Purchasing energy-efficient equipment can lead to, in some cases, dramatic reductions in energy and water costs — that's been proven. But without proper maintenance or operator training, poor performance can easily negate any potential savings. What then is the point of those upfront investments?
"It really just comes down to proper application and planned maintenance, particularly on refrigeration systems," says Richard Young, director of education and senior engineer for the Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif. "In some cases, I've heard of people canceling planned maintenance to try to keep their operating costs down because they get compensated for doing so. But then you just end up with more sink leaks, faulty gaskets, plastic bags caught in the condensers, and eventually you blow out the condenser or other equipment and that costs you way more in the end."
Planned maintenance (PM) services can help keep foodservice equipment functioning at its most efficient level possible, and this is particularly important for energy-efficient equipment to realize the cost savings these items promise. Generally speaking, the larger the machine, the more moving parts and components, the more planned maintenance is necessary, according to Bruce Hodge, president of General Parts, LLC in Waukesha, Wis.
"We call it planed maintenance rather than preventative because even if you regularly check and inspect equipment, that doesn't necessarily prevent other problems from occurring," Hodge says. Just like a car, oil changes will prevent the vehicle from breaking down but oil changes won't prevent the brakes from blowing out.
"Planned maintenance is about that overall umbrella — we plan, examine and inspect equipment on a regular basis to make sure everything is working properly and efficiently," says Hodge, who customizes each PM program for customers depending on their equipment lineup and usage. Regular calibration of equipment on a quarterly or semi-quarterly schedule is also important for maintaining optimal performance. "This takes about 15 minutes per piece of equipment. What typically happens is the restaurant owner's brother-in-law or chef's friend thinks they know how to calibrate, but then they end up turning the machine up or down."
Outside of planned maintenance, Hodge says, "It's not like it's fun reading, but operators really should take the time to read their equipment manuals."
Walk-in coolers, freezers and condensers require some of the most regular maintenance in the kitchen. Hodge recommends regularly checking the fan motors in walk-in freezer and coolers to prevent coils from icing over and performing poorly or failing.
Condenser coils in rooftop and self-contained refrigeration units need regular cleaning and declogging, otherwise they "spin the electric meter like you won't believe," Hodge says. "Compressors will work harder and longer if air can't circulate through them. I recommend that self-contained equipment in the kitchen are cleaned at a minimum once a year, probably twice."
Rooftop cleaning can depend on location. "If you're in an area with a lot of cottonwood trees you might need to check them every month," Hodge says.
Proper sizing is also important when it comes to rooftop condensers. If it's 125 degrees F on the roof in Phoenix and the systems are undersized, I've seen operators running garden hoses up to the roof to try and cool the units," Hodge says. "Not only are you wasting water costs you're also making the machine run longer and operate at higher temperatures."
Overloading the refrigerator also overruns the machine. "If you have a two-door fridge and you have x number of pounds of capacity to cool at 36 degrees F — if you overload the refrigerator in an effort to save money you end up losing it in efficiency costs," Hodge says.
Strip curtains and open doors in the walk-in coolers and freezers also present a serious energy drain. "I've seen strip curtains with three, four-inch pieces missing in the middle or tied back to get carts in and out quicker," Hodge says. "Even with double-acting doors, in high traffic areas if they're open more than closed or propped open to gain access in and out you end up with the same problem."
Checking gaskets on refrigerator doors or drawers is also important. "I'll often see ripped or torn gaskets or no seal whatsoever and that causes excess cold air to escape, making the machine work harder," says Hodge.
One mistake that can cause damage to gaskets is washing down the gaskets but then not drying them thoroughly. This can cause sticking and over time, the rubber material can stretch and rip apart or peel. "Just use soapy water and make sure to dry the door gaskets completely — or leave the door open on a steamer after cleaning the gaskets as long as the machine is not on."