PROVEN: Air Curtains Improve Walk-In Cooler Efficiency

Green experts’ claims that air curtains installed on walk-in cooler entrances save significant energy and refrigeration equipment wear-and-tear is now proven as correct by a fast food restaurant franchisee’s recent in-house energy test.

Donoghue & Pivirotto Enterprises Inc., Wexford, Pa., which operates four Arby’s stores, performed a two-week audited test on a 10 x 12-foot walk-in cooler at its 3,300-square-foot Arby’s in Butler, Pa. After outfitting the walk-in cooler entrance with an air curtain, the results state the refrigeration circuit’s compressor ran 1.75- hours less during one week–a 27-percent reduction in compressor run-time and equipment wear-and-tear. The improvement results in nearly 100 fewer operating hours per year for an estimated annual savings of $447 and a 1.6-year payback on a walk-in cooler entrance air curtain.

Aside from operational savings, the test results are important for restaurateurs, foodservice operations, and food retailers faced with the new Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) (Section 312) compliance. The code mandates air infiltration reduction methods, such as strip curtains, spring-hinged swinging vinyl doors or other options, for all walk-in coolers manufactured after Jan. 1, 2009, but doesn’t specify which is the most efficient. Air curtains undoubtedly require less maintenance, have longer lifespans, and are safer for employee passage than the alternatives. Now, the Arby’s test proves the assumed energy efficiency of air curtains.

“We’re one of Arby’s higher volume stores, and we’ve now proven that installing an air curtain on a walk-in cooler reduces energy and wear-and-tear. Larger, higher volume restaurants, especially those with the newer design trend of freezer-cooler combinations that result in double the weekly door cycles, would no doubt save more than 27-percent using this technology approach.”

— Doug Cygan, vice president of operations, Donoghue & Pivirotto Enterprises

Cygan is a 10-year refrigeration industry veteran who has an HVAC/R vocational technology degree and also operates a mechanical contracting company, ICA Mechanical LLC, Butler, Pa.

Berner Sanitation Certified Low Profile 7 Air Curtain over walk-in cooler door.

Sanitation Certified Low Profile 7 on Walk-In Cooler

Other options Cygan considered were strip curtains and hinged vinyl doors, neither which seal a doorway as well as air curtains and both impede employee ingress. “They’re instructed not to, but employees eventually tie the strip curtains out of the way to a piece of conduit because they’re impeding and not very user-friendly,” said Cygan.

The test compared one week of unaltered operational statistics of a 26-year-old, two-ton walk-in cooler manufactured by Kolpak, Manitowoc, Wis., to another week’s results after installing a Sanitation Certified Low Profile 7 air curtain by Berner International.

The test recorded five variables:

  • temperatures in the back interior;
  • temperatures at the door entrance; 
  • kitchen temperature
  • amp draw of the compressor
  • amp draw of the air curtain.

Now that air curtains are proven to improve walk-in cooler efficiencies, Cygan plans a walk-in cooler efficiency kit to be installed at another Donoghue & Pivirotto high volume store. Cygan also expects word about walk-in cooler air curtains to spread throughout the chain when Arby’s corporate Franchise Business Manager makes an expected stop in Butler this year.