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February 2003 Issue
By Mike Sherer
SPECIAL REPORT: Chillin' With Energy Star

Energy-efficient “Energy Star” reach-ins let you keep your cool and some money, too.

It’s been said before, here and elsewhere: Foodservice kitchens use a ton of energy. Fire up a broiler or a deep-fat fryer, and you can see the dials on your gas and electric meters spin like the cherries on a one-armed bandit. At the end of the day, fortunately, most of that equipment shuts down. But your refrigerators and freezers keep on running.

How much energy do they use? About $1 billion a year, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Reach-in refrigerators alone suck up about 5 trillion Watt hours of electricity per year, says a study done for the Department of Energy.

The good news is that manufacturers are finding ways to make refrigeration more efficient. Even better is a relatively new program that makes it easier for you to find and compare the most efficient reach-ins—both refrigerators and freezers—on the market.

It’s called the Energy Star program. Tracing its roots back to 1991, the EPA’s program started as Project Green Lights and focused on helping businesses and consumers save energy and reduce pollution. In the beginning, the focus was lighting. But over the years, the project changed its name to Energy Star and broadened to include whole buildings, computers, televisions and other consumer appliances. Along the way, communication and support efforts broadened, too. The agency began putting energy- and money-saving ideas on its Web site, www.epa.gov/smallbiz.

In 2001, the EPA’s Energy Star program made its foodservice industry debut at the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers Show. Energy Star’s first foodservice focus was solid-door, reach-in refrigerators and freezers. To date, a dozen manufacturers have signed up as partners to promote the program. Most already have a number of models passing the test that allows them to use the

Energy Star logo. What’s In It For You
The Energy Star logo is essentially the EPA’s seal of approval. Unlike seals from other testing organizations such as NSF and Underwriters Laboratories, however, not all reach-ins can carry the Energy Star logo.

“Our goal when developing the specs was to base them on the top 25% of existing models in terms of energy performance,” says Rachel Schmeltz, Energy Star program manager, “while also making sure that the specs don’t favor any one manufacturer or technology.”

Essentially, the EPA set the specs so only the most energy-efficient reach-ins meet Energy Star criteria. Over time, if a majority of manufacturers’ products improve to meet the specs, Energy Star will review the standards and possibly raise the bar as the industry advances.

“If our research shows the specs could be updated because of new technology or a slew of better products on the market, we can reopen the specs,” says Schmeltz. “Our goal is to encourage manufacturers to increase the energy efficiency of their products.” As technology advances allow, Energy Star will consider whether and how to raise the bar for updated Energy Star recertification.

So what does it all mean? Currently, reach-ins labeled with the Energy Star logo cut energy consumption by as much as 46% versus a comparable non-approved model. The EPA estimates that Energy Star-labeled reach-in refrigerators can save you an average of $140 per year in energy costs. (Reach-in freezers earning the label save an average of $100 per year.) Industry-wide, that amounts to savings of about $250 million.

Just as impressive, replacing all existing reach-ins—refrigerators and freezers—in the United States with Energy Star models would eliminate as much pollution as taking 475,000 cars off the road, the agency estimates.

Mix ’N Match Improvements
Some of the models now wearing the Star were in the first graduating class, earning it by already being in the top 25% in energy efficiency when the criteria were set. Others had to go back for modifications to pass the test, which is based on ASHRAE 117 standards and essentially is the same test used by the California Energy Commission to measure energy efficiency for its state rankings. Energy Star even prompted one manufacturer to make wholesale changes to one of its lines. The redesign resulted in a 50% increase in efficiency.

What makes one box more energy efficient than another, though, varies case by case. No silver bullet. No one-size-fits-all magic formula. Some makers tout thicker insulation, while others point to a larger evaporator coil or a more powerful compressor that doesn’t need to run as often. More often, though, it’s a combination of factors that contribute to increases in overall efficiency. As in any other piece of refrigeration, it’s the combination that determines how some Energy Star models continue to turn in strong performance even under grueling conditions, while others might be even more frugal with energy but are targeted at more moderate applications. The point, though, is that for any given performance spec, the Energy Star models turn in energy advantages over non-Star versions.

“There’s a four-to-one range in energy consumption within any given level of reach-ins,” says Don Fisher, manager of the Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif. “Nobody’s done [independent] studies [on reach-ins], so we don’t know specifically what contributes to what increase in energy efficiency.”

Wearin’ The Star
Consulting firm Arthur D. Little took a stab at it in a ’96 study for the Department of Energy. The report estimated the energy savings potential of new technologies for reach-ins, including improved and thicker insulation; ECM rather than PSC fan motors on evaporators, condensers and compressors; high-efficiency fan blades; hot gas condensate evaporators and various combinations.

Reach-ins approved to carry the Energy Star logo are listed on the Energy Star Web site, (www.energystar.gov/products). Even better, Energy Star lists basic specs and the daily energy consumption of each one, so you can compare energy efficiency of comparable models.

Here’s a look at typical reach-ins—2-section models where certified—that had been Energy Star listed as of December:

Arctic Air The company’s only solid-door reach-in, the 22-cu.-ft. single-door R22CW cabinet, wears the Star. The evaporator and fan motor inside the cabinet are protected by heavy-duty stainless. The company uses an unusual hot wall condenser to dissipate heat, which also serves to keep the cabinet exterior dry. The 1/4-hp bottom-mounted compressor on this single-door is rated to push 780 Btu/hr. at 90F ambient air (see sidebar discussion of such measurements, page 32). The box consumes 1.3 kWh/day. Refrigerant is R-134a. The unit averages 21/2” of insulation and just switched to a new blown-in foam in January.

The company proudly claims “you can have it in any color, as long as it’s white,” meaning no options on exterior or interior finish. Both finishes are white, poly-coated steel. While efficient, the box is designed for storage in back-line and low traffic applications, as opposed to quick-recovery scenarios. The company’s freezer version also earns the Star.

Continental Refrigerator Several of Continental’s 1-, 2- and 3-door refrigerators in both the Value line and Designer line now wear the Star. The up-spec Designer line’s DL2R is a 50-cu.-ft. two-door powered by an air-cooled, hermetically sealed 1/3-hp compressor. The system is rated at 2,560 Btu/hr. at 90F. A capillary tube meters R-134a refrigerant, while foamed-in-place polyurethane insulation averages 3” for increased efficiency. The Designer line features an automatic hot gas condensate evaporator. (Value line goes with electric.) A non-conductive thermal breaker strip conceals a low-watt electric anti-sweat door heater and can be easily removed. You can order a stainless front and aluminum ends and interior, or you can go all stainless. Energy consumption is rated at 4.76 kWh/day. Freezer models also earn an Energy Star listing.

Delfield Co./Enodis The entire Vantage 6000 line now carries the Energy Star label. A typical two-door like the VRR2-SH has a bottom-mounted, slide-out refrigeration system using an oversized evaporator coil. A 1/4-hp compressor rates 2,898 Btu/hr. at 100F, while a cap tube meters R-404a refrigerant. The 45.7-cu.-ft. interior cabinet has a one-piece ABS liner that is not thermally conductive, meaning it’s not absorbing any heat from the surrounding atmosphere while your system’s working to pump it out. The liner has 13 pre-molded shelf supports instead of pilaster clips. All sides of the cabinet get high-efficiency BASF foam, insulating the mechanics as well as the box, making it quieter. Low-wattage anti-sweat heater wires can be switched to energy-saving mode in low-humidity environments, turning on only when the compressor is running. A “tri-seal” gasket offers an extra thermal break between the gasket’s magnetic strip and the cabinet. Exterior thermometer is analog. Daily energy consumption is 2.45 kWh. A wide range of Delfield freezers win the Star, too.

McCall Refrigeration/Manitowoc McCall has qualified a bunch of models in all kinds of sizes and material combinations. The two-door reach-ins give you a choice of configurations ranging from aluminum exterior and interior with stainless front and doors to all-stainless. Capacity is 48.5 cu. ft. Powered by a 1/3-hp compressor, the top-mounted system rates 2,610 Btu/hr. at 90°F. An expansion valve does the metering, and R-134a does the cooling. Airflow is through a gradient air displacement pro-cess. A hot gas condensate evaporator removes moisture from the cabinet. Shelves are adjustable on 1” centered stainless pilasters. Doors have low-wattage anti-sweat heaters. Ex-terior thermometer is digital. Energy Star rates daily electrical consumption at 6.67 kWh. A ton of freezers, too, have been certified.

Nor-Lake The Nova line features stainless front, sides and doors, galvanized steel top, bottom and back, and aluminum interior. The 48.8-cu.-ft. box in the two-door version has a top-mounted, 1/2-hp compressor rated to pump out a hefty 3,840 Btu/hr. at 90°F. Cooling from a copper tube, aluminum fin evaporator coil is through interior ducted air distribution. An expansion valve meters R-22 refrigerant to respond to varying load conditions. A condensate evaporator is electric, as are anti-sweat heaters in the doors. The latter have an energy-saving mode. Digital exterior thermometer is standard. Stainless handles run the length of the doors, an unusual feature. There are options galore, including alarm systems, remote refrigeration and a temperature recorder. Energy consumption is rated at 4.2 kWh/day.

Randell Mfg./Dover Industries
Just added to the Energy Star approved list is Randell’s Series 2000 reach-in refrigerators and freezers, including 1-, 2- and 3-section refrigerators. With a 47-cu.-ft. capacity, the 2-section is constructed with galvanized steel top, bottom and back and stainless front and doors in two configurations: a base model with anodized aluminum sides and interior or all-stainless interior and sides. A top-mounted 1/3-hp compressor rated at 2,300 Btu/hr. at 90F. ambient drives the whole works. R-134a refrigerant is metered through an expansion valve. Shelving is adjustable in 1” increments on stainless clips. The unit also features a hot gas condensate evaporator and exterior thermometer. A single-section freezer also wears the star.

Traulsen & Co.
Now that Hobart has left refrigeration, corporate sibling Traulsen does all the cooling and freezing. Its G-Express line’s base box starts you with an anodized aluminum interior and sides with stainless front and doors. The 46.0-cu.-ft. two-door runs on a top-mounted 1/3-hp compressor rated at 2,220 Btu/hr. at 90°F. Airflow is through a scroll blower that pulls air across the entire evaporator coil and moves it down and across the cabinet. Anti-sweat door heaters can be switched off to save energy where conditions permit. Microprocessor controls offer reliability and accurate temperature control. Shelves are adjustable on a special stud system. Refrigerant is R-134a. A full range of options is available. Energy usage is 5.77 kWh/day. Numerous freezers, too, have met the Energy Star criteria.

True Food Service Equipment
True’s Energy Star solid-door, stainless two-doors have 49 cu. ft. capacity. A bottom-mounted 1/2-hp compressor drives the system. (Citing potential for misinterpretation of isolated data, True wasn’t revealing Btu-rating data.) Like some of the other models mentioned here, True’s uses an oversize 1/2”copper tube evaporator coil to offer more heat-transfer area than typical 3/8” tubing. The 40-pass condenser coil also is larger than most. Generous sizing is meant to ease fast pulldown with a capillary tube metering the R-134a refrigerant. Standard configuration is anodized aluminum ends and interior with stainless front and doors. An all-stainless model is available. Solar digital thermometer comes standard on the stainless model; an analog is standard on the base model. Energy consumption is 6.11 kWh/day. Several freezers, too, get the Energy Star.

Victory Refrigeration All the models in the RA/RSA/RS line, with three levels of features, have passed muster with Energy Star. Two-section cabinets house 46.5 cu. ft. and are powered by a 1/3-hp compressor. Metered by a cap tube, R-134a coolant runs through a system rated at 2,600 Btu/hr. at 100/F. Features include a hot gas condensate evaporator, ABS interior door liners, flush-mounted interior lighting and an energy saver switch. The base RA has a stainless front with aluminum sides and interior and an analog thermometer. Upgrade to the RSA and get stainless exterior sides. The RS gets you stainless interior as well. Both the RS and RSA have digital thermometer with battery back-up. Daily energy rating is 6.12 kWh. A half-dozen freezers also get the Star.

Got questions on Energy Star reach-ins? Any of the companies below should be able to guide you.

Arctic Air
Randell Mfg./Dover Industries
Continental Refrigerator
Traulsen & Co.
Delfield Co./Enodis
True Food Service Equipment
McCall Refrigeration/Manitowoc
Victory Refrigeration

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