There is nothing glamorous about big empty rooms that hold produce at low temperatures but if the specification is spot on then coldrooms will do exactly as they say on the tin and prove an invaluable asset to a busy kitchen. FEJ persuaded some of the top experts in the refrigeration industry to share their top tips for coldroom jubilation.
1) Be clear what you want it for
Before you even think about engaging in discussions with the supplier, be very clear about the role of the coldroom within your business and how it will contribute to day-to-day operations. “Investing a little time in this exercise will help to bring clarity to the specification of the coldroom and also highlight the questions that operators should be asking of potential suppliers,” says Bob Littler, sales development manager at Porkka. When the time does come to open dialogue with suppliers, don’t be afraid of bombarding them with questions. “If the supplier can’t answer them to your satisfaction, talk to someone else,” advises Littler.
2) Align the specification with your operational requirements
A primary consideration for every commercial coldroom purchase is making sure it is fully aligned with your operational requirements. “It is also important that buyers understand how and what the space is to be used for,” says Brian McDermott, director of Foster Coldstores. “Getting this right is key to buying efficiently, and will ensure the coldroom is used to its full potential. Maximising space will save money in the long term.”
Establish a clear line of communication with the supplier and make sure they take the time to understand the brief. Comments Porkka’s Littler: “It is also important that the supplier communicates the design concept clearly to the customer, and how the project will be delivered through to final commissioning. The ideal end-result is that that both parties fully understand what is required, how those requirements will be met and what the end-result will be.”
When it comes to designing or planning a coldroom, the most important things to consider are application, space and capacity. Malcolm Harling, sales and marketing director at Williams Refrigeration, says that as well as thinking about the quantity, duration and volume of food that needs to be stored, consider how your requirements for chilled and frozen storage might vary throughout the year. “It helps to choose a manufacturer who can fully project-manage the installation including the initial site survey, detailed approval drawings, risk and method statements, installation, testing and commissioning,” he says.
Ultimately, space and location will have a major bearing on specification. “Not all premises lend themselves to accommodate a standard coldroom and not all have the space within the kitchen, so we are seeing an increase in exterior coldrooms located in back yards or near loading bays. There is also a current trend towards coldrooms being moved to the front of house, thus becoming an integral part of the dining experience with large viewing windows so diners can see what produce is on offer, such as meat, cured fish or drinks.”
Irrespective of location, coldroom success boils down to ensuring the small details are covered, says Steve Steadman, sales and marketing director at Viessmann Refrigeration Systems. “A coldroom needs planning with door location in relationship to the preparation or cooking area — whether the door needs to be left- or right-hand hung, and in tight locations a sliding door can be considered. The second important consideration is to plan the internal shelving to maximise storage.”
There is a huge misconception that a commercial coldroom is just a white box and therefore it doesn’t matter what you spend on it as essentially they are all the same, and to that end many people aren’t spending enough on units”
4) Don’t assume all coldrooms are equal
The notion that all coldrooms are equal in terms of quality and performance is a fallacy the industry continues to suffer, according to leading suppliers. “There is a huge misconception that a coldroom is just a white box and therefore it doesn’t matter what you spend on it as essentially they are all the same, and to that end many people aren’t spending enough on units,” argues Steve Prior, director of Cold Store Rentals. “While it is true that a coldroom is a white box, it features other elements which should not be overlooked. A good cold store has a cam lock, has antibacterial powder coating for hygienic reasons and 25-year longevity. Other cheaper options will only last around five years.”
Porkka’s Bob Littler agrees, pointing out that buying cheap isn’t always a sensible idea. “Cheapness is usually achieved by missing things out so when customers encounter a cheap cold room the first question they should be asking is, ‘what’s missing?’” Small things can make a big difference. A door on a coldroom that isn’t counter-balanced will prevent food being maintained at the right temperature when the door is inevitably left open; similarly a cheap product is unlikely to have vital audible and visual temperature alarms fitted as standard and probably won’t provide the same energy efficiency as a better engineered product.
5) Size isn’t everything
It might sound an unusual thing to say, but size isn’t everything where coldrooms are concerned. While the obvious conclusion to draw might be that the taller and bigger the coldroom, the more you can store, it doesn’t always work out that way. “It is a typical misconception given that without effectively-designed shelving systems a significant portion of the room can be given up as wasted space,” says James Connolly, business development manager at Celltherm Coldrooms. Connolly adds that another false assumption is that all coldrooms must have a fire rating for building regulations. “The majority of coldrooms don’t need a fire rating unless the coldroom is a major storage area where operatives are working inside or where the room forms part of the building structure, such as bulk pallet stores — or where rooms take up a larger portion of the exterior building. Standard modular rooms are considered much like cabinets or pieces of kitchen furniture.”
6) Never under-estimate the importance of scalability
It is all well and good specifying a coldroom that takes care of your immediate storage needs, but it is important to bear in mind your medium and long-term requirements at the same time. Keep in mind how your sites or business requirements might evolve in the future. “If a company already has a solution in place, we urge the decision-makers to ask themselves if their coldroom can be extended, or to find out if the system is suitably sized to cope with current and future product load,” says Prior at Cold Store Rentals. “It is important to understand where the business is going before launching into a cold store that will only satisfy their needs in the short term.” McDermott at Foster Coldstores adds: “Ensuring the measurements and sizes are right is a very important factor when planning to install a coldroom — increasing the size at a later date can be very costly and wasteful.”
Buying a coldroom is a bit like buying a new car. Seeing it all gleaming and polished on the forecourt isn’t really going to give you an idea of just how well it will run over the long term. “Never look at a new coldroom, always look at an old one — at least seven to 10-years-old,” advises Celltherm’s James Connolly. “New ones look nice and shiny. Older ones tell you how long that brand is likely to last under use. Always consider a fully camlocked modular panelled coldroom over and above a ‘cut and carved’ unit. They are better made, more structurally sound and will stop water ingress from degrading the panels a lot longer.”
Never look at a new coldroom. New ones look nice and shiny. Older ones tell you how long that brand is really likely to last under use”
8) Weigh up the interior features
Shelving layout and insulation are important factors when comparing the different options on offer. “The majority of manufacturers buy standard modular shelving which rarely fills the entire coldroom (wall to wall) and leaves large gaps,” claims Celltherm’s James Connolly. “This wastes internal space, which tends to be at a premium in a coldroom. We have developed a Coolrack shelving system, which is designed to match our modular sizes and there is little, if none, wasted space within the interior of the coldroom.” Insulation thickness, meanwhile, directly governs the size of the refrigeration equipment that’s needed to keep the temperature of the coldroom correct. “The thicker the insulation, the smaller the refrigeration system, and the inevitable lower running costs that go with it,” he adds.
9) Examine the running costs
Historically, one of the big mistakes that operators have made is failing to assess the running costs of coldrooms. Awareness of this is far greater now, but it is always worth remembering that it should be one of the main factors in any decision, says Foster Coldstore’s McDermott. “Some lower-cost coldrooms can end up costing end-users thousands of pounds more in running costs,” he says, adding that rising energy prices are prompting operators to explore the month-on-month savings that can be made. “Foster’s research and development has been focused on lowering these running costs, with our newest product, the Ultra, saving customers 30%-plus on running costs per annum. That in turn can save the client several thousands of pounds over the lifetime of the product.” McDermott notes that insulation thickness, the type of condenser and how it is controlled, and even low-energy motors within the evaporators can all reduce power usage.
10) Assess the service and support package on offer
It is vital that your supplier provides you with a high level of service long after the product has been installed. You need to know that if anything does go wrong, you’ll be able to call on support at any time of day or night. “Operators need absolute trust not only in the engineers who install their unit, but also in the team that will look after it for years to come,” concludes Prior at Cold Store Rentals.