Commercial refrigerator mavens needed
April 12, 2011 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Designing a commercial refrigeration solution for a rustic retreat center.

I'm on a committee that's tasked with finding a better refrigeration solution for the kitchen of a rural retreat center. The kitchen is a semi-finished barn that is used by week-long gatherings of up to 300 people several times a year.

The current solution has involved a motley collection of home refrigerators plus a glass-doored commercial reach-in. The reach-in functionality is important, as it prevents cooks from having to stand there with the door open, "shopping" for ingredients as the previous coolth leaks away.

However, these units, all bought second-hand via Craigslist, have historically not lasted long, due in part (I think) to the inherent difficulty of assessing the quality of used refrigerators. Plus the ambient temperatures in the semi-finished barn range from the 30s at night in October to well over 100 on some July and August days, which I think shortens the lifespan of these units.

Once the refrigerator no longer works, the rural location makes it hard to get it fixed, and instead the broken fridge becomes a large piece of hard-to-dispose of trash. So a good solution will be robust under extreme temperatures and hard usage.

On to the questions:
Is a walk-in as the best solution for these conditions? Are walk-ins designed to be installed in non-temperature-controlled environments?
Is it possible to build a walk-in with used structural components plus a new or reconditioned cooling unit?
Can a walk-in include a reach-in section, or is there some other way to meet the need for reach-in capabilities?
Can you recommend a source that designs and sells commercial refrigeration solutions in Southern Oregon? (The site is near Grants Pass.)
Any other things to consider or useful online resources?
posted by ottereroticist to Technology (5 answers total)
 
Is the retreat center/kitchen under any health-code/department of health based regulations ?
posted by k5.user at 9:41 AM on April 12, 2011


Is a walk-in as the best solution for these conditions? Are walk-ins designed to be installed in non-temperature-controlled environments?

Yes. Add a strip door to the regular door to handle people standing there with the door open.

Is it possible to build a walk-in with used structural components plus a new or reconditioned cooling unit?

Yes. In fact this is a good approach because you can greatly increase the insulation level over standard units reducing your energy costs. Check with your health department for requirements for interior finishes.

Can a walk-in include a reach-in section, or is there some other way to meet the need for reach-in capabilities?

You can install reach in door along a wall of a walk in. For example see the pop coolers at 7-11, the side doors on ice cream home delivery trucks, or the dairy and frozen coolers at Costco. The doors are a lot of money though.

One suggestion: It is possible to get self contained cooling units that don't require any pipe to be run. They require one of the cooler walls to be an exterior wall that can have a hole cut in it. It's a good choice for you because replacement is as simple as undoing a few bolts and unplugging the unit.
posted by Mitheral at 9:56 AM on April 12, 2011


k5.user, let's say no -- this operation is ad-hoc and so far has successfully flown underneath the regulatory radar.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:42 PM on April 12, 2011


Cool Bot.

Build an insulated box, install an air conditioner with a cool bot installed and your in business. The first one I saw was a converted garden shed with about six inches of foam insulation attached to the inside. This was outside of Reno, NV and was fully exposed to extremes of both heat and cold and worked just fine. My guess would be that you can recycle some of your dead refrigerators for walk in functionality. I don't know how to estimate the cost of electricity.

Caveat: a friend of mine did install one to replace the cooling unit on a commercial three-door unit and did have some trouble getting it to work. I don't get the feeling the person doing the install was long on expertise, though. This was last season and I haven't heard her complain about it since, so I assume it's working.

Depending on how rural your area is, it might even be cost effective to have a second unit on hand in the event of a catastrophic failure ($299 Cool Bot + $4-600 residential AC unit vs. potential inventory spoilage).

I don't know what the deal is with health department inspections with the cool bot but I reckon the manufacturer would be able to help you. The manufacturer, btw, is a small farmer who got pissed at his walk-in. They also sell kits for converting 40s cultivating tractors to electric.
posted by stet at 6:08 PM on April 12, 2011


A window A/C or even a large through the wall unit is a really poor choice for walk in cooler use for a restaurant. They won't have the ability to cool product and make up from air leakage from people opening and closing doors. The claim that an average 8X8 walk in would only have an 8500BTU condensing unit is laughable. Also refrigeration coils and coolant are designed to work within specific temperature ranges and as the Cool Bot site says A/Cs have very poor performance when coil temperatures are below ~45F. Not only is performance poor efficiency is also poor when the condensing unit is operating out of design range. Finally I'd bet most people who attempt to use this product for restaurant use experience the compressor shutting off to prevent heavy icing of the evaporator coil as A/C units do not have the correct air handling characteristics for refrigerator use. Because A/C units lack coil heaters the only way the Cool Bot can handle icing is to shut the compressor off until the coil deices. Any one with access to a walk in and an A/C unit can see the difference in coil design for themselves. The fins on a walk in's evaporator are going to be much wider spaced than the evaporator fins on a window A/C.

Window A/Cs can work well for cooling wine storage rooms. This is because room temperatures are higher (50-59F) and there isn't constant comings and goings or heavy cooling loads regularly introduced. Once all the bottles/barrels/carboys get down to the desired storage temperature they provide a large temperature buffer for occasional access to the room and introduction of new product.

I'll also note that the Cool Bot is supposed to be able to handle the air exchanges caused by door opening "even during the heat of summer and even when people are opening and closing the door all day long" yet small air leakage from incorrectly sealed gaps are a show stopper.

stet writes "I don't know what the deal is with health department inspections with the cool bot but I reckon the manufacturer would be able to help you."

The health department isn't going to care about the back end equipment. What they are going to do is wait until lunch time when the door to your walk in is being operated every minute or more; stand in the cooler with a thermometer; and observe that the temperature is exceeding the maximum. For which they'll flunk you.

TL;DR: The cool bot may work ok for super insulated storage coolers where the product going in is mostly cool already and the doors are operated only a few times per day (IE: flower and vegetable storage). I don't have enough experience with those loads to say outright it won't work. It's going to be sub par at best for the OP where the cooler must maintain temperature at a maximum of 4C 24X7 with heavy air exchange and lots of warm/hot product being introduced.
posted by Mitheral at 7:28 PM on April 12, 2011


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