How Regular Maintenance Can Improve Commercial Refrigeration Energy Efficiency

By | Oct 2023

Cutting Commercial Refrigeration Costs Through Smarter Energy Use

Optimizing commercial refrigeration energy efficiency isn’t a walk in the park.

In fact, when it comes to cutting down energy costs and environmental impact, this is often a leading challenge for businesses of all sizes.

But in an age of shrinking margins, rising costs, and increased attention to the environmental impact of businesses, ignoring the efficiency of your commercial or industrial refrigeration can put the long-term sustainability of your business at risk.

With a structured approach (and the help of professionals experienced in optimizing and maintaining commercial refrigeration equipment), you can improve efficiency and help reduce the impact of those ever-rising power bills on your bottom line and the impact of your business on the environment.

It’s a win for everyone.

In this guide, we’ll explore actionable tips you can use to start optimizing the commercial refrigeration energy efficiency of your business or facility. 

We’ll start with important terms and outline common commercial refrigeration options before looking at big-picture approaches, such as regular maintenance and inspections.

Next, we’ll dig into more specific tips, such as refrigerator positioning and room design.

Finally, we’ll wrap up with some best practices and frequently asked questions.

Let’s get started!

Understanding Commercial Refrigeration Types

Before we get into the specifics, it’s important to clarify exactly what commercial refrigeration is, how it is used, and what industries or businesses might rely on it. 

There are many kinds of commercial refrigeration, but we’ll list the most common types below. 

  • Walk-In Coolers and Freezers: These large refrigerated rooms can be walked into, providing significant storage space for restaurants, supermarkets, warehouses, and food processing plants.
  • Reach-in Refrigerators and Freezers: These are the cases you’ve likely used at nearly any convenience or grocery store in your area. They’re upright units with multiple shelves that are accessed through one or more front doors. Other businesses that use these include cafes, small restaurants, and commercial kitchens.
  • Display Refrigerators: These glass-front units are designed to provide a high-visibility, attractive display for products while maintaining optimal temperatures. Unlike reach-in refrigerators, they’re often not intended for direct public access and feature doors or openings on the business- or worker-facing side. Common places you might find these include grocery stores, bakeries, delis, and beverage shops.
  • Undercounter Refrigerators: Typically used when space is at a premium, these refrigerators fit under countertops providing convenient access and precise thermal control without the larger footprint of walk-in or reach-in models. These are commonly found in bars, coffee shops, food trucks, and small commercial kitchens.
  • Prep Tables and Worktop Refrigerators: These refrigerators combine a work surface with refrigerated storage underneath for ingredients and are often found in pizzerias, sandwich shops, salad bars, and catering services.
  • Bar Refrigerators: These specialized units are often used for dispensing wine coolers or beer and are a fixture in bars, nightclubs, hotels, and upscale restaurants.
  • Blast Chillers: Designed to cool down food to safe storage temperatures rapidly, these chillers help large restaurants, catering companies, and food production facilities preserve food quality.
  • Ice Machines: While not a refrigerator in the same way as many other items on this list, ice machines use many of the same components to provide a steady supply of ice in various forms for hotels, restaurants, healthcare facilities, or sports venues.
  • Merchandising Refrigerators and Freezers: Often designed for a heavily branded presentation, these refrigeration units often have a lot in common with reach-in refrigerators and freezers. However, they often include customized panels to include logos and other attractive elements. You’ll often find them in convenience stores, supermarkets, and specialty food shops.
  • Pharmaceutical Refrigerators: Offering increased precision to ensure the safety of temperature-sensitive medical products, these refrigerators are typically found in pharmacies, hospitals, medical laboratories, and research facilities.
  • Industrial Refrigerators and Freezers: Often designed to the specific needs of a given industry or application, these customized refrigeration solutions can be found in food processing, manufacturing, scientific research, and cold storage facilities.

​Common Sources of Energy Consumption

While models will vary in features and design, most refrigerators function in a similar manner.

As such, many include the same primary sources of energy consumption as well. 

Common components responsible for the most energy consumption on modern commercial refrigerators include:

  • The Compressor: As the heart of the refrigerator system, this is often responsible for the most power consumption (and, therefore, one of the focal points when considering upgrades and overall energy efficiency.)
  • Fan Motors: Most high-efficiency commercial refrigeration systems will use fans to both blow air over cooling coils and help to circulate the cooled air throughout the climate-controlled space.
  • Lights: While not nearly as significant in residential refrigerators, the lights in commercial refrigeration units—especially larger options like walk-in coolers and freezers—can significantly contribute to energy costs.

Of course, other items can also impact how well these core components are able to cool or maintain temperatures, but since they don’t directly consume power, we’ll wait to discuss those in their relevant tips. 

The Significance of Regular Maintenance in Optimizing Energy Efficiency

Maintenance is about more than just keeping your commercial refrigeration system up and running. 

A yearly assessment by a skilled HVAC technician can be the key to enhancing your commercial refrigeration system’s energy efficiency or detecting smaller problems before they become big expenses. 

The time and cost upfront can lead to substantial cost savings long term.

In this section, we’ll look at the benefits of regular maintenance in greater detail.

Manufacturer’s Maintenance Guidelines

If you’re unsure where to start, your manufacturer knows their product best. 

You can often consult the documentation that came with your refrigeration system or reach out to their support team to find out recommended guidelines for maintaining specific parts like evaporator coils or door gaskets. 

Like any piece of commercial equipment, knowing the ideal maintenance schedule and important maintenance milestones can avoid surprises and make sure that no critical elements are overlooked. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) emphasizes adherence to manufacturer recommendations as a significant means of reducing the risk of breakdowns, thereby extending equipment runtime while conserving substantial amounts of energy in the process.

Professional Checks Bring Savings and Peace of Mind

Having a professional HVACR (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration) technician inspect your system annually can help prevent costly repairs and optimize energy efficiency with minimal time or labor cost to your business. 

These experts understand how these systems work inside out and are adept at spotting potential issues before they morph into costly repairs.

​Your yearly maintenance inspection likely takes less time than it would take you to replace the product in your refrigerators should failure occur and can not only prevent major failures in the first place but keep things running at optimal levels between check-ups.

In fact, regular maintenance could easily reduce your energy costs by 10-20%. 

This comes from fine-tuning and cleaning various components, such as condenser coils, fan motors, and thermostats, among others, that directly influence power usage.

This means that your maintenance likely pays for itself in time saved dealing with repairs, lost product due to failed cooling, lost profit due to product integrity, and decreased power bills. 

Scheduled Servicing: A Preventive Approach

Of course, regularly scheduled inspections are likely the minimum recommendation from your provider. 

There is likely a schedule for replacing gaskets and seals, cleaning coils, checking fans, servicing compressors, and much more.

Some maintenance personnel can probably handle the commercial refrigeration basics, but unless you’re an experienced HVACR technician, this means that you’ll need to spend time researching how to perform these tasks or delegate them to staff who could be performing other tasks, without affecting other components of your refrigeration system.. 

This is where scheduled servicing comes in. 

Taking a proactive approach to optimizing your energy efficiency with the help of a trusted service can reduce the time costs, stress, and danger of attempting to perform these tasks yourself.

Being proactive also ensures that any small problems that are slowly eating away at your power bills never become big problems.

​Better still, by working with an experienced, consultative company, they can help assess your needs over time, providing an invaluable source of recommendations for what can be done in-house, what shouldn’t be, and how to build a plan for that.

When it comes time to replace aging equipment, expand your operations, or increase cooling capacity, a third party can provide innovative options and work with your budget.

Door Gaskets: An Often-Overlooked Option to Improve Energy Efficiency

When it comes to energy efficiency, door gaskets are a critical component of commercial refrigeration systems. 

These seemingly insignificant parts play an outsized role in conserving power and preserving the quality of stored products.

How Faulty Gaskets Affect Refrigeration Performance

A compromised or damaged door gasket can cause ambient air to seep into your refrigerator’s interior. 

This forces the compressor to work overtime, leading to increased electricity consumption, escalating operational costs, and product degradation due to frost buildup.

Beyond just being inefficient from an energy perspective, faulty seals can lead to temperature inconsistencies within your fridge unit as well. 

Such fluctuations don’t merely affect food safety standards; they could result in spoilage—costing businesses money due to lost product inventory.

In addition to maintaining door gaskets, exploring door closers is an important opportunity to manage costs and maintain product standards and equipment life. 

Tips for Maintaining Good Quality Seals

To ensure that your commercial refrigerator operates at peak capacity, maintaining high-quality seals should be part of routine maintenance checks—specifically looking out for any cracks or gaps that might compromise their effectiveness over time.

If you notice signs such as hardening or discoloration on the material itself during these inspections, then consider replacing them promptly before more serious problems arise.

Otherwise, consider adding these quick tips to your cleaning and maintenance routines to help prolong the life of your seals and gaskets.

  • Clean your seals regularly with mild soap solutions to help prevent dirt accumulation, which may impair function over time. Take care to avoid harsh chemicals, as these can cause more harm than good by prematurely degrading your seals instead.
  • Lubricate hinges to ensure smooth opening/closing action without exerting undue pressure on seals, thus prolonging their lifespan.
  • Add door closers or automatic doors where able to.
  • Schedule professional check-ups periodically to detect leaks you might not notice during visual inspection.

Optimizing Costs Through Smart Design and Placement

Sometimes, it’s not about how you use or maintain your commercial refrigeration but where you’re using them that can make all the difference. 

If your coolers or freezers cannot effectively dissipate heat or are in areas of increased ambient temperature, they will always use more power—no matter how optimally they’re running or no matter how often you have them serviced.

Let’s look at a couple of key considerations you can make to improve efficiency through room design.

The Influence of Location on Energy Efficiency

Positioning your commercial fridge near heat-emitting or steam-emitting appliances such as ovens, dishwashers, or HVAC ductwork will cause the refrigerator to work harder in order to maintain its temperature. 

These heat- or steam-emitting appliances increase the surrounding ambient temperature, which forces the refrigerator into overdrive for effective cooling.

Conversely, positioning your commercial refrigeration in a cooler area with good ventilation improves performance by reducing strain on its compressor. 

Recent studies suggest that proper placement away from direct sunlight and hot equipment can lead to significant reductions in power usage without you having to lift a finger or spend any additional money.

For larger coolers, such as walk-in coolers and freezers, ensuring that fans and other components are shaded and that the cooler is well insulated can help to optimize performance over a cooler with components that are baking in the hot sun and have thin, poorly insulated walls absorbing heat from outside throughout the day. 

Otherwise, the system needs to be designed to account for the additional heat load.

Ideal Spacing between Appliances

Apart from careful selection of location, ensuring adequate space around your refrigeration system is vital for optimal operation.

Commercial refrigeration requires sufficient airflow over its condenser coils for efficient heat exchange. 

Without this space, they may struggle with overheating issues, leading to increased energy consumption.

The general consensus suggests leaving an air gap around all sides of your appliances. 

However, always refer back to the manufacturer’s instructions, as some models might require different specifications based on design features. 

And don’t forget to consider the top when spacing as well. Models with top-mounted compressors, for example, must have open space above the unit for optimal efficiency.

By giving your appliances a little room to breathe, you can both aid access when you need to clean and reduce energy costs by improving air circulation and cooling. It’s a win-win.

When Upgrading Becomes Necessary

In the realm of commercial refrigeration, energy efficiency is a critical factor. 

While maintenance can play a large role in optimizing costs, sometimes the answer is simply that your equipment is too old and you’d be better served with newer, more sustainable commercial refrigeration options.

This is exacerbated by the fact that aging equipment tends to consume more power than it did when brand new.

Energy-Saving Features Available in Modern Models

One of the simplest ways to check if it might be time to upgrade is to consider the current efficiency of newer refrigeration system models available. 

As technology improves, manufacturers continue to create components and systems with increasing efficiency. 

While the difference of a couple years might not show up immediately on your energy bills, there will come a point where it is cheaper to replace aging equipment than continue to deal with elevated costs and more frequent repairs.

When Is The Right Time for an Upgrade?

Energy efficiency comparisons aside, frequent repairs or inconsistent temperatures may be signs it’s time for your business to consider upgrading its current units. 

While this decision should not be taken lightly, the following three indicators suggest a need for change could save you from unnecessary expenses down the line.

  • If your equipment regularly requires maintenance beyond routine checks due to wear and tear or costs are climbing above and beyond inflation.
  • Your system struggles to maintain consistent internal conditions, risking product safety standards.
  • You’re dealing with exorbitant utility bills attributed primarily to inefficient operation from outdated machinery. You will see the return on investment through energy cost savings and a reduction in product loss and profit loss.

If you’re experiencing any of these, it might then make financial sense to invest in new hardware despite the initial capital outlay involved.

Before embarking on any significant investments, one must undertake thorough research into available options, factoring aspects such as the size and needs of the business alongside the potential return on investment via savings accrued over time through efficient operations. 

You might find that your maintenance company is again a valuable resource, able to make recommendations based on your current uses and needs, provide feedback on units they’re seeing in the field, or let you know about potential changes on the horizon that might warrant waiting for a new model to release.

With today’s focus on sustainable practices across all sectors, including the food service industry, where refrigeration plays a crucial role, making informed decisions regarding appliance upgrades will contribute greatly towards achieving both operational excellence and corporate responsibility goals simultaneously.

Best Practices to Optimize Efficiency During Operational Hours

Of course, sometimes it’s not the refrigerator causing efficiency concerns. 

It’s how you’re using it.

The good news is that with a few simple habits, you can conserve significant amounts of power during business hours and achieve sustainability goals without compromising operations.

1. Proper Door Usage for Temperature Regulation

You might be surprised to learn how much door usage affects temperature regulation in commercial fridges. 

Keeping doors closed whenever possible makes a huge difference by preventing ambient air from entering the fridge and causing unnecessary cooling activity.

Avoid propping open doors for any amount of time, as this leads to continuous loss of cool air, forcing the compressor to work harder than necessary—directly translating into higher electricity bills.

Door closers and door alarms also help temperature regulation.

This isn’t complicated. 

It’s mostly about creating awareness among staff members and implementing effective employee training about these small but impactful practices.

2. Maintain Optimal Product Load & Airflow Balance

Maintaining an optimal product load within cabinets is another practice that helps save energy while ensuring effective operation.

Filling up every inch may seem like an efficient use of space, but overloading actually strains the cooling system and hampers airflow around products, leading to uneven temperatures inside – risking food spoilage.

To strike a balance between inventory needs and refrigerator performance, consider regular stock rotation or implementing first-in-first-out (FIFO) systems where older stock gets used before newer arrivals—thus avoiding overcrowding issues effectively along with maintaining quality standards.

You should also pay attention to and maintain max fill lines recommended by the manufacturer.

That said, having too large of a refrigerator for your needs can often mean cooling empty space—a waste no matter how efficient your equipment might be. 

So if you’re frequently facing the opposite problem, you might consider how downsizing might improve your efficiency if you’re not expecting to grow into the capacity of your equipment.

3. Power Saving Tools: Night Curtains & Motion Sensors

Night curtains are excellent tools for conserving power on open-case coolers found in grocery stores or delis, especially during low-traffic periods such as overnight times when constant display lighting isn’t required.

In addition, motion sensors installed on door units ensure lights turn off automatically when no one’s using them, further aiding conservation efforts without compromising functionality.

All these measures combined play a vital role in promoting the efficient use of commercial refrigerators during operational hours, contributing towards greener operations without sacrificing performance quality standards.

FAQs Related to Commercial Refrigeration Energy Efficiency

Are new commercial refrigeration systems energy efficient?

Yes, modern commercial refrigeration systems are designed with energy efficiency in mind. However, their actual performance can be influenced by factors such as maintenance, location, and usage habits.

How efficient are commercial refrigerators?

The efficiency of a commercial refrigerator varies based on its model and age. Newer models tend to have more advanced features that promote energy conservation.

What are the key factors that influence commercial refrigeration energy efficiency?

The key factors include the type and size of the refrigerator, temperature settings, insulation quality, door opening frequency, maintenance practices, lighting, defrost cycles, and integration with other building systems. Understanding these factors can guide energy-saving strategies and practices.

How can regular maintenance improve energy efficiency?

Regular maintenance, such as cleaning cooling coils and checking door seals, ensures the refrigerator operates at peak efficiency. Poor maintenance can lead to increased energy consumption due to reduced cooling efficiency and the need for the system to work harder. 

A trained technician will help you improve or maintain the efficiency of your commercial refrigeration systems by:

  • Checking for cleanliness for heat exchangers to minimize energy consumption
  • Optimizing defrosts to reduce temperature peaks by terminating frequency and duration.
  • Eliminating excessive defrost times to greatly improve food product quality and product shelf-life
  • Checking for adequate airflow for refrigerated cases, maximizing proper air circulation by identifying failed fan motors in cases and confirming the manufacturers’ optimum design air flow velocity.
  • Checking for optimal refrigeration equipment control strategy.
  • Checking for proper glass door closure on all refrigerated cases 
  • Checking for proper food product loading in retail refrigerated cases and backroom walk-in boxes and confirming proper air circulation for product integrity and shelf-life.
  • Checking for proper door closure on all walk-in coolers or freezers, including gaskets and adjustments to any door closure hardware required.

How Can I Assess the Current Energy Efficiency of My Commercial Refrigeration System?

Conducting an energy audit and benchmarking against industry standards or similar businesses can assess current energy efficiency. Energy audits identify areas for improvement, while benchmarking provides a comparative analysis of energy performance. Unsure where to start? We’d love to help! 

How Can Employee Training Contribute to Energy Efficiency?

Training staff in energy-efficient practices, such as proper loading, temperature management or controls, and maintenance, fosters a culture of energy conservation. Educated employees can actively contribute to energy-saving efforts, enhancing overall efficiency.

Can Retrofitting Improve the Energy Efficiency of Older Commercial Refrigeration Systems?

Retrofitting involves upgrading existing equipment with modern, energy-efficient components. This can significantly improve energy efficiency, especially in older units that may not meet current energy performance standards. 

However, it’s often something that can only be performed by qualified professionals. Failure to plan and implement retrofitted components properly can lead to damaged equipment, lost products, and even total failure of refrigerators or freezers.


Operating and maintaining commercial refrigeration efficiently takes diligence, but the payoff in sustainability and cost savings is immense. 

Don’t let the complexity dissuade you from pursuing energy efficiency. 

With a proactive approach and the right guidance, your business can achieve real reductions in energy use and environmental impact.

The team at Gateway Mechanical Services has the expertise to assess your equipment, identify efficiency opportunities, and provide maintenance and upgrades tailored to meet your goals. 

a gateway mechanical service van on road

We’re invested in helping businesses throughout Western Canada maximize commercial refrigeration systems efficiency while minimizing costs and downtime.

Our experienced technicians can consult on everything from maintenance best practices to when equipment replacement makes sense. We offer thorough assessments, scheduled preventive maintenance, 24/7 emergency repair services, and will work hand-in-hand with you to optimize your refrigeration system.

If you need assistance developing an energy efficiency plan, have questions about maintenance, or want to discuss equipment upgrades or retrofits, contact Gateway Mechanical Services today. 

We’re here to help you reduce your environmental footprint and utility expenses through smarter commercial refrigeration management. Call us now to get started.