HVAC systems are always most effective when they are specialized to the expected use patterns in the buildings in which they are to be installed. This is no different in the food industry. HVAC systems in restaurants encounter some unique challenges, but also some potential advantages if done correctly.
Like many industrial locations, restaurants contain specialized equipment, much of which is temperature-sensitive. For example, the refrigerator will have to expend more energy to keep food cold if the ambient room temperature is being raised by a heater. Food items themselves also often have environmental specifications necessary to preserve their shelf life; humidity can make pantry stores spoil faster, eating into a business’s profits. Because of factors like this, the acceptable temperature and humidity ranges for foodservice establishments can be tighter, making it more important that the HVAC system be functioning as designed.
Even the design specifications should be reviewed, according to VP Mechanical in “5 Essential Tips for HVAC in Your Restaurant.” They state that “[a] minimum of 25% of every rooftop industrial HVAC system is oversized, so they’re not operating at peak effectiveness”.1 As industry standards change and custom systems become more economically feasible, many restaurants may find that their current system is not the best option for their space. Wasting energy conditioning the space can make energy concerns almost as important as food sourcing in terms of recurring business costs. Additionally, as use patterns change with the growth of a business, the HVAC design specifications need to be re-evaluated. Both changes in kitchen use and seating capacity can impact the functioning of heating and ventilation.
While restaurants can have these unique challenges with their HVAC installations, there can also be some advantages. Because conditioning a dual-purpose hosting and cooking space can be so energy intensive, the potential gains are large. Restaurants can see more savings than the typical energy user when considering switching to High-Efficiency HVAC systems, and may also have the liquid capital to make the up-front cost feasible. Additionally, many restaurants have a unique use pattern for a commercial building, seeing the majority of their activity in the evenings and even being closed during the morning. This means that thermal conditioning techniques which can be turned on and off quickly have an energy advantage over slow, consistent thermal control. One example of this, as mentioned by VP Mechanical, is patio heaters. The outdoor space of a patio seating area is often very poorly insulated, so heating it to a desirable level for customers can be a challenge. Patio heaters warm up quickly and radiate heat very effectively to the targeted area, minimizing energy waste from idle time and heating extraneous areas1. As an added bonus, they are often quite inexpensive upfront.
Finally, restaurants often have a large footprint, comprising hallways and restrooms which provide even more potential for savings. Often-ignored appliances like lighting and fans can be swapped out for more energy-efficient versions, making a significant impact on energy usage.
HVAC systems in restaurants are a unique case, and should be dealt with accordingly by a skilled team.