The time to upgrade an HVAC is not when the mercury spikes or plunges. Pinched by tight margins and rising energy costs, restaurant operators have ample reasons to roll back restaurant heating, ventilation, and air conditioning costs.

Responsive HVAC systems save operators money, says Tom Lienhard, chief energy efficiency engineer for Avista Corporation in Spokane, Washington, a utility company that supplies electricity to Washington and Idaho. He says too many restaurateurs routinely flip a switch, blowing hundreds of cubic feet of air through an HVAC system at a constant clip regardless of what’s going on in the kitchen.

Breakdowns in heating and cooling equipment typically occur when temperatures reach upper or lower extremes. That’s also when HVAC contractors field a flood of emergency calls. In those situations, a restaurant operator may have to take whatever is on the shelf, with no time to consider the long-term benefits of a particular piece of HVAC equipment, says Sal Brunetto, corporate national accounts manager for Rheem, an HVAC company headquartered in Atlanta.

As a result of impromptu breakdowns, Brunetto frequently sees a mishmash of off-the-shelf units in restaurants. What could have been an opportunity to adopt an HVAC solution that would yield energy-saving returns long after a bout of extreme weather, suddenly turns into a desperate, last-minute, grab-it-off-the-shelf solution.

And although solar hot water heaters and smart variable-air volume controls conserve energy, you may not find those readily available on the shelves at a local supplier. That missed opportunity to upgrade the technology often carries long-lasting ramifications due to the 10- to 15-year life span of the equipment, Brunetto says.

Strategically planning a purchase of a responsive HVAC system that identifies particulates and conserves airflow through demand-control ventilation actually costs less, he adds. That’s particularly true when long-term savings are factored in.

If the restaurant is situated in an area prone to extreme temperatures, newer HVAC technology will help soften the crush of high utility bills “at the extreme edges of the temperature differential,” Lienhard says.

The newest hood systems supply the input air right inside the hood, so the HVAC system is no longer conditioning that air, Lienhard notes. Installing an intake beside the hood will also help, and he says many restaurant operators miss another opportunity when they fail to install an economizer rooftop unit that detects outside air temperatures. This technology can save up to 10 percent compared to a fixed flow of outside air.

Habitual behaviors also cause blind spots, he says. “You’ll walk by the same problem every day and not notice it, but someone new will come in and say ‘I see this.’ If you can find someone you trust, who is also an entrepreneur in the same industry, then trade looking at each other’s facilities and see if that alone could find you some low-cost, no-cost solutions.’”

When an HVAC system is balanced, no sensation of air being sucked into or out of the restaurant should occur, says Greg Fox, business development director of energy efficiency for Constellation, a nationwide energy-management company, in Baltimore. He advises demand ventilation controls may be retrofitted or purchased as part of the HVAC system. An additional cost-saving measure for larger dining establishments is to group compressors and then recover the collective heat, using it to preheat water.

“Pull in all the utilities that serve you to see if they may have a program to help,” Fox also advises.

Utility company incentives to upgrade equipment could prove a game-changer, agrees Brunetto. That was the case for Jim Burns, general manager of José O’Shea’s Fine Mexican Food, in Lakewood, Colorado. He tapped what is an increasingly common resource for restaurant operators wanting to cut HVAC bills: Regional or municipal-based energy-conservation incentives.

Lakewood city employees conducted a free energy audit and developed a list of recommendations to help Burns reduce restaurant energy costs, which resulted in a 35 percent decrease in the restaurant’s electricity usage. Now, a programmable automated system regulates temperatures in the restaurant’s multiple dining rooms, depending on usage at any given time.

By Jan Fletcher 

Industry News, Technology