Maintenance Tips: Maintaining Your Cool

If you’ve ever had a piece of refrigeration go down, you know it’s no fun. The service call, parts and labor are just the tip of the not-so-iceberg. Lost time, disrupted kitchen access and flow add up. Not to mention lost inventory.

Whether you’re talking about reach-ins, prep tables or undercounters, most refrigeration failures can be traced directly to neglect of routine, minimal attention. “The cause is lack of maintenance, mainly,” says Mitch Byrne, president of Northeast Cooling, headquartered in Round Lake, Ill., in suburban Chicago. Byrne guesstimates “Eighty percent of operators do nothing, no maintenance, ever. Maybe 20% do some, but not enough.” He adds that some operators get routine quarterly maintenance, and those operators have virtually no breakdowns.


Clean Condenser Coils

Most problems are heat related. A dirty condenser coil most often is the root problem. Dust collects on the coil. And usually airborne oil or grease collects too, which makes more dust stick. All that grime builds up as insulation. The condenser can’t eject its heat to the ambient air. The refrigerant gets too hot and starts damaging other components. Compressors and fan motors overheat, the system starts drawing higher amperage and burns the wiring. The refrigerant degrades and leaves a thicker residue that restricts the flow through metering devices, whether capillary tubes or expansion valves. Next thing you know, you have a whole system that needs trouble-shooting and clean-up.

“It’s an expensive repair,” Byrne says. “You have to remove the gas, tear down the system—it’s very costly. It’s four to six hours of labor—a $1,000 to $1,400 repair for a $20 part.”

So keeping condensers clean is key. Once every three months—or maybe every month depending on your kitchen conditions—you should either brush, blow or chemically clean the condenser. Be careful. You don’t want to damage the fins on the coil. If you’re brushing, use a nylon brush, and clean in the direction of the fins. If you prefer blowing, you can get a low-pressure air compressor that will do the job safely with a flexible hose that lets you get into tight spaces. If your condenser tends to gather grease/oil, you might prefer chemical cleaning. If so, use something mild and safe like Simple Green. And however you choose to clean, do it with minimal invasiveness. You don’t want to push grime deeper into the machine. You want to get it out. And consider a lightweight filter cover to keep the grunge off the coil. It’ll be handier than the cleaning. Just make sure it doesn’t restrict too much of the airflow around the coil. Servicers recommend a rating of no more than 10% restriction or so.


Seals, Hardware

Other items needing a touch of maintenance are few, but important. Seals and gaskets pick up dust and dirt, which interfere with the sealing effect and eventually erode the material. Soapy water and a soft touch should be enough here to keep them clean. And check hinges periodically, too—they’re moving parts, they need lubricating, and they can wear and very gradually go out of alignment, compromising the door seal.


An Ounce Of Prevention

As is often the case, an ounce of failure prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you’re choosing refrigeration, all other things being equal, look for components that are easily accessible. Condensers tend to be front-mount, which is good for cleaning access. But look for other components to be accessible too in the context of your kitchen layout. Make sure you leave breathing room around the equipment, Byrne says. Crowding it really makes a noticeable difference in the amount of upkeep the refrigeration equipment will need.

And think about where you’re locating your refrigeration in the kitchen, Byrne says. It has to be handy to workstations, of course, but don’t put it too near heat sources. Keep it away from fryers, wood-burning ovens and workstations that generate airborne debris such as grease, yeast or flour that will coat condenser fins. Byrne also notes that working on a refrigerator in the middle of a hectic kitchen can block busy aisles. He suggests considering wheels where feasible—rolling the disabled unit to an out-of- the-way spot for repair can be helpful.


Eternal Vigilance

One last bit about prevention—refrigeration seldom fails without warning, and a watchful eye can give you plenty of time to catch problems before they’re catastrophic. Check holding temperature as often as possible. A trend to higher temps will be a clue. Shorter shelf life on food, too, can be a clue. Even a degree or two makes a noticeable difference in spoilage. Keep an ear tuned to the compressor, too. If the refrigerator is running longer cycles, or more of them, call a service tech before it gets worse.


PM Contracts

Last, but definitely not least, set up a preventive maintenance contract. “Without a doubt, if a customer does a preventive maintenance contract, that equipment will operate better, last longer and have less down time,” says Wayne Snell, preventive maintenance administrator at Alltemp in Madisonville, La., near New Orleans.


Copyright FER February 2015


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