Today's ultra-sophisticated foodservice equipment requires end users do no more than drop it in place, connect the utilities, plug it in and go. Right? Not quite. Although it certainly may seem that way, to guarantee proper equipment performance and to ensure that warranties do not become void, end users should follow some key best practice advice of equipment installers.
Experts say that improperly installed equipment plays a major role in first-year warranty repairs. "I've heard manufacturers say that 50 percent to 75 percent of initial problems are because [equipment] is installed improperly," says Paul Toukatly, service manager for Duffy's Equipment Services in Utica, N.Y. "Six months down the road, you find out that a piece of equipment's been on the wrong gas, or is on the wrong voltage, or is just not being used the way that it was designed to be used."
Warranty repairs can happen even more quickly than six months due to lack of proper installation, according to Wayne Stoutner, president of Appliance Installation and Service (AIS) in Victor, N.Y. "For first-year service calls on new equipment, I would say a majority are from improper installation, particularly within the first 90 days or so," he says.
Not understanding spacing requirements for equipment is a common mistake installers see. Oftentimes, operators try to place individual pieces of equipment too close together. "Unfortunately, a lot of manufacturers — not all of them — are saying their unit needs zero clearance on the sides, which is the worst thing they could possibly do for us," says Zach Howard, field service supervisor for EMR in Baltimore, Md.
Utility supply lines present another common problem, according to installers. Many times, equipment goes into kitchens without anyone considering increasing the gas capacity or using the correct electrical voltage. Toukatly brings up the example of a successful operation that adds more fryers in the kitchen. "You add two fryers on the gas line. Well, that gas line was sized for the equipment that was already there. You add two more pieces of equipment, and the gas supply can't keep up — and no one knows why."
A similar situation can arise with electrical supply lines when equipment that's meant to run on one voltage level actually runs on another level. In that scenario, the equipment won't perform up to its capacity or parts can burn out and need replacing. Manufacturers may see this as a reason to void the warranty.
Venting and other safety considerations are also sometimes overlooked, Stoutner notes. "I've seen people order equipment that won't necessarily fit under their commercial hood, and they try to install it when they don't actually have the hood space or the fire suppression capacity."
Why do these installation mistakes happen? One reason: the evolving way operators procure foodservice equipment. Purchasing an item online, for example, can sometimes lead to an anyone-can-install-it mentality. And problems arise when inexperienced installers come into the picture. "They pull it out of the box," Stoutner says, "open it up and think, 'It's brand new. It should work.' Unfortunately, these are large commercial pieces, and things happen quite a bit in shipping."
Working with a local dealer, Stoutner says, offers some recourse in case anything goes wrong during the installation process, "whereas it's really hard to go after the website located across the country when you've ordered something improper."
Even researching equipment online before buying has its pitfalls. "You can go look at the cut sheet online," Toukatly says. "Unfortunately, those are not always updated, so you've [now] got a piece of equipment with a gas line that's been moved. Or you're assuming it comes straight out the back and now it comes out the side, or vice versa."
The Right Way
After seeing so many installations done wrong, Toukatly, Stoutner and Howard agree taking a few basic steps can help get an installation done right. That starts with reading the factory manual.
"Specifications change," Howard says. "And ask a lot of questions. Ask what you're getting before you buy it. Ask what you need, and make sure you get the specifics on it."
Another important point is to ensure you're following all local codes from the outset because equipment that's not installed to code from the beginning can mean costly redos after the inspection.
For anyone considering purchasing a major piece of equipment, follow the advice of experts and ask the following:
- Are the doors wide enough to fit the equipment? Incorrectly measured doors mean equipment won't fit into a space. This requires additional time to call in the on-site maintenance crew to remove and/or widen the doorway.
- Are there stairs in the path to the final installation area? Stairs can mean dismantling of larger equipment, which adds additional installation time and charges.
- Is there a clear and unobstructed path to the installation area? Installers can all relate horror stories of literally having to lift equipment over counters to get it into areas with passageways that are too tight.
- Does the equipment use the correct type of gas or electrical voltage for your operation? "I've seen people order LP [liquid propane] gas when they require natural gas, or vice versa," says Stoutner. "And a lot of times, I've seen people order the wrong voltage."
- Are the gas line and the electrical supply sufficient? Ensure the gas and electrical can handle both the new equipment as well as any existing equipment which will be on the same line.
- Are the water pipes in and out of the equipment sufficient to handle the water flow and temperature? Howard notes that he frequently sees operations that use the wrong type of pipe, such as standard PVC pipes for equipment that puts out high-temperature water, and the pipe eventually melts or leaks.
- Is the placement of the equipment going to interfere with existing drains or outlets? "A lot of times, people install equipment over the top of a drain, which is going to allow steam to rise up into the unit and cause electrical issues," Howard notes.
- Is there sufficient space between equipment? If placed too closely together, heat emanating from one appliance can damage control panels or other sensitive electronic parts of the equipment next to it. This often occurs with combi ovens and their highly sophisticated electronic control systems.
- Will there be sufficient clearance around the equipment for future service calls? "Installing equipment one inch next to each other makes it unserviceable for everybody," says Howard.
- Is there sufficient venting around the sides and top of the equipment? "When you're talking about hot-side equipment that is going under hood systems, there's an awful lot more than just installing or swapping out a piece of equipment," says Stoutner. "There are implications with your hood system and fire suppression system being proper when it's completed."
- Can you block out enough time for the installation? All too frequently, operators schedule installations for times in between meal periods. In theory, that sounds doable, but if there's any sort of delay or problem, suddenly that impacts dinner service and, ultimately, the bottom line for that day. "Sometimes you get a call from a customer who says, 'I need four ranges installed,' " laughs Toukatly. "Well, that's not a terrible job — until he says you have 90 minutes to do it. Then that becomes a bad job."
For most operators, purchasing new equipment means having someone else install it. And one of the best ways to find an installer is through the manufacturer. On high-end equipment, the manufacturer may even send out a company installer to ensure proper installation. More often, though, the factory will recommend a qualified installer from its authorized service network. "The main upside to using the authorized service agency," says Stoutner, "is if you hire them to install [the equipment] and they complete the installation, not only are you covered with the manufacturer's warranty, but you're also covered with the authorized service agency's installation warranty as well." In addition, the authorized service company can take care of the warranty and registration paperwork, assuring the operation of coverage should repairs become necessary later.
Dealers can also help identify experienced installers. "Hopefully, you've got some sort of relationship with the dealer that you're buying the equipment from," says Toukatly. "They normally have a relationship with the companies that do installation, and they're not going to put up with somebody who messes up your installation. So, the cream rises to the top."
The Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA) offers yet another source for finding an installer. Under its Member Directory tab at www.cfesa.com, its Certified Service Companies are listed by state. Through classes and testing, the association certifies technicians on the most current industry practices.
The Pre-Site Process
A pre-site survey serves as one of the lesser-known but most valuable aspects of the equipment installation process. A manufacturers’ rep or a tech from a service company can help avoid expensive mistakes and problems by checking out the equipment installation area beforehand. The pre-site survey can also determine if the operation has gas and electrical hookups sufficient enough to allow the new equipment to operate at peak performance. “If the customer can’t accommodate [the equipment] or doesn’t have the necessary utilities, [the manufacturer] actually won’t send them the equipment until that is addressed,” says Zach Howard of EMR.
Some manufacturers include this in the cost of the equipment, but it can be done outside of a purchase as well. The service company will charge for the pre-site survey, but as Paul Toukatly of Duffy’s Equipment Services says, it’s better than “having a piece of equipment that doesn’t do what you want it to do.” He adds that his company does pre-site visits on behalf of several manufacturers, saying, “That’ll tell you how important it is to have the installation done properly.”