became the standard in new walk-in installations due to their low cost and better performance over incandescent bulbs. That said, technology found in today's LED lighting options offer serious advantages to today's restaurateurs. LEDs thrive in low temperatures and aren't bothered by humid environments either. LEDs also emit significantly less heat than their fluorescent counterparts—try 3.4 BTUs per hour versus a fluorescent light's 30 BTUs per hour. Plus, they turn on instantly, don't require a "warm up" period to reach full brightness, and don't contain mercury should a bulb break.
So why don't more people use LEDs in their walk-in coolers today?
Primarily, cost. Though the price of LEDs continue to drop, they are still more expensive than fluorescent options. That said, many restaurateurs are looking at the energy savings long-term. In many cases, businesses have seen energy savings up to 85%, and with many local municipalities offering energy rebates to upgrade to more efficient lighting, you may find the choice to go energy efficient with LED lights is easier than you think.
Door closers are a simple invention, but they can save you a lot in unwanted energy bills. Door closers do just that— close doors. When your staff is going in and out of the walk-in cooler all day, it's easy to forget to close the door completely after leaving. These handy devices help do the closing for you so you're not letting that precious cold air escape.
The gasket of your walk-in cooler is a small, rubber lining that creates a tight seal around the door to keep the cold air in, and the warmer "outside" air out. These small parts seem simple, but they're one of the most important (and commonly overlooked) parts of your walk-in! When your equipment struggles to maintain a cold temperature, it works harder and causes more wear than called for; plus, have you noticed your energy bills rising because it's always running? Not only that, consider how fluctuations in temperatures can create a serious food safety risk for all of your product—the health inspector, and your customers, are not fans.
Be sure to inspect your gaskets every 6 months or so to ensure there are no gaps or cracks in your gasket. Signs that your gaskets may need replacing also include frost build up on your shelves, the gasket always seems compressed, or more urgently, you can feel cold air coming out of your cooler. Replacing your gasket is easier than you think, and with a little elbow grease you can avoid the cost of calling out a service technician.
Like most things in the foodservice industry, the best way to prolong the life of your gasket is to keep it clean. Add the task of wiping between gasket grooves to your staff's daily cleaning routine. Keeping the gasket free from food and dirt prevents unwanted grime from wearing your gasket prematurely.
The refrigeration system of your walk-in cooler consists of a condenser (located outside of the unit) and evaporator (located within the unit). These systems come in a variety of configurations, but it'll primarily be up to the size of your cooler, and the space in which it resides, that will dictate what type of refrigeration system you can acquire. Also keep in mind that the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 requires that walk-in coolers must be equipped with high efficiency motors. To save money in the long run and be compliant with current laws, always seek out EISA compliant refrigeration equipment.
Refrigeration systems can be remote systems, top mount or side mount.
In addition to the walk-in cooler parts we outlined above, there are several accessories you should consider adding to maximize the efficiency of your restaurant equipment. Some of our favorites include shelving, strip curtains and thermometers. Read on to learn more: