When it comes to refrigeration, a dirty coil can be a major burden and require an emergency service call. A dirty coil can put your equipment and inventory at risk and also result in a major repair bill.
Coilpod is a coil dust containment bag designed to save you money and keep your refrigerator working. Total Food Service had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Richard Fennelly of Coilpod to find out Top 10 things to know about cleaning refrigeration coils.
1. What should a restaurateur ask about the coils and be looking for when purchasing refrigeration?
A question to ask the seller of the unit would be whether they work with (or know of) a service network that believes in/does preventative maintenance that includes frequent condenser coil cleaning for refrigeration units. Since the Food Service Technology Center of San Ramon, CA (www.fishnick.com) recommends coil cleanings every three months as a minimum as a starting point; the frequency of the coil cleanings under any preventative maintenance program is also of importance.
How the cleaning is done is important as well. The cleanings need to reach and remove deeply embedded debris within the coil structure. If the seller of the appliance can’t answer these questions, the purchaser of the unit should ask the refrigeration company that does their emergency service work the same type of questions. We think that many refrigeration companies are more focused on reactive emergency service calls and need to put more effort into coil cleaning as a preventative maintenance task.
2. What options are there in terms of cleaning refrigeration coils?
The inclination of some technicians is to merely brush the surface of the coil structure while simultaneously vacuuming off the dislodged dust/debris. This is not sufficient for getting at the clogging that occurs within the coil body of a typical commercial “cooler”. Special coil brushes are commercially available that can be additionally used to snake into the channels of the coil structure to get out the embedded debris but this greatly lengthens the cleaning process.
Persons having experience in cleaning clogged coils will most often resort to using a blast of compressed air to quickly and effectively remove the dust and debris. In order to try to catch the blown off material, they have traditionally used a wet fabric or large plastic garbage bag as a catch mechanism. Neither, we think, is the best way to insure trapping the debris. The fabric may fly off the unit during the cleaning allowing for pollution of the surrounding area and blown off debris may misuse entering the opening of the bag causing the same result.
3. What are the green and sustainable concerns of coil cleaning?
Dirty clogged coils severely compromise the ability of the condenser coils to throw off heat (that has been extracted from the chamber being cooled) to the atmosphere.
4. How does dust impact the performance of refrigerant coils?
Coils that are not cleaned cause the following for the cooler unit: 1. a waste of electric energy; 2. forcing the compressor to work harder, heating up the unit’s components, which is one of the biggest reasons for emergency service calls when the unit begins to malfunction; 3. possible compromising of the integrity of sensitive inventory being cooled since the unit might not be able to hold its target temperature; 4. a possible reduction of the effective service life of the unit; and 5. in the case of new refrigeration units using flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants (R-290), posing a potential safety hazard since good ventilation in the condenser coil enclosure is highly desired in case of a refrigerant leak.
5. How often should coils be cleaned?
Every three months should be the target norm as recited in #1. Foster Refrigerator (UK) has indicated from studies they apparently conducted that conventional coil designs can suffer an airflow reduction of about 95% in just one year of operation —- this corroborates the just mentioned third party recommendation mentioned in #1 of doing coil cleaning multiple times in a calendar year.
6. How much should a restaurateur budget for coil cleaning?
We are piloting our COILDOCS coil cleaning service in the counties north of NYC Westchester/Putnam in NY and Fairfield in CT and think that a service charge of about $50 per coil unit might be reasonable. We are only targeting those locations that have multiple coolers at their site, which is really not uncommon, to make the charge a win-win for both parties. Multiplying this amount by the number of coolers and the cleanings per year (either 3 or 4) would be an approximation for a budget. Sale of the COILPOD bag (we sell it at $69 through our online store) would be another option for the do-it-yourselfer or for an entity that already has a third party preventative maintenance provider. A company with multiple locations might want to purchase a bag for each location so that it is readily available at each site.
7. Why doesn’t it just make sense to add coil cleaning to the checklist of items under a preventive maintenance service agreement that a restaurant my have in place vs. buying the COILPOD system?
We highly recommend adding coil cleaning as a task to add to any preventative protocol that might exist in appliance maintenance. The COILPOD technology only becomes relevant to the conversation if: 1. compressed air blowing out of coils is the chosen cleaning method (which we think will be the case in view of its advantages); and 2. the owner of the cooler wants the greatest degree of assurance that collateral pollution of the area will not occur as a result (namely, from a wet “capture” fabric being blown off the coil or some debris escaping entry into a large garbage bag that might be used as a capture medium). Our system can be used with a standard wet/dry vacuum and two hoses (one for the exhaust port and one for the suction port) or a standard vacuum and a cylinder of compressed air or gas (such as nitrogen).
8. The incoming Trump administration seems to have some questions relative to climate change. So if it doesn’t exist then why go through the expense of cleaning coils?
Even if climate change isn’t believable to Trump, he might be a fan of not mindlessly wasting this country’s electric energy resources, which is the normal situation now in the industry. Coil cleaning can also be viewed as an infrastructure play in regard to having the nation’s stock of refrigeration units running more smoothly, as intended. Finally, I think it might be a good job creator since we think hardly any of the 27 million non-residential units are cleaned as frequently as they should be cleaned.
One refrigeration expert stated that he thought 80% are never cleaned and that the remaining 20% are not cleaned as frequently as recommended (we’ve run across indications of annual cleanings in several cases as one norm). With our COILPOD bag, it takes about 15 minutes to clean one unit using compressed air. If only 3 cleanings on average were performed on the 27 million units each year that comes to 0.75 person hours x 27 million units = about 20.25 million person hours of labor. Our Internet searching has failed to reveal the existence of a third party service industry so we think that there might be quite a few million person hours of new labor that could be created at full penetration for this “new”/ignored service task.
9. We’ve heard that dirty coils can cost up to 6% more to operate? What type of expense and saving can an operator expect with proper cleaning? Length of ROI?
The only data that I’ve seen on the energy savings for coil cleaning of commercial coolers and it far exceeds 6%: at $US 0.11/KwH the per unit yearly electric savings for 7 coolers ranged from $220 to $625, with the average being $432. For four of these units the percent electric energy savings was 46% to 50%! Stated differently, clogged coils cause an unneeded electric energy penalty from 90% to 100%. There’s no data on the reduction of service calls with clean coils. One expert, however, stated that quarterly cleanings will virtually eliminate expensive service calls, which can be extremely expensive.
The ROI for doing coil cleaning is probably well under a year at the pricing I gave earlier. Every $1 saved in energy efficiency is a dollar that has been saved that has already migrated to the bottom line. It is critical to safeguard such cash when one considers how many dollars coming in the door are needed for each such “captured” dollar: the US Department of Energy calculates the “coming-in the door dollar” at $18 (probably for entities with a better profit margin structure) and the US EPA at $59 (presumably for entities with a much lower profit margin structure). Perhaps it could be said that every bottom line $1 saved from doing coil cleaning equates with anywhere from $20 to $60 coming in the front door, depending on the owner’s profit structure.
10. What impact do clean coils have in the City during the restaurant inspection process?
The inspection process probably doesn’t focus directly on energy efficiency. It might have an indirect interest in cases where the units run smoothly and contain food items, which can spoil creating health risks if the coils force the unit to malfunction in any significant manner causing such spoilage.