Quick-and-Easy Tips for Saving Energy, Water & Money in Your Commercial Kitchen

Do you know how much energy your kitchen is using? Do you know where to look and what to do to cut energy waste?

The Food Service Technology Center’s Todd Bell shared his Top 10 Tips for Energy & Water Savings in Commercial Foodservice seminar last month, focusing on low-cost and no-cost actions that don’t require a professional to implement. By following these tips, you can take control of your own restaurant and start saving on your utility bill right NOW!

1. Conduct an Electric Rate Analysis

PG&E offers several different rate plans. Check to make sure you’re on the right one—if you aren’t, it could be costing you extra dollars. For non-PG&E customers, contact your local utility for information on their specific rate plans and online energy tracking systems.

For PG&E customers, go online to PG&E’s MyEnergy (an excellent resource for managers to track energy usage over time online), then to My Rates. Here you’ll see the estimated cost of each plan they offer calculated from your actual energy use.


But it doesn’t end with choosing the right plan – check your usage regularly to spot anomalies. You might find a leak, or something left on when it should be turned off. You can even overlay weather data to see if your usage is due to heating or air conditioning. The better you know your usage, the easier it is to manage.

2. Tune up the Water Heating System – Calibrate, Insulate, Regulate, Activate!

Water heating is a big energy consumer – nearly one fifth of the average restaurant utility bill. For many, it’s consumption could be lowered with little effort. Ensure you’re not wasting energy and money by following these steps:

a. Calibrate – Set Water Heater to Proper Temperature
First find out the delivery water temperature you need, usually dictated by the dish machine. Then set the thermostat – the below pictures show where it is on a gas (left) and electric (right) water heater. Finally, use a thermometer to verify the delivery temperature at a dishwashing sink. Some heat will be lost as it travels through the pipes, so you may have to adjust the water heater once more.


b. Insulate – Install Hot Water Line Insulation
If you don’t insulate, you could be throwing away hundreds of dollars per year. Insulation is cheap and rebated at $2 per linear foot. It is also easy to install, especially for exposed pipes (but every bit helps!). For best results, use 1-inch professional quality foam insulation.

c. Regulate – Turn Off Hot Water Line Recirculation Pump During Non-Service Hours
recircThe job of a recirculation pump (pictured on the right) is to keep hot water flowing in the pipes when it otherwise wouldn’t, so you don’t have to wait long for hot water at the tap. The downside is that there is some heat/energy loss as the water moves through the piping. So as long as it is moving water, it is losing heat. And as long as it is losing heat, the water heater is powering on to provide more heat. This is why turning the pump off when closed will save energy.

If you’re worried about adding one more thing to the daily to-do list, don’t; time clocks are affordable and can do it for you with a quick setting – potentially saving you hundreds of dollars per year. Set it and forget it!

d. Activate – Turn On the Automated Flue Damper
If you have a gas heater with an automatic flue damper – turn it on! Otherwise some of the heat that you just paid to generate is escaping right out the flue. It’s easy to do… just turn the switch to the automatic setting.


3. Install High-Pressure, Low-Volume Pre-Rinse Spray Valves


The difference between a low-flow and a high-flow sprayer can amount to thousands of dollars in combined annual energy, water, and sewer costs – which you can see for yourself in our easy to use online calculator. Any newly purchased sprayer will be rated at most 1.6 gpm (gallons per minute) due to federal regulations, but old ones could operate as high as 5 gpm. And age isn’t the only concern: water quality, wear-and-tear, and user treatment will often lead to higher – and messier – water usage.

So—check your existing flow rate! The packaging of the sprayer itself will likely have it marked, or you can use a flow rate measurement bag like this one. You can even use a measuring cup – just make sure to time it right and then do the math:

Example: You fill 1 measuring cup in 2 seconds. There are thirty 2-second periods in 1 minute, so 1 minute (1*30=) 30 cups. 30 cups = (30*0.0625=) 1.875 gpm

If you confirm your spray valve is below 1.6 gpm, great! But if there is any doubt (or you want to go even lower), go ahead and replace it. At roughly $50 a piece – and with a $35 rebate from PG&E – it is justified.

4. Clean Refrigeration Systems’ Condenser Coils


The thin, wavy metal pieces that cross the coils (the horizontal metal tubes) are silent heroes in your refrigeration system – through their surface area, heat from inside the cooler is expelled to the surrounding air. The more their surfaces are blocked, the harder your refrigerator has to work to remove the same amount of heat.

Blockage happens naturally – dust and dirt find themselves clung to the coils, especially when the coils are near the ground or exposed on the roof. Occasional cleaning with a brush is a simple way to prevent significant – up to 50%! – energy waste.

The condenser can be above the refrigerator, below it, or somewhere else entirely if it is a remote unit. Also note that there may be a protective screen – if so, clean both!

5. Seal Up Walk-In Refrigerators

Keep the cold air in the box and the warm air out – it’s a straightforward concept, but one that can get lost in the day-to-day hustle. Aside from wasting energy and money, this can lead to food quality issues. Warm air infiltration, however, is quite manageable if you make room in your routine for these 5 simple practices:

a. Replace Damaged Door Gaskets
The rubbery seals on the door edges act as barriers to warm air infiltration. They are most effective when they 1) remain in place and 2) avoid getting brittle. So give them a quick check periodically and replace any damaged gaskets.

b. Install Strip Curtains
These simple, low cost “shields to warm air” address a problem that even the best mechanical design can’t tackle: user operation. When things get hectic in the kitchen and staff can’t (or won’t) repeatedly open and close the door, strip curtains come to the rescue reducing warm air infiltration by up to 75%!

So, consider this a worthwhile investment! Or if you have them already, make sure to replace damaged ones. Also make sure staff don’t prop them open, which would defeat the purpose entirely. If you roll things in-and-out of the walk-in, other more robust non-curtain type solutions exist like strip doors.

c. Install / Repair Auto-Door Closers
auto door closerAuto-door closers not only increase energy efficiency by ensuring that walk-in doors close completely, they also increase personnel efficiency by freeing them up to focus on other things. This piece is worth keeping in working order, so periodically check that they are doing their job. If they aren’t, a little re-positioning might be all that’s necessary.

d. Check the Door Sweep
The importance of the door sweep is like that of the door gaskets, except it takes the form of broom-like bristles instead of rubber (a more fitting material for the kitchen floor). If you see light through the door bottom, replace your door sweep or try checking the door alignment at the hinges.


e. Clean Evaporator Coils
Evaporator coils (within the refrigerator, behind the fans) are just like condenser coils: the more unimpeded the metal is, the more efficient the whole system will be. Unlike condenser coils, however, ice and physical objects (from plastic bags to crammed-in foods) are the typical culprits. Ice builds up when warm air seeps in bringing with it moisture and a higher energy cost to operate.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the “low-hanging fruit” of energy and water savings in the commercial kitchen. For more tips and to see the full presentation, please visit here. For a full list of FSTC educational seminars, please visit: http://fishnick.com/seminars