Because walk-in coolers and freezers are some of the most critical and expensive pieces of equipment you can invest in for your retail or hospitality business, it’s definitely worth your time to do some research before you purchase one. Buying a commercial unit that doesn’t meet your needs can be a very expensive mistake. With the perfect walk-in applicance, you’ll have a place to store all the perishable foods your restaurant needs, keeping your kitchen well stocked.
Outdoor Walk-In Freezers & Coolers
The main advantage of purchasing an outdoor walk-in freezer or cooler is that you will preserve precious space on the inside of your building. If you are in the market for a ready-to-ship unit, one that has been pre-designed with standard size panels at the factory and is ready to order without custom specs, delivery and installation can be quick as long as you have good level ground to put it on. Otherwise you may need to have a new concrete slab poured for it. You might choose a ready-to-ship model if you need one in a hurry or would rather not get involved in a lengthy installation process. They’re often significantly less expensive than custom models as well.
Another advantage of an outdoor walk-in is the location of the condenser. Refrigeration systems work by removing hot air from inside the cooler or freezer and blowing it outside the unit. On an outdoor walk-in, the hot air goes directly outside. On an indoor unit, the condenser either emits warm air into the building or requires the installation of a remote condensing unit, which involves running refrigeration lines through the building to the roof or an exterior wall. With an outdoor unit, this hassle can be avoided.
If you don’t want your employees to have to walk through the elements to get to an outdoor unit, you’ll need to cut a new doorway in one of your exterior walls. This can be quite the renovation project, and you must make sure the wall is one that can be safely modified and that the opening is sealed up sufficiently. If it is a load-bearing wall, this may be costly or impossible.
To avoid common maintenance nightmares, make sure you don’t leave the door open for extended periods of time or frequently enter and exit the unit unnecessarily. Keeping the door closed will save money on the electric bill and it will keep your refrigeration system from working harder than it needs to. An overworked system can cause a mechanical failure when an excessive amount of ice forms on the coil. Outdoor units also tend to sweat, which can cause a hazard if ice develops on the floor of the unit. Sweating is worse when you leave the door open.
Finally, you may have to spend more to properly outfit your outdoor unit. The need for additional components depends mainly on your neighborhood and local climate. Some type of roofing is a necessity. If heavy snow is expected, make sure the roof cap is strong enough to handle it. Flat roofs do not to hold up to heavy snow loads and may be illegal to put on top of your walk-in in some locations because of those conditions. If your business is in an area where tropical storms occur, hurricane tie-downs may be required.
If you live in an exceptionally hot or humid environment, special measures may need to be taken to protect your unit from the heat. Consider installing a shade canopy over your unit to protect it from the sun. This will help keep internal temperatures down and avoid overworking the condensing unit, which could lead to costly breakdowns. Some choose to install two condensers that work together to share the burden of cooling in hot weather. An additional unit can also give you peace of mind knowing your food will be safe if one of the units breaks down.
Between creating an opening in the wall, higher initial costs, and the need for accessories, an outdoor unit may end up costing quite a bit more than a similar-sized interior model. However, if your restaurant cannot give up the space required for an interior unit, then the added expense is worth it.
The Advantages Of The Outdoor Walk-In Freezer or Cooler
- Does not take up interior space
- With professional help, delivery and installation can be quick
- Warm air is released outside and refrigerant lines do not have to be run through the building
- Food deliveries are easier to an outdoor unit with a door that opens to the outside
- Outdoor Walk-In Disadvantages
- Must construct a door in the wall or have employees walk outside
- Uses more energy
- Requires additional components to protect against weather and crime
- Local building codes may mandate additional components
- Indoor Walk-Ins
- For many people, an indoor walk-in makes the most sense. The most obvious advantage is that an indoor unit is easy to get to. Instead of walking outside the building to retrieve your cold food, you’ll have it nearby when you need it. This is especially important if your walk-in is your primary means of refrigeration and you need to access it frequently.
Indoor Walk-In Freezers & Coolers
An indoor walk-in freezer or cooler can be more cost effective than an outdoor unit in terms of up-front cost, installation, operation, and maintenance. Indoor units don’t require all of the accessories like fences, roof caps, and anti-theft equipment that the outdoor units do. Additionally, the cost of maintenance due to weathering is eliminated with an indoor unit.
An indoor unit can also cost less to run. When the weather gets hot outside, the outdoor unit will have to work harder to maintain temperatures. An indoor unit with a remote condenser, one that is mounted somewhere on the outside of your building, is the most affordable to operate. Self-contained units will emit hot air inside your building, which can increase the cost of air-conditioning and make conditions uncomfortable for your employees. Compressors are noisy machines, so be mindful of this if you’ll be installing your walk-in refrigerator within earshot of your customers or in a place where noise will be an issue.
Another reason to go with an indoor unit is that you won’t have a giant metal box attached to the side of the building, helping to maintain the curb appeal of your business. Some local governments require outdoor units to be concealed by a fence, which can also add to the cost.
That’s not to say an indoor walk-in refrigerator is for everyone. An indoor model will take up valuable interior space. Before going this route, you need to ask yourself if you have enough space to sacrifice. This is especially true if your restaurant is looking to add a second walk-in when you’ve already dedicated some space to your first.
Even though installation usually costs less for interior walk-in refrigeration, this is not always true. Large units can weigh over a ton, not including the hundreds of pounds of food, kegs, or containers you’ll be storing in it. The floor in the area where you’re putting the walk-in may have to be reinforced to avoid stress and cracking. If your floors are made of wood, they will require a protective barrier to prevent moisture from decaying the wood over time.
Indoor Walk-In Advantages
- Usually costs less to buy and install
- Easy access to contents
- Box is not externally visible
- Helps prevent theft
- Usually easier to keep clean
- Indoor Walk-In Disadvantages
- Takes up interior space
- May require a reinforced interior floor
- Self-contained units heat up your building, increasing cooling costs in the summer
Walk-In Freezer & Cooler Sizing
One deciding factor is how much cold storage you’ll need. Many sizes are available from smaller four-by-five feet “step-in” boxes to custom-built models that are as big as you need. One thing to keep in mind when looking at walk-in dimensions is that they measure the exterior, not the interior. The length and width of the interior will be slightly less than that of the exterior.
Shelf layout will play a large part in determining how much space you’ll have to store your food items. Keep in mind that you will need about 40 inches of aisle space if you want to be able to bring a cart inside. From that aisle space, you can determine how long and wide your shelves can be in order to maximize the amount of storage available. It’s wise to plan walk-in refrigeration from the inside out, determine how much space you want inside, including your ideal aisle width and shelving size, then choose a walk-in that has the external dimensions to accommodate those factors.
Another decision is what insulation you want for your new equipment. The two methods of insulation are foamed-in-place and laminate. Foamed-in-place is where two plates are bolted together and insulation is pumped between the plates where it expands, creating a densely packed shield against heat transfer. Laminate models have their insulation attached by a hot epoxy set. Laminate is better for custom-sized walk-ins because it can be cut to the exact size you need. If you’re buying a walk-in from a well-known manufacturer, there is little performance difference between the two. Foamed-in-place insulation is preferred in hotter climates because laminate can pull away from the foam under hot and humid conditions.
With the exception of ready-to-ship models, most walk-in coolers and freezers come unassembled. It is suggested that you hire a professional to help with the installation, but many can be assembled by anyone with enough patience and dedication. Unless you purchase a model with pre-charged, quick-connect refrigeration or one with a self-contained condenser, you will also need to have a refrigeration contractor to set up the refrigeration system and charge the lines with refrigerant.
Refrigeration systems are either remote or self-contained. Remote condensing models are split-systems with an outside condensing unit that works similar to the central air conditioning unit that sits outside your home. These can be placed on the roof of the walk-in, the roof of your building, or next to your building on a platform. That flexibility of location can help you effectively manage the heat and noise generated by a walk-in refrigerator or walk-in freezer. Self-contained units are attached directly to the cooler or freezer box and offer little, if any, flexibility in where you locate the condensing unit.
An unassembled remote model is the least expensive type, but they require the most labor-intensive installation. They come as a box of parts and usually require assembly by a refrigeration professional. Once assembled, you’ll have to have an expert fill the refrigerant lines with fluid to get the unit up and running. Remote condensers, because they are located outside, need to be fitted with protective weather housing and winter controls to keep them from freezing in the winter. This can add to the cost, but remote units generally provide better energy efficiency.
Even if you choose a preassembled model, you’ll still need to schedule a visit from a refrigeration specialist unless you get one with pre-charged lines, which already have refrigerant installed and can be assembled by anyone with enough attention to detail. If you want a remote refrigeration system but do not want to hire a refrigeration specialist to do the installation, a preassembled unit with pre-charged lines is your best bet. Remember, even though assembly may be simple enough, many of the components – especially the condensing unit – can be extremely heavy. Depending on the size and location of the unit, you will likely need special equipment to lift components into place.
The last type of refrigeration system is self-contained. These need little assembly as most of the system comes pre-packaged from the factory. The condensing unit will still need to be mounted to the outside of the box, either on the top or side. Typically, self-contained models are the most expensive of the three refrigeration types, but they require the least effort to install. These work very well for outdoor walk-ins, but indoors they can increase your cooling costs and add noise.