December 2009
ENERGY STAR REPORT

Holding Cabs: Hot And Efficient

By Jennifer Hicks

When it comes to hot food holding cabinets, your Energy Star options have been available since 2003. The Environmental Protection Agency began researching the hot cabs market in '02 and the specification became effective in August the following year. EPA's official launch came at the The NAFEM Show in '03.

And this is a category where the Energy Star really makes a difference, considering how much time holding cabinets spend in product-warming mode. EPA says that qualified hot food holding cabinets are 65% more energy efficient than standard models.

When the specification was launched industry stakeholders were supportive, says Rebecca Duff, senior manager of ICF Int'l., the consulting organization assisting EPA with Energy Star development. There's been so much support, in fact, that today Energy Star-qualified hot food holding cabinets represent almost 80% of the market, which is why, Duff says, EPA is planning to revisit the performance requirements so that Energy Star continues to be a differentiating factor.

Let's Define Our Terms
From day one EPA had to develop an acceptable definition for hot food holding cabinets. Only those models whose only function is to hold food at a specific constant temperature can qualify under this specification. This means no dual-function equipment—cook-and-hold equipment—is allowed for now, since including these units would force EPA to consider cooking performance as well. EPA has said it may consider dual-function equipment in future versions of the specification when there is enough manufacturer interest and available data.

As the specification was coming together other questions arose. For example, manufacturers pointed out that hot food holding cabinets typically are sold as part of a larger family of models which all have the same engineering but vary in internal cabinet dimensions. The compromise here was fairly easy. Since in all cases the smallest cabinet consumes the most energy, based on a watts to volume ratio, EPA allowed manufacturers to test and qualify their smallest cabinet within a family and receive Energy Star qualification for that entire group of models.

Also, EPA initially proposed to set levels for one-quarter-, half- and full-size hot food holding cabs, but industry concern was that internal dimensions can vary across these sub categories from one maker to another. To address this point EPA chose to define internal dimensions with a watts/ft3 approach like it had done with commercial convection ovens.

Finally, one manufacturer requested that EPA increase the maximum idle energy rate from 40 watts/ft3 to 50 watts/ft3 to allow more glass-door models to qualify. But on this point EPA did not budge, saying that while glass-door units are eligible to qualify for Energy Star, it was not EPA's intention to adjust the specification to allow for that. Rather, EPA said it hoped that manufacturers with glass-door units would make the necessary design changes to these units, such as using better insulated glass or additional wall insulation, to increase their efficiency.

The Bottom Line, And What's Next For Holding Cabs?
Hot food holding cabinet models that earn the Energy Star must meet a maximum idle energy rate of 40 watts/ft3. This means these models are more efficient at maintaining food temperature while using less energy. Models that meet this requirement incorporate better insulation to reduce heat loss, and may also offer additional energy-saving devices such as magnetic door gaskets, auto-door closures or Dutch doors. The insulation of the cabinet also offers better temperature uniformity within from top to bottom.

And for you that means each Energy Star-qualified hot food holding cabinet can save businesses approximately 3,200kWh to 9,300kWh annually, says EPA, or an average of $340/year to $960/year on utility bills.

As we went to press EPA said it would be revisiting the hot food holding cabinets specification this fall because of high Energy Star market penetration. EPA said it would first conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis to determine if raising the bar would result in a favorable payback to operators and significant energy savings to the Energy Star program.

Visit www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=hfhc.pr_hfhc for a full list of qualified models.