During the holiday season, freezers and coolrooms are placed under extraordinary stress. Epoxy-coated steel shelves are overburdened with packages of seasonal veggies. Inside a freezer, wire racks creak under the weight of frozen turkeys and joints of honey ham. Remember, family members all around the globe are heading home for the holidays, and they’re expecting the kind of supermarket-purchased meals that can put them in a food-induced coma for days.

Avoid Holiday-Stuffed Commercial Coolrooms

While a supermarket or restaurant supply manager works hard to make sure a walk-in coolroom doesn’t become overloaded, there’s a supply and demand issue to address. A celebration of some sort is coming, and the business manager in charge of the whole operation wants to be prepared for the big parties that will be going on during this busy period. The problem is, by filling a coolroom to capacity with cold food, a coolroom that’s already working hard, well, the refrigeration unit that’s responsible for cooling the walk-in chamber will be forced to work harder, much harder. If this is the case, use an intelligent cooler management plan to spread out the load among all available coolrooms.

Conducting Freezer and Coolroom Tune-Ups

What if a commercial operation only has access to a limited number of cold rooms? Just as alarmingly, what if a walk-in freezer, loaded with chunks of frozen turkey and ham, is all by its lonesome self? If the sealed enclosures are properly insulated and the refrigeration equipment is functioning at its tip-top best, the extra load can be managed. To confirm the support of this much system overhead, diligent business owners consult professional coolroom repair services. Hopefully, the units in question will receive a solid thumbs-up, which will mean they’re equipped to handle the temporarily levied system overhead. If the gear and enclosure insulation aren’t in any condition to cope with the seasonal load, a full tune-up will most likely be recommended.

It’s a busy holiday period. Folk are out shopping for their Christmas meal or sitting down at restaurants while someone else does all the hard work. The point is that coolroom managers plan for such periods of extreme activity. They purchase extra frozen food. If the gear then fails, let’s not visualize the losses, for the mere thought of all that lost holiday meat and veggies could make a commercial business owner go very pale. To protect that seasonal investment, to safeguard the stockpiled poultry and seasonal side dishes, refrigeration compressors and coils must be in pristine condition. Basically, commercial operations should act proactively by having all coolrooms and freezers serviced before a holiday rush begins.

To an engineer, there’s nothing mysterious about a PRV (Pressure Release Valve) device. It functions as a system safety feature when potentially dangerous fluid pressures are present. If some overly compressed liquid or gas medium stresses an equipment fitting, then the valve quickly dumps the fluid. That’s all very interesting, but what do these safety devices have to do with walk-in freezers? Are there pressure build-ups happening inside a freezer? Strangely enough, just the opposite is true.

Pressure Release Vents Regulate Airborne Forces

A PRV does have a role to play as a disaster compensatory mechanism. The valves are often perceived as a final line of defence in a mains water supply. If all other inbuilt pressure regulating features fail, a pressure release valve can be counted on to safely discharge the system load. However, that’s not their only role. Active pressure relief mechanisms also regulate higher-than-average air pressures. If an atmospheric load is causing equipment stress, the kind that could cause gradual system damage and premature parts failure problems, then a pressure relief vent will act as a load regulation device.

Walk-In Freezers Develop Vacuum Seals

Back with a large freezer, a model that’s big enough to permit staff access, the atmosphere inside the sealed enclosure is shrinking, not pushing outwards. A partial vacuum develops because the cooler air in there becomes drier. Everyone has experienced this effect. On opening a refrigerator door at home, it resists your efforts. It takes a little extra muscle power to overcome the seal. When the partial vacuum is counterbalanced, the airflow equalizes. In effect, there’s a negative pressure inside the enclosure. Now imagine how much more muscle power it would take to overcome the negative pressure in a walk-in freezer. And that’s not the only problem either. After the door opens, the air in there will equalize, just like it does in a domestic refrigerator.

You’ll easily open a walk-in cooler’s door if the sealed chamber is fitted with a pressure relief vent. Even loaded down with a heavy food cart, you can probably open that door with one hand. More importantly, outside air won’t be sucked in to equalize the pressure differential. If that were the case, airborne contaminants would eventually get sucked inside. That’s a wholly undesirable and unhygienic action. More importantly, remember that the outside air is warmer than the inside air. If it were to be sucked inside by the pressure differential, the frosty enclosure would warm and the stored frozen food would spoil. With a Pressure Relief Vent performing its area equalizing duties, no contaminants and no warm air can impact a walk-in freezer’s hygienically cooled contents.

Most cool room managers are familiar with several condensation triggers. A troublesome door or door seal allows air to seep into the chilled enclosure, or maybe a new staff member has been propping a hinged panel open for several long minutes at a time. Be that as it may, there could be several unknown causative factors for every easily explained condensation instigator, so we need to work smart here.

The Science Behind Condensation Challenges

Warm air stores heat, which is probably why wet and warm countries get so humid. The air literally becomes heavy with tiny beads of water. Now, on returning to a cool room, cold air cannot hold moisture. That’s just how the laws of thermodynamics work. Because of that scientifically verified precept, airborne moisture in a cold room will collect on a chilled surface. And that’s what happens when ambient temperature airflows get into a cool room. Through a cracked seal or slightly open door, ordinary levels of humidity, as contained in the air we breathe, get into a cold room and end up dropping onto exposed surfaces. These “droplets” generally collect on chilled materials, such as glass panels and stainless steel fittings.

Condensation Headaches: Weighing the Causative Factors

As was mentioned in this post’s opening passage, door problems aren’t the only troublemakers here. Poorly insulated walls are potential culprits too. Or perhaps the insulation is functioning, but a crack has opened up between a pair of poorly aligned cool room wall panels. Is this a newer piece of equipment? If so, composite panels of high-tech insulation stop enclosure breaches from occurring. On the other hand, older units, loaded with fibreglass and other old-style insulation materials, can absorb dampness. That’s no good, for now the insulation isn’t only failing as a heat rejection barrier; the material is also trapping water and generating condensation.

Left unresolved, beads of water can raise the temperature in a cool room. The droplets get into equipment, or they become a breeding ground for mould colonies. So, what’s the solution? Beyond keeping the doors closed and the seals intact, how does a site manager deal with the above condensation producing triggers? A call to a service engineer is recommended, then a check of the chamber’s wall insulation can be given action. If this is a warehouse cold zone, there’s another solution that can be implemented. Let’s say trucks pull up to an open dock door. Plastic curtains, if not already fitted, should be added as a warm air buffer. It’s the same outside a walk-in or glass-panelled unit, this time with dehumidifier equipment keeping the outside air dry.

Although restaurateurs would wish otherwise, mould can survive inside a chilly cool room. That’s clearly an unacceptable situation. If a hardy mould strain somehow finds its way towards a rack of cold-stored food, the opportunistic growth could very well cause inventory spoilage. And that’s the least of a walk-in unit’s worries, for contaminated foodstuff constitute a significant health risk. Using a know-thy-enemy mindset, though, we can subdue this pernicious threat.

Know About Mould-Friendly Conditions

If a cool room engineer were to sit down with an HVAC worker, they’d probably share tales about their worst jobs. Right away, they’d discover they shared common ground. In both walk-in cooling chambers and heating and ventilation work, humidity issues can get out of control. They’d also agree on this one dismal fact, the notion that mould and bacteria growths love humid conditions. Alas, cool rooms produce condensate films, so they’re regarded as naturally damp enclosures. As a side note, a humidity level of 70% or above will cause mould patches to flourish and spread.

Growth Terminating Preventative Measures

In other rooms, that troubled HVAC engineers can introduce a heater, one that’ll dry out a wet air stream. Okay, so that’s not a workable option inside a chilled cold room, but that doesn’t mean we’re stuck for solutions. First things first, is the inventory wet? Fresh flowers and seafood both produce water, so use the following moisture reducing measures to keep the humidity level low. With a sharp-eyed staff member inside the chamber, have this alert individual check for patches of standing water or condensation build-ups. Using an absorbent cloth, one that’s not contaminated, wipe up the wet patch. As part of a staff training seminar, standard operating procedures should also be driven home. For example, enclosure doors must be kept closed, not ajar and certainly never left wide open for several long minutes.

At least half of the humidity triggering causes can be laid at the feet of incautious staff members. Spills must be cleaned up immediately. Even if the wet puddle is water, it must be washed up straight away, for mould and bacteria colonies use wet conditions to accelerate their spread. If the above measures don’t seem to make any impact whatsoever, perhaps the problem is closer at hand. In this case, a phone call to a professionally accredited refrigeration service is the answer. Dispatched to find the source of the humidity, the technicians clean the condenser and evaporator coils, plus the fans that draw in the chill airflow. Just in closing, special sanitation mists are now available. They reach into inaccessible spaces to sterilize cool room corners and cavities.

What exactly is an aluminium checker plate? It’s a strange term, but it translates readily enough. These panels of lightweight metal are installed in work areas as high-traction floor plates. Laid in a grid pattern, they’re adorned with raised edges, which serve as tiny groups of anti-slip outcroppings. Just to emphasise that point, the treads serve a purpose; they’re not there to provide an ornamental overlay for the floor.

Coolrooms at Ground Zero

Ideally, their metal floors are dry and clean. More likely, there’s a very fine film of water on the ground. That liquid is going to be slippery. Not to worry, a maintenance crew can soon get rid of the water. But what if this happens overnight? What if the water cools and turns to black ice? In the morning, some unwary staff member comes in with a food trolley. Still thinking about the day’s meal preparation work, the poor kitchen worker doesn’t see the ice. There’s a trip, a moment of pain, and then there’s a visit to the hospital to clean out a nasty cut. And that’s just with a watery film. Other substances could be on the floor, especially if a cleaning schedule is running late. They include animal oils and fatty substances, all of which are slick and slimy.

Aluminium Checker Plates: Raising the Game More precisely, the patterns of raised metal edges raise the soles of a coolroom visitor’s shoes above the floor. Ever so slightly, but enough to make a difference, the treads lend site foot traffic an anti-slip advantage. If a loaded trolley, heavy with cold meat or canned beverages, tries to slip and slide away, it can’t; the prominently embossed diamond slivers lift the rubber casters above the treacherous flooring. Why, even if the floor is dry, the aluminium checker plates still have much to offer. Let’s say a structure is on a very slight incline. That’s not a problem, not when the three-dimensional plate projections are there to slow or even stop roving trolleys in their tracks.

Made out of tough aluminium plating, the floor panels won’t corrode. They’re loaded with surface-stamped dimples, which can assume numerous shapes. Those different patterns also exist for a purpose. They elevate foot traffic, increase operator traction, and they even perform a limited role as a fluid drainage mechanism. That means, instead of providing a base for a slippery pool of water and food oils, the dimples function as fluid channels. Naturally funnelling water before it can turn to ice, the high-traction aluminium flooring keeps staff and mobile carts on an even keel.

In order to estimate the dimensions of a business-ready cool room, begin with a sheet of paper and an open mind. Find a quiet space to think and begin by writing down all of the items that’ll be stored inside the refrigerated room. Impacted by the size of the installation site, let’s make sure this initial design factor doesn’t influence the size of the cooling envelope too much.

Splitting the Cool Room

One single space maximizes the available installation area. The modular walls and insulated fittings drop into place around the room’s own walls, so there are no extraneous fixtures or doubled-up compartmental setups in the design blueprint to steal precious site real estate. Alternatively, a two-room configuration provides a convenient dual-role layout, with one sealed room performing as a workspace while the second room functions as storage space. Things become a little more energy inefficient when multiple cool rooms line up together. With each independent cooling space adding its own walls, the available space is no longer exploited in a practical, energy-smart manner.

Circumventing Spatial Limitations

The size of the room, which is probably located close to a working kitchen, affects its dimensions. That’s true enough, but there’s a way around this obstacle. If a refrigerated space needs to be large enough to store a set amount of perishable items, why not take the problem outside? Indeed, outdoor-situated cool rooms are becoming popular, although they’re built from more expensive materials. Weatherproof and impact-resistant, these exterior models are still an option if a restaurant or hotel doesn’t have enough room for a large cooler.

Operational Impact: Assessing Internal Factors

Workflow-wise, there needs to be a passage running through an operational cool room. Is there space for a wide trolley and to access all of the room’s stored food? Can the stainless steel shelves in there be switched out for a set of wire-framed shelving? And that brings the designer around to another question, an issue that concerns air current circulation. Large or small, there must be enough excess space in a cool room to allow its cooling energies to penetrate the entire chamber.

Posed to begin work, the insulated panels and cooling systems can’t begin assembling until the spatially assessed project has been finalized and approved by the business owner. There’s the open room, all ready for the walk-in cooler, but the area hides a number of installation obstacles. Observing those size-determining installation impediments with a keen eye, an installation professional sees them as manageable design factors. For poor venting hindrances, some light construction work takes care of matters. Then, opening a line of communication with you, the business owner, it’s time to see whether a single room or dual-space cool room layout will suit your workflow.

It’s not enough to tag a defect on a cool room door. On a similar note, panel damage can’t simply be noted in a maintenance log book. A failure to act on such seemingly trivial staff feedback really could have dire consequences, all of which will negatively impact a cool room’s established functions. For one thing, damaged doors and panels leak energy. Then there’s food freshness problem, too.

Chamber Breaches Destabilize Cooling Envelopes

From a practical standpoint, a damaged door won’t open. If it does swing open, perhaps after applying substantial shoulder muscle, it jams open. Clearly, a stuck cool room door requires urgent attention, so a repair engineer is immediately dispatched. But what if the damage is less apparent? A seal is cracked or torn, perhaps. The door works, staff members push their carts up a ramp, and food is loaded. Only, there’s a sudden uptick in expended energy. If this problem isn’t immediately taken care of, the bill payer is in for a big shock when the electricity invoice comes due. Cracked or loose insulation panels create similar situations, unfortunately. Remember, if a refrigerator unit is running constantly, that could indicate a cooling envelope rupture.

Temperature Fluctuations Ruin Perishable Cool Room Products

That’s a proven truism. With a damaged door or loose insulation panel causing a refrigeration unit to perform unpredictably, temperature variations sightly thaw out some of the merchandise. Then the refrigeration cycle recovers, but it swings too far in the opposite direction. Freezer burn is the result of the poorly recovered equipment’s efforts. Again, these are major consequences, and they’re all taking place because of a small seal tear or panel fissure. Seriously, higher running costs are worrying, but that issue isn’t half as bad as a food safety struggle. Sure, a lack of meal freshness is disconcerting, but what if that bad taste becomes something more, something worse? What if the perishable food spoils and causes a nasty stomach complaint?

The implications are disturbing, that’s for sure. Minor door or panel damage in a hard-working cool room can severely undermine its normal operational functions. If that damage is spotted by an observant cart loader or food prepper, the feedback should be interpreted as a wake-up call. Ignored by some, running costs rise sky-high while cooling temperatures fluctuate. It’s like a first domino has fallen. It’s about to hit its neighbour and trigger off a whole series of undesirable causal effects. The energy leaks, temperatures fluctuate, spoilable food spoils, fresh meals go off, and customers leave. Please, if a cool room door or insulating panel is damaged, take immediate action so that those falling dominoes can be stopped.

Let’s cut straight to the chase. Cool rooms don’t just keep flowers fresh, they stop them from blossoming. In effect, the cold acts like a pause button. That means, should a large delivery of floral merchandise arrive at a shop, the staff can create a biological buffer for themselves. Instead of the merchandise opening, according to some biological imperative, a temporary halt is placed on its growth cycle.

Cool Rooms Are Floral Time Machines

Or maybe they should be described as stasis chambers, like the suspended animation devices found in science-fiction movies? Whatever the label, their purpose is clear. By taking a product that has a finite lifespan, by placing that time-sensitive organic inventory in a chilly cool room, a shop owner gains a kind of superpower. They can suspend a flower’s blossoming cycle. Okay, this power is temporary, for the plants are still aging, but they’re now ripening at a very slow pace. Stabilized and locked into the budding stage, flowering petals won’t put in an appearance until a florist is ready to make an arrangement.

Working Without a Cool Room Sure, the room is equipped with a refrigeration unit, but the cool breeze blown from that ceiling-mounted appliance isn’t meant to freeze anything. There goes the suspended animation analogy, but that’s okay. No, there’s a late autumn chill inside the glass-walled room, not a flower-killing winter frost. Without that cold, a truck-full of budding plants would flower after a few days of storage. Even the ambient warmth in a shop office would be enough to trigger the blossoming stage. Imagine the scene, with every single flower showing off its petals over the span of two or three working days. For the shop staff, the colourful display would be magnificent, but no one else would get to enjoy that flowery scent or the richly-hued petals, for that matter. As the floral arrangements came together, they’d wilt and spoil. What’s left to say? Successful flower shops won’t enjoy their profits for long if their arrangements leave the shop looking lifeless and desiccated.

Suffice to say, flower shops need cool rooms. Those sealed little rooms keep flowers rosy fresh and fabulous. Of course, since they’re part of a shop’s overall appearance, metal panels and opaque insulants are out. Instead of those energy-saving wall panels, glass-walled plates and sliding doors are given preference. The polished glass shows off a just-blossomed arrangement while the budding plants remain concealed on a second or third row. Why, there’s even a separate work area in there, where arrangements are stored until they’re ready to be delivered, en masse, to a wedding or large event. Basically, this is a flower shop’s buffer area, and it’s that buffer that gives a shop owner power over a flower’s growth cycle.

Starting with an obvious observation, the team members who are responsible for taking apart a coolroom need to protect themselves. Granted, if this is a newer construct, it’s likely been designed to come apart easily. In other words, it’s modular. That being said, sharp edges will become exposed as the chamber breaks apart. Wear protective gloves and observe the following guidelines.

Electrically Isolate the Equipment

There are live electrical circuits humming quietly inside operational coolrooms. Even when the refrigeration equipment isn’t powered, perhaps because the thermostat isn’t active, there could be a dangerously high electrical charge nearby. Remember, this equipment requires a moderately high amount of power. Moreover, the chamber likely has lots of exposed metal parts. If an electrical shock does occur in here, it could prove fatal. Always safely isolate the circuits. Turn them off at the fuse board, pull the fuses, or lock down the circuit breakers. Even after all of those actions have been taken, a professional refrigeration technician will still want to test the circuits to make sure every live wire is safely depowered.

Relocating the Refrigeration Equipment It’s not hard to relocate the electrical wiring. In point of fact, it might just be cheaper to rewire the whole thing. If the wiring is kept, check the insulation for any abrasive scratching. If the wires are damaged, they can’t be used again. Anyway, even while taking the possibilities of wiring damage into account, this is still a straightforward procedure. For the refrigeration unit, well, things can get a mite more complicated. For starters, there’s the refrigerant to deal with when breaking down the gear. A dismantling or decommissioning process can’t begin by ripping the gear out of its ducting. No, the fluid has to be depressurized and discharged. There are refrigerant recovery protocols to observe, plus the storage/transferring equipment to purchase. Then, if this really is a decommissioning job, there might be an environmentally harmful fluorocarbon load to safely dispose of, as regulated by a nationally accredited ruling body. 

In order of personal and environmental hazards, the electrical dangers come out on top. They’re more immediate, for high electrical currents can kill instantly. Next, an environmental hazard exists as a charged refrigerant load. The fluid needs to be discharged and valves need to be sealed. The recovery procedure clearly requires the services of an expert engineer. This is no job for an amateur. Finally, mechanical dangers are easier to pinpoint. Sharp edges can cut sensitive skin while heavy walls can crush limbs. Incidentally, unforeseen hazards are always lurking. Wear a breathing mask, just in case the wall insulation contains dangerous fibres. That mask will also provide additional protection, should dangerous bacterial spores be concealed in those wall panels.

If a coolroom’s layout is optimized, yet the equipment’s still drawing way too much electrical energy, something’s still not right. Odds are the refrigeration unit has some kind of a performance frustrating issue. Even more frustrating, this issue is ongoing. It’s not getting any better, and it won’t until someone tracks down the energy siphoning cause. Calling in an expert service engineer, that pro-worker should head straight to the equipment coils.

Obstructed Refrigerator Coils Cause Energy Losses

Indirectly speaking, the icy build-up hampers coil efficiency. Perhaps there’s excess moisture coming off of a row of frozen meat, or maybe the region in which the coolroom resides is naturally humid. Whatever the reason, the excess moisture condenses when it comes in contact with the evaporator coils. And it’s not going to stay that way for long. After the condensate forms, it freezes. Over and over, this cycle repeats until a thick layer of ice impacts the cooling mechanisms heat transferring functions. Meanwhile, over on the condenser coils, dirt and debris have a similar effect on the heat release stage. Without a fully exposed condenser, the refrigerant can’t cool and condense efficiently.

Coil Restoration Methodologies

It’s nice to know that a little warm water and soap can restore a complicated assembly of technologically advanced electro-chemical parts to their functional best. Instead of replacing a hard to get at compressor unit, the servicing team just washes the dirt off of one coil while someone else removes the ice from the second set of coils. Only, hold on, it’s not quite that straightforward. To really restore heat transference performance, elbow grease isn’t enough, not even with a bucket of hot water. In reality, when refrigeration companies offer a coil restoration service, they’re talking about powerful steam equipment and cleaning agents. Applied as a multi-stage system rejuvenation process, steam and non-corrosive cleaners soften and-de-bind the ingrained dirt. 

There’s outside work to be done. The vents and filters require cleaning. If they’re filthy, a few replacement parts will soon fix things. That same approach won’t work on the condenser coil. Likewise, after the ice has been carefully melted off the evaporator coils, there are still traces of muck and gunk coating those exposed parts too. A run-of-the-mill coolroom servicing company might try that warm water and soap approach, and they might even have limited success. Stepping up to the next level, a genuine coil restoration assignment uses proprietary coil cleaning techniques, which may or may not include steam ablation technology. With coil performance back to its functional best, advanced auditing and data collection instruments make sure coolroom efficiency is maximized.

Contrary to popular opinion, refrigeration services don’t always place a heavy focus on cooling equipment. Admittedly, that’s their raison d’ê·tre, their main role in life, but this is a profession that covers many different engineering disciplines. Why, there are even times when C & M Coolrooms technicians find themselves repairing or replacing heating cables. 

Where Are The Heating Cables?

Warming wires of this type can be found in several locations. Before going any further, however, these aren’t true heating elements, they are radiant fractional amounts of thermal energy. For example, a cold concrete floor could crack because of the minus 20°C temperatures inside a deep-freeze unit. Worse still, there might be groundwater under the concrete. It’ll freeze, the ice will expand, and the concrete will crack again. Door seals also need wired heating. Trace heating wires thread their way around door frames so that a rime of ice doesn’t cause the door to stick. Last of all, heating cables can be wrapped helically around all sorts of fittings, including ducts and pipes.

Replacing Damaged Or Aged Thermal Cabling

The tiny amounts of energy are enough to stop a floor cracking or prevent a door from accumulating frost damage. Unfortunately, just like any other equipment fitting, these insulated electrical wires do have a limited lifespan. Admittedly, it’s not going to be easy to replace underfloor cables, not unless they were installed in tubular conduit. One solution to this issue is to replace the underfloor cables with rubberized mats. The knobbly pattern on those rubber sheets insulates the floor while also acting as a slip prevention aid. For the broken door seal, a replacement heating cable is far easier to replace.

Portal Frame Wiring Replacement The technician turns off the power, as the circuit may still be live, even though it’s no longer functioning. A continuity test with an electrical multimeter should be used next. If the circuit is damaged, the tech puts on a pair of gloves, exposes the wire, and carefully removes it from the door edges. A replacement cable, one that uses the same electrical specs, is now substituted for the damaged heat tracing. Remember, the lip of the door may seamlessly connect to the unit’s insulation panels. If that’s the case, a C & M Coolroom technician should be called out to carry out the work.

Interestingly, there are new underfloor options on the horizon. Heating cables are still clearly the superior option. Only, they can be impossible to replace. One solution involves running them through buried metal conduits. A second idea is to use a piped fluid, such as glycol. Transporting trace amounts of heat into the floor, there are no moving parts to fail in a fluid-based underfloor heating system.

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