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Investing a Walk-in: Cooler & Freezer Information

A walk-in cooler or freezer is a relatively large and relatively important purchase for restaurateurs and store owners alike.  Anytime a piece of equipment is as costly and heavily relied on as walk-in’s can be, it is best to carefully examine all of the factors that will go into choosing the right one.  At this point, you are most likely running out of reach-in cooler / freezer space and are looking to purchase a walk-in, or are looking to upgrade or increase your already existing walk-in space.  There are a few things to bear in mind while on the hunt for the perfect walk-in.

Cooler, Freezer, or Both

A walk-in is a large purchase. Most consumers want to limit their expenditures while maximizing the value of their dollars.  To do this, first it is important to see what kind of “box” you will be looking for.  More often than not, businesses that require a walk-in freezer will also need a walk-in cooler, but the opposite is not always true.

Many businesses that require a walk-in cooler can get sufficient freezer space with a reach-in or chest style freezer.  If the amount of frozen product kept on hand exceeds the capacity of a reach-in or chest freezer, or your operation cannot accommodate a reach-in or chest freezer, a walk-in is necessary.  There are, however, custom walk-in units that have both cooler and freezer sections, so a second “box” may not be necessary.

Size Matters

A walk-in can consume a rather large amount of energy.  It’s important to purchase a walk-in that is adequately sized for your operation.  Keep the following factors in mind when deciding upon final measurements:

  • Reach-in or Walk-in – First, an honest appraisal of necessary stock items, future growth, and current available refrigeration space is neeeded. Examine how much room is currently used for all the items to be stocked and determine how much additional space will be required.  There are some extremely large reach-in units that have around 72 cu.ft. of storage space.  A sizable reach-in can sometimes provide the needed space, however, a walk-in will often times be a reasonable purchase when areas are already crowded with other equipment.  It should be noted, however, though some equipment may not be needed after a walk-in purchase, it is still important to keep smaller chest or reach-in coolers or freezers as it is not convenient for employees to constantly run back and forth to the walk-in.
  • Indoor or Outdoor – Walk-in coolers or freezers can be placed inside or outside.  Deciding whether or not the unit will be placed inside factors a great deal in the size of the box purchased.  Not only will the box take up a significant portion of indoor space, but the walls and doors of the walk-in (which can be quite sizable) must also be brought inside for assembly.  Conversely, a walk-in that is being placed outdoors can usually be larger, as space isn’t usually as big a concern as it is with an indoor box. However, an outdoor box must deal with the elements, including rain, snow, wind, and something that may affect operating costs, extreme heat. For a larger than average indoor walk-in, a custom unit may be ideal.
  • One Cube or Two – For obvious reasons, a combination cooler / freezer unit will be bigger than either box by itself; however, it will most likely remain smaller than the size of two walk-in boxes. It is incredibly important to know how much storage space will be necessary. Combination units usually have smaller freezer sections than coolers, and operations with a significant amount of frozen product to be stored may consider separate units. Separate units will no doubt be less energy efficient though, as a walk-in freezer without an adjacent cooler will open to a warmer area, and a cooler doesn’t have to operate as frequently when the freezer door is constantly being opened.

Insulated Floors

An insulated floor in can be essential, but is not always needed. Depending on what type of surface the cooler is resting on, walk-ins can pick up radiating heat from the ground (after all, heat does rise).

Typically all outdoor walk-ins, freezers and coolers, will have an insulated floor. They will most likely be sitting on a bed of concrete that will warm up significantly during the summer months, and the heat transference will be enough to warm up the box.

Indoor walk-in coolers do not necessarily need floors. They usually just rest on an indoor concrete or tile floor (usually layered on top of concrete) which will not pick up any heat from the sun.

Walk-in freezers generally require an insulated floor. The only time a walk-in freezer will not need an insulated floor is when they are resting on a very thick slab of concrete, or when they are on a bed of concrete underground (in a basement for example).

Custom Walk-ins

Custom walk-in units are not uncommon. There are several reasons a custom walk-in may be needed, and they can be catered to suit the needs of every operation. Most of these custom walk-ins need to be remotely refrigerated, as they tend to be larger than standard walk-ins.

  • Combination Walk-in Coolers & Freezers – As previously mentioned, a custom walk-in can be built that has a walk-in freezer entry inside of a walk-in cooler. These combined units allow owners to conserve space by merging two boxes, as well as saving them on energy expenditures. They are relatively common, and can be made for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Refrigerated Rooms & Built-in Walk-ins – It is common to turn a section of a building (or even an entire building or warehouse) into a refrigerated room. By constructing insulated walls, insulating the ceiling and floors, and adding an adequately sized refrigeration unit, a section of a room or an entire room can become a walk-in cooler. Custom building an indoor walk-in this way can often be easier than trying to fit a pre-fabricated walk-in structure into a building. This is especially helpful for business that do not have outdoor space for a cooler / freezer, or that are moving into a pre-existing building.
  • Walk-in Merchandisers – Walk-in cooler or freezer merchandisers can also be customized for businesses such as convenience stores, beverage centers, liquor stores, and grocery stores (a perfect example is the dairy case in most grocery stores). These businesses usually need open glass display cases, and it is much more convenient to have a refrigerated room to stock shelves behind merchandisers. These custom walk-ins ensure that FIFO is taking place, as their pass-thru merchandisers can be loaded from the back end. Additionally, they combine a walk-in unit with glass door merchandisers, and allow business owners to reduce the number of glass door merchandisers in the center of their store. They can be custom tailored to the available space a store has, and help keep clutter down in store fronts.  They can even be made with a customer entrance, for businesses that encourage customers to peruse larger refrigerated items, like stores that offer case or keg beer sales, or liquor stores with wine coolers.

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