Coolers Go Green
New federal rules aim to capture energy savings. Here’s what you need to know about them.
Florists in the market for walk-in coolers will find new features that may not be immediately apparent to the eye but that eventually may be apparent in their electric bills.
New federal rules designed to increase the energy efficiency of walk-in coolers have been in effect since January 1, part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which includes standards for everything from vehicle fuel economy and biofuels to home appliances. (See summary at www.energy.senate.gov/public.)
Conserviation via Coolers
Allan Jett, sales support executive for SRC Refrigeration, Sterling Heights, Mich., says the biggest changes are 1) requirements for higher-grade insulation, 2) more efficient electrical motors and 3) better-insulated glass doors—triple pane versus double pane. Other requirements include 4) more energy-efficient lighting and 5) automatic door closers for most cooler doors. All of these measures aim to improve performance, thereby reducing electricity consumption.
For example, an EC (electronically commutated) motor for the evaporator coil will run 40 percent to 60 percent less without affecting performance, explains Richard Rosenfeld, vice president of sales for Bush Refrigeration, Camden, N.J. The evaporator coil is the fan unit inside the cooler and absorbs heat and distributes humidity.
The requirements apply to newly manufactured walk-in coolers in all industries, not just floral. They do not affect reach-in coolers or existing walk-in coolers.
Karim Amran, vice president of Regulatory and Research for the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), says the law requires performance standards by 2012 that will set minimum energy efficiency requirements. These will be accompanied by some type of reporting mechanism that should help florists and other buyers better compare units, Mr. Amran explains. This could be similar to the hangtags in household appliances describing the average kilowatt-hours of energy used.
Adding it Up
“On the face of it, all of these are good changes, with the drawback that they cost money,” Mr. Jett says, though he notes that SRC Refrigeration has absorbed the increased costs of the new technology on floral refrigeration. “Right now, you can talk about paybacks over time, but there are no hard-and-fast numbers to say how long it’s going to take to pay that back or what the bottom-line costs are.”
Estimates on the potential savings vary and would depend on the size and configuration of any cooler, as well as the cost of electricity in a particular market. Mr. Rosenfeld predicts 40 percent savings on average.
“Is there a downside to [the requirements]? Yes. It adds a couple of percent to your purchase price, but it’s insignificant,” Mr. Rosenfeld says. “You’ll recoup that little bit extra in your first six months’ electric bill or less. It’s significant.”
Other Ways to Save
For florists not ready to commit to a whole new cooler, there are other options to take advantage of these energy-saving technologies.
Fan motors. Wayne Lauer, owner of Flot-Aire Floral Refrigerators, Rolla, Mo., says new fan motors could be installed in an existing cooler, depending on the brand. The motors usually are installed on a mounting plate, he explains, and in some cases this upgrade could be done by a skilled do-it-yourselfer.
Doors. The doors on an existing cooler that otherwise is running well also could be upgraded, Mr. Jett says, to take advantage of the higher insulation value and better lighting. “Replacing a set of doors in a display can make a big change in appearance, and all the doors that are made now meet the regulations and are a big upgrade over the old doors,” he says. He describes the increase in the door cost—4 percent or 5 percent—as less than that for some of the other new components.
Ensuring a good seal on existing doors and that they are opened as little as possible also will help, Mr. Jett says. “The biggest heat loss occurs when the door is opened,” he explains. “So if you can minimize that, you will save money.”
Maintenance. One of the easiest ways to save, the refrigeration professionals agree, is to keep up with cleaning and maintenance. The two main areas to focus on are the evaporator coil—the fan unit inside the cooler—and the condenser (or compressor) unit, which disperses the heat outside the cooler and may be located either inside or outside the store.
“If you haven’t cleaned your system in four years, it is probably running at 75 percent efficiency,” Mr. Lauer reports.
Mr. Lauer says some florists just clean the fan blades or look on the outside of the evaporator and believe it is clean, but the dirt accumulates inside, on the coil. “By turning off the system and opening the fan unit, you’ll see all the dirt in there,” he says. A pump sprayer filled with bleach and water or vinegar and water will loosen the dirt, he suggests. And a vacuum or can of compressed air will clean the condenser.
More Change Coming
Another shift in the refrigeration industry that florists should be aware of is on the horizon, Mr. Rosenfeld says. The type of acceptable refrigerant will change Jan. 1, 2010. Manufacturers will no longer be able to build equipment that uses R-22 freon, which is common not only in commercial but also in household applications. Mr. Rosenfeld says R-404A will be the new standard for walk-in coolers, but smaller coolers are available with R-134A. R-22 freon still will be available to refill leaks in existing units.
Reprinted with permission from Florists’ Review, November 2009.
Keep Cool with Proper Care
Regular cleaning and maintenance of your floral cooler(s) is one of the easiest ways to keep it/them running efficiently and looking good. Mark your calendar to remind you to tackle these tasks.
• Check operating temperature several times daily.
• Remove all broken off and dead leaves and flowers—and other debris—from cooler shelves and floor.
• Clean all shelving and glass surfaces—interior and exterior— to remove water spots and rings and fingerprints.
• Clean and sanitize the interior walls and floor with a professional cleanser (such as D.C.D.® Cleaner from Floralife or Fresh-n-Clean® from Syndicate Sales).
• Wipe clean the interior evaporator coil (fan) housing and fan guard.
• Wipe the door gaskets with a soft, damp cloth, to keep them clean and sealing properly.
• Wipe the cooler exterior, including the compressor/ condensing unit cover, with a soft, damp cloth. Touch up nicks and scratches to prevent corrosion.
• Clean the top of the cooler, making sure the compressor/ condensing unit is free of any air circulation obstructions (if it is located on top of the cooler).
• Clean the compressor/condensing unit coils (outside the unit) to avoid dust buildup. A utility vacuum, which can reverse its airflow, helps to blow the dust out thoroughly, or use a can of compressed air.
• Inspect walk-in coolers for water on the wall or near a seam; this may be an indication of an air leak. Seal the leak with silicone.
• Clean the evaporator coil (fan unit inside the cooler) every six to 12 months. You might want to hire a professional to do this, to prevent damage to the unit. Or if you do it yourself, turn off the cooler, open the fan unit and clean the coil with a pump sprayer filled with bleach and water or vinegar and water.