Summer heat is great for many things, like beach trips, pool parties, and grilling outside to keep the house cool, but it is not ideal for commercial refrigeration equipment. For restaurants or others in the food service industry, an issue with a refrigerator, freezer, or ice machine that causes it to stop working properly can be catastrophic and lead to expensive product loss. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to maintain your refrigeration units throughout the hottest days of summer days so you do not lose money to repairs and product loss.
Keeping Your Condenser Coils Clean
By performing preventative maintenance throughout the year, not just when trouble arises, your unit is better prepared to handle the brutally hot summer months. Most refrigerated units are air cooled, and the number one preventable cause of temperature loss and compressor failure on air cooled units is dirty, neglected condenser coils. The condenser coil on an air cooled unit uses a fan motor to pull air over a series of copper pipes and aluminum fins to remove the heat from a refrigerated space such as a reach-in refrigerator cabinet or a cooler/freezer walk-in box. The condenser coil is typically located near the compressor. On a reach-in cooler or freezer it will usually be located above the refrigerated cabinet at the top of the reach-in or, in some cases, at the bottom underneath the cabinet. Because air is moving through the fin-coil nearly constantly, the condenser coil tends to collect a lot of dust and lint. In a kitchen with grills or fryers, it will often get coated in a heavy layer of grease as well. Occasionally, debris such as wrappers or plastic bags can get sucked up onto the coil. Obstructions such as these make it more difficult for the unit to remove heat, make the unit less efficient, and put a strain on the system which can cause the compressor and the lubricating oil to overheat. If ignored long enough, this will lead to a high side restriction, compressor failure, or both. Always clear condenser coils of any debris that has stuck to them. You can use canned air, compressed air, or CO2 to blow dust out of condenser coils. Lint buildup can be cleared by hand or carefully with a wire brush and then blown out with canned air once the lint is removed. Greasy coils are more problematic. Grease is an insulator which makes it more difficult for the condenser coil to remove heat, but it also acts as a glue which lets dust and lint stick to the coil easier and buildup faster. If your coil is greasy it should be professionally cleaned with a coil degreaser that is safe to use on copper-aluminum condenser coils. SPECS Refrigeration has the necessary chemicals and training to properly clean your condenser coils safely and effectively.
Another task that should be done during regular maintenance is checking the interior temperature of your refrigeration unit to ensure that it is within its normal range. A higher temperature than is usual can indicate that a problem is developing. Also included in preventative maintenance are checking discharge, liquid, and suction lines of the condensing unit. Check that the lines are not rubbing against one another and check that the refrigeration lines are not oily. If you find oil collecting on the lines, foam insulation, or in the general vicinity of the compressor, it is a strong indication that you have a refrigerant leak and your system may soon run out of refrigerant and stop cooling. If you have a refrigerant leak and frequently have to add refrigerant to your unit, you run the risk of damaging the compressor each time the unit gets low on its refrigerant charge. Thermostats and wiring should also be inspected to make sure there are no visible signs of damage or wear. Evaporator coils and drain pans should also be checked and cleaned regularly to ensure proper airflow to the cooling system and to prevent drain clogs and water damage to your refrigerated products. Heavy ice buildup on cooler and freezer evaporators or in drain pans indicates that a serious problem is developing with the system. If you see this you should call your service company immediately to correct the problem before it results in serious damage to your equipment.
If something goes wrong with your unit and the system fails, you have a short window of about four hours before food starts to spoil. However, if your system has a cold storage temperature alarm, you can be alerted if something goes wrong and you are in danger of losing your valuable product. System monitors can keep track of cabinet temperatures, suction pressures, compressors, coil temperatures, energy usage, and many other system indicators depending on the cost and complexity of the monitoring system. A good temperature monitoring and alarm system can alert you in a variety of ways if a problem begins to develop and can pay for itself very quickly just in avoided product loss alone.
Refrigeration and freezer units should be kept a fair distance from exterior walls and windows to ensure proper ventilation and to make sure that heat from outside does not impact the coil temperature of your unit. Refrigerated units that are intended to run in climate controlled indoor environments should be kept out of direct sunlight. The summer sun shining onto an indoor unit in the afternoon through large west facing windows has been known to cause a temperature increase of several degrees inside a refrigerated cabinet, even when the unit is working perfectly well, simply due to the high heat on the cabinet walls from the intense afternoon sun being magnified through certain types of window panes. For reasons such as this it is strongly recommended that you keep your indoor units out of direct sunlight as much as possible.
During especially hot summer months, power companies run at their maximum power output capacity. High heat takes a toll on generators, substation equipment, and even equipment such as the transformers on the electrical poles that directly power your building. Brownouts, voltage dips, phase losses, and power spikes are common problems in summer months and can all cause damage to your equipment. If you think you are experiencing issues with your building’s power, call your power company to come check it as soon as they are able. Having power issues resolved quickly may avoid electrical damage to your equipment. In some areas, when the demand for power exceeds the capacity of the power company to supply it, the power company can instate rolling blackouts, when the power to an area is deliberately shut off for periods of time, or brownouts, when the power company only allows energy usage to an area to be kept to a minimum. If these are common in your area, contact your power company and voice your concerns.
SPECS Refrigeration in Lubbock, Texas, provides commercial refrigeration servicing, repairs, and maintenance. To ensure that your equipment is able to withstand hot summer temperatures, contact us for regular maintenance today!