Restaurants spend anywhere from 3 to 10% of their total operating expense on energy.
Restaurants and commercial kitchens can dramatically reduce their energy consumption, and help the environment, by making good equipment choices and by following a few best practices. While Energy Star certified foodservice equipment can save operators 15 to 30% on energy costs, other common-sense products and procedures can significantly help as well. A Kitchen Spot Expert can help direct your energy saving efforts.
Energy Star For Commercial Kitchens
Any conversation about energy savings in the commercial foodservice industry should probably begin with Energy Star. Energy Star is a program run by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. It promotes energy efficiency. Energy Star certified commercial kitchen equipment has been tested and met certain standards for energy savings. Through the Energy Star program, operators may qualify for tax credits. Additionally, local utility companies often provide rebates to customers who purchase Energy Star certified equipment. A Kitchen Spot Expert can help you determine what incentives are available in your municipality.
Energy Star sets standards for the following equipment categories. (All cost savings estimates are based on 2021 average utility rates for commercial foodservice operations in the U.S.A.)
- Refrigeration & Freezers – On average, Energy Star certified refrigerators and freezers are 20% more efficient than standard models. Eligible products include both solid and glass door models. According to Energy Star, a qualifying glass door freezer, for example, can save operators $100 annually, and nearly $1000 over the life of the unit.
- Ice-Makers – Energy Star certified ice makers are about 10% more energy efficient (and 20% more water efficient) than standard models. Eligible products include air cooled batch type and continuous type ice makers, ice heads, self-contained units, and remote condensing units. According to Energy Star, a qualifying continuous type ice maker can save a business $145 annually, or about $1260 over the life of the unit.
- Dishmachines – Energy Star certified dishmachines are about 40% more energy efficient (and 50% more water efficient) than standard models. Eligible products include both high and low temperature stationary rack machines and conveyor type machines. According to Energy Star, a qualifying dishmachine can save a business on average about $1500 annually, or about $19,000 over the life of the unit.
Ovens – Energy Star certified ovens are about 20% more energy efficient than standard models. Eligible products include gas or electric convection ovens, combi ovens, and gas rack ovens. According to Energy Star, a qualifying electric convection oven, for example, can save a business $680 annually, and $7,450 over the life of the unit.
- Griddles – Energy Star certified griddles are 10 to 11% more energy efficient than standard models. Eligible products include single and double sided gas and electric griddles. According to Energy Star, a qualifying electric griddle can save a business $135 annually, or about $1380 over the life of the unit.
- Fryers – Energy Star certified electric fryers are about 14% more energy efficient, and gas fryers are about 30% more efficient than standard models. Eligible products include gas and electric open vat countertop and floor model fryers. According to Energy Star, a qualified gas vat fryer can save $410 annually, or about $4,500 over the life of the unit. Check out our buying guide on Commercial Deep Fryers here.
- Steam Cookers – Energy Star certified steamers are about 60% more energy efficient (and 90% more water efficient) than standard models. Eligible products include gas and electric steam cookers including countertop, wall-mounted, floor-model, pedestal type, and cabinet style models. According to Energy Star, a qualified steam cooker can save a business $1000 annually, or about $12,000 over the life of the unit.
- Hot Holding Cabinets – Energy Star certified hot holding cabinets are about 70% more energy efficient than standard models. Eligible products include glass or solid door cabinets. According to Energy Star, a qualified hot holding cabinet can save a business $325 annually, or about $3,000 over the life of the unit.
- Coffee Makers – Energy Star certified coffee makers are about 35% more energy efficient than standard models. Eligible products include large, medium, and small batch type commercial coffee brewers. According to Energy Star, a qualified coffee maker can save a business $35 annually, or about $300 over the life of the unit.
Of course actual savings depends on local utility rates, how much the equipment is used, and how well it is maintained, but the average savings for a commercial kitchen using just one unit from each of the categories above would be $4,300 annually, or about $50,000 over the life of the units. Kitchens requiring multiple units from different categories, such as refrigeration equipment, ovens, fryers, and hot holding cabinets, for example, could save significantly more. And these estimates are in addition to tax credits and rebates that may apply.
Gas versus Electric Commercial Cooking
Sources differ on whether gas or electric is more energy efficient. Ultimately, it depends on how “efficiency” is being measured. It may also depend on who manufactured the equipment in question, and how much efficiency was built into the original design.
It’s often argued that gas is more efficient because it uses 1/3 as much energy to produce the same amount of BTUs (British Thermal Units). However, proponents of electricity point out that gas burners send as much as 60% of their BTUs out into the kitchen or up the flu. Electric ranges don’t lose as much energy to the environment and transfer as much as 74% of their BTUs directly into the food.
As the debate continues, most operators rely on other factors to decide between gas and electric, such as:
- The availability of natural gas (it may not be available in some areas)
- Purchase price (gas equipment is usually priced a little higher)
- Local gas and electric prices (utility costs vary by region)
- Installation costs (whether gas lines or electrical connections need to be installed)
- Need for a hood (some electrical equipment can be operated without a hood)
- Chef’s preference (chef’s tend to prefer gas for speed and visual adjustments)
Whichever you choose, selecting Energy Star certified equipment will mean you’re saving more energy than you would using standard units.
UL Listed Ventilation Hoods
Hoods are not certified by Energy Star. An independent agency known as Underwriters Laboratories tests foodservice equipment, including ventilation hoods for safety, sanitation, durability, performance, quality, and more.
Almost every foodservice operation has a ventilation hood, and hoods represent a significant source of energy usage. Ventilation hoods use large fans to draw excess heat, smoke, steam, odors, and flu gasses out of the kitchen. They also draw cool air out of a kitchen, and depending on ambient temperatures and the source of make-up air, they can put a significant strain on HVAC systems to maintain indoor temperatures.
Hoods listed by UL typically require lower exhaust flows than unlisted hoods. That means less energy is required operate the ventilation hood and HVAC systems. Manufacturers such as CaptiveAire and Accurex manufacture UL approved hoods.
Other Energy Savings Commercial Kitchen Products
Several other products can help you save energy in your foodservice facility.
Strip Curtains – Strip curtains are flat strips of clear polymer commonly hung at the entryway of walk-in refrigerators, freezers, and loading dock doorways. They are lightweight and easily pushed aside for ingress and egress. They can also be hung from grab-and-go merchandisers in retail areas. They help keep heat (and insects) out while keeping cool air in. Individual strips can become cracked or broken and require periodic replacement to function properly. AllPoints offer a wide variety of strip curtains.
Strip Doors serve the same purpose. They are typically lightweight clear polymer double doors on spring hinges that can easily be pushed open, and swing shut automatically.
- Energy Efficient Lighting – CFL or LED light bulbs use between 70 and 90% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs. They are also designed to last longer than incandescent bulbs. In addition to ample lighting for kitchens and front-of-the-house applications, many retail merchandisers are now being designed with built-in LED lighting for increased energy savings.
- Induction Cooktops – Induction cooktops are very energy efficient. Unlike gas and electric, induction cooking does not rely on burners to generate BTUs. Instead, an induction unit creates an electromagnetic field around an induction-ready cooking pot or pan. The electromagnetic field heats up the pot, rather than a burner, and about 90% of that heat is transferred directly into the food. They are clean, fast, easy to control, and less dangerous because there is no open flame or red-hot electric burner. Currently, cooktops are available with induction technology from manufacturers such as Garland, Globe, Hatco, Nemco, Tablecraft, Waring, and Vollrath.
Maintaining Commercial Cooking Equipment
A few best practices help keep kitchen equipment running efficiently. Equipment that is in disrepair uses more energy than necessary and some maintenance requirements are simple and inexpensive.
- Keep Equipment Clean – In general, equipment that is well maintained and regularly cleaned, works more efficiently and uses less energy. Burners, grates, and flattops can become caked with grease and carbon deposits. This reduces their ability to conduct heat efficiently. Clean them daily, and boil out deep fryers weekly. Moving parts such as conveyors, rotisseries, and fan blades draw more electricity when soiled or caked with grease and debris. Clean them regularly.
- Door Gaskets – Refrigerators, ovens, walk-ins, steamers, hot holding cabinets…anything that has a door, and is designed to keep heat in or keep heat out, likely has a door gasket. Door gaskets can become soiled, cracked, split, or torn. Clean and check door gaskets on all equipment regularly.
- Other Gaskets and Seals – Many types of kitchen equipment feature gaskets and seals, usually at points where water lines, gas lines, exhaust pipes, and drain lines connect. Check gaskets and seals. Look for cracks and replace them as needed or every three to five years. A service technician should replace them as part of a regularly scheduled maintenance call.
- Clean & Replace Filters – Whether talking about hood filters, water filters, air filters or oil filters, when filters become clogged, they cause pumps and fans to work harder and use more electricity. Clean or replace filters regularly.
- Clean Condenser Coils – All refrigeration units, coolers, and ice machines have evaporator coils. Cooling units become inefficient when evaporator coils are clogged with grease, dust, or food particles. Clean them at least every three months using a firm brush to remove heavy soil, and use a vacuum or compressed air to clean away loose dust and debris. Be careful not to bend or dent the fins.
- Turn Equipment Off – Too often, commercial kitchen equipment is turned on first thing in the morning, and left on until closing. Ventilation hoods, griddles, ovens, and fryers are common culprits. Some manufacturers have designed advanced features that put equipment in “idle” when not in use, but for most operators, this is an issue of employee training. A significant amount of energy can be conserved if employees are trained to turn equipment off when not in use.
Restaurants and commercial kitchens use a lot more energy than other commercial businesses. It makes sense to cut costs and help the environment by cutting back. Begin by choosing new and replacement equipment that has been certified by Energy Star, or listed by UL for energy savings. Keep equipment in good and efficient working order, and add efficient products whenever available. Contact a Kitchen Spot Expert for advice, information and updates about energy savings products and procedures, or if you would like to hire a professional for maintenance, cleaning, service, or repairs.