Efficient Commercial Kitchen Equipment

Food preparation makes up the largest percentage of a restaurant's energy bill at about 30%, with refrigeration costs running somewhere around 13-18% depending on who you ask. Then there is the water heater, exhaust hoods and HVAC systems that together total the majority of energy used in a foodservice facility. These huge costs make efficient and properly maintained equipment an integral part of a green foodservice establishment.

On the efficiency side, there is a growing number of commercial foodservice equipment available that is Energy Star labeled or deemed highly efficient by research organizations like the foodservice Technology Center (FSTC) and the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE). The three organizations, along with equipment manufacturers are paving the way for mainstream efficiency standards in commercial kitchen equipment. Currently the types of equipment that have been tested and rated are limited to a small group, but the FSTC is in the process of expanding the programs to include a larger range of equipment including ovens and griddles. Hopefully, with continued support, the industry will see all commercial kitchen equipment manufactured with not only quality and value in mind, but also energy and water efficiency.

Several states and local utilities have started rebate and tax credit programs to encourage foodservice operators to purchase energy and water efficient equipment. Check the Rebate Programs link on this site to see if your state or utility offers incentives for purchasing energy efficient foodservice equipment. If your business is in the market for new equipment, this should be a first stop. High efficiency equipment can saves thousands of dollars per year in energy and water costs and is often priced similar to standard equipment. When paired with a state rebate, some equipment, refrigeration in particular, can have an almost immediate payback.

Even if your organization is not in the market for new equipment, it is a good idea to have an energy efficient equipment replacement plan for potential equipment failures. A replacement plan will give you an easy resource to reference and purchase energy efficient equipment when a piece of equipment goes out on Friday night rather than grabbing the first unit available. A replacement plan can be as simple as a few web browser bookmarks (this page or the Rebate Programs page), or detailed enough to include current equipment and potential future replacements. This is a nice option because it documents major any changes in an organizations equipment supply. For instance, maybe you don't want to replace the old freezer at all, or would rather move up a 35-cu/ft unit rather than the 27-cu/ft unit. A documented plan puts the change in writing so the chef or MOD doesn't have the local equipment dealer ship over a replacement of the old unit. The availability of energy efficient equipment is fairly stable, but does change so any sort of detailed plan should be reviewed at least annually.

While information is readily available online, it can be quite confusing finding all the equipment regarded as energy efficient by the three groups mentioned above. Many specific pieces of equipment are listed on all or a couple of the organization's lists, while others may be listed on one, but not another. It is advised to check all the lists to give you the widest range of choices. If your utility or state offers rebates or tax incentives, first check which lists they use to qualify for their programs.

The FSTC site lists most equipment labeled Energy Star by the EPA and additional types of equipment the FSTC has tested and qualified as energy efficient. The FSTC is based in California so the rebates mentioned on the site pertain only to businesses in California, but the lists are useful for identifying energy efficient equipment regardless. Most other utilities and states that offer incentive programs provide rebates for the equipment listed on the FSTC and CEE sites as well as Energy Star labeled equipment. The Energy Star lists qualify more individual units than the FSTC and provide useful information like dimensions, number of doors, volume, etc. Energy Star also provides the lists in PDF and Microsoft Excel formats, which can be convenient for copying and pasting into procurement or mechanical lists for architects. Finally, the CEE provides additional lists for refrigerators, freezers and hot food holding cabinets that they refer to as Tier 2 and Tier 3 equipment. Each equipment group has its own set of efficiency specifications that are more stringent than Energy Star standards. For example, the Tier 2 refrigerators are 40% more efficient than units that meet the minimum Energy Star criteria.

Note: If you have a slow Internet connection, it is best to download the Excel files from the Energy Star site because the PDFs are rather large. (The refrigeration PDF is over 10MB) The Excel files are also nice for copying and pasting into procurement requests, rebate applications, architectural layout files or any other application that requires detailed information.

Cooking Equipment

The Food Service Technology Center provides the most diverse lists of cooking equipment that have undergone their efficiency testing. These include combination ovens, convection ovens, rack ovens, fryers, large vat fryers, griddles, steam cookers and insulated holding cabinets. Energy Star cooking equipment includes fryers, steam cookers and hot food holding cabinets.

Steam cookers in particular offer a huge savings for both energy and water. These are a good place to start when switching equipment over to modern energy efficient units. Convection ovens also offer great energy savings, along with big rebates. Incentives in California and Oregon are as high as a $1000 per unit, which is almost a third of the cost of some units. If starting from scratch there is no reason not to choose efficient equipment throughout the cooking line. There is a large and growing selection of prices and options that should fit any chef's needs.

In addition to the listed equipment (those that may be elligible for rebates), the FSTC publishes equipment performance reports on specific models in a wide range of equipment. They also created energy saving tips sheets and technical assessments that provide basic description and energy performance of each type of cooking equipment. These reports and informational sheets are available for braising pans, boilers, fryers, griddles, ovens, pasta cookers, ranges, steam kettles, steamers and warewashers.

Turbo Pot

Other than the cooking equipment itself, there are also cooking supplies like the Turbo Pot from Eneron that help reduce energy use. Turbo Pots use heat sink fins that help transfer more energy to the pot and its contents. The Food Service Technology Center tested the Turbo Pot and showed significant energy savings. The FSTC found the pots boiled water in half the time it takes in a normal pot. This helps a chef by reducing the time it takes to cook an item, or allow them to turn down the flame on their stoves to maintain the same temperature.



Energy Star Commercial Refrigerator

The Energy Star and FSTC listings for high efficiency refrigerators are the largest of any foodservice equipment tested. Most refrigeration manufacturing companies have at least a few solid and glass door units listed in a huge variety of styles and price ranges, which makes for a great buyer's market.

Ice Machines

Energy Star recently released its list of commercial ice machines, which are 15% more energy efficient, and 10% more water efficient than standard units. Again, the Energy Star and FSTC lists overlap one another with most machines including ice making head, remote condenser and self contained units, but the FSTC also lists a few additional units. CEE has also released its lists of ice machines claiming to meet Tier 2 or 3 specifications. Tier 2 units are currently set at the same level as ENERGY STAR, and Tier 3 units have a maximum energy use 15% below CEE Tier 1. The Tier 2 & 3 units also meet water use efficiencies specified by the CEE. The consumption is based on harvest rates of the units.

Bill Hoffman from the City of Austin created an ice machine cost calculator to determine the life cycle cost comparison of similar air-cooled and water-cooled ice machines. In general, water-cooled machines use up to half the electricity of air-cooled machines depending on the style of unit, but consume ten times as much water as an air-cooled machine. This water usage can double to quadruple the life-cycle cost due to water use of a water-cooled ice machine. Water-cooled units are only recommended in close-looped systems, which are rare in the foodservice industry.

Before purchasing a new unit consider all your options. If you are in an area with a high air conditioning load, you may want to consider buying a remote condensing unit, which will not add any more demand to the air conditioning with. Alternatively the same facility could buy an ice making head unit and put the unit on a timer to produce ice overnight when cooling demand is much lower and potentially cheaper because of reduced demand rate costs.


Walk-in coolers and freezers offer a few more options than solid door refrigerators for tweaking the systems to gain efficiency. High efficiency motors and compressors are available and affordable for repairs. It is a good idea to talk with your refrigeration repairman beforehand if your walk-ins is getting old and may need a new motor or compressor in the near future as most repair companies only stock standard, low cost motors and compressors. If your cooler goes out on Friday night and they only stock standard motors you are going to wind up with a low efficiency unit and have to pay the installer again if you want a high efficiency motor. Again, there are a number of utilities that offer incentives for these upgrades.


Another sustainability issue regarding refrigeration and walk-in systems in particular is the refrigerant used in the compressors. Most people have heard about the environmental damage caused by CFCs, which were phased out of use and replaced by hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC, usually HCFC-22) that are also in a phase out process to be replaced by hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer like CFCs and HCFCs, but are still green house gases, which are up to 11,000 times more potent than CO2. Most current HFC refrigerants used in box refrigeration systems are in the 400 series, like R404A for instance. While foodservice refrigeration systems tend to be fairly simple as far as refrigeration systems go, they are still way over the head of most of us in the food industry so consult a refrigeration contractor before making any changes. All reputable refrigeration contractors should have a thorough knowledge of HFC refrigerants and already be working with them on new systems. The next evolution in the greening of refrigerants is the use of hydrocarbons (HC). They have been used in domestic refrigeration in Europe and Asia for a number of years and are now being accepted as a viable use for commercial cabinet refrigeration, but the jury is still out on their use in cold rooms.

An exciting somewhat new development in the industry, is a program developed by Greenpeace called GreenFreeze, which developed refrigerated bottle display cases and vending units that use carbon dioxide (CO2) as a refrigerant rather than HFCs. Under pressure from Greenpeace, Coca-Cola installed the new C02 coolers at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and plans to continue manufacturing the units after the Olympics.

GreenChill is a program of the EPA in partnership with the supermarket industry and other organizations that use large refrigeration systems. The program promotes an industry transition to non-ozone-depleting refrigerants, reduction of refrigerant charges and reduction of both ozone depleting and greenhouse gas refrigerant emissions through promoting supermarkets' to adoption advanced refrigeration technologies.

Heat Recovery

Heat recovered from hot waste water or air that is discharged from a refrigeration system such as a walk-in cooler can help reduce water heating costs by using a heat transfer system to pre-heat water coming into a water heater. The most common systems are designed for air-cooled refrigeration and air-conditioning systems. Heat recovery systems are normally only economical in facilities with large refrigeration systems such as grocery stores, detention centers and other large facility or in new construction. There are several different systems available and it is best to seek the advice of a mechanical engineer experienced with heat recovery to determine what is the most efficient and economical system for your operation.

Ware Washing

Energy Star recently released its qualifications for commercial dishwashers. The new requirements specify both energy and water use for under-counter, single door and conveyor dish machines. According to Energy Star, the qualified machines can save restaurants an average of $850 a year on energy costs and $200 on water costs. The following link lists their energy and water specifications.

A far simpler piece of equipment that can save a considerable amount of money is a low-flow pre-rinse spray valve. Low-flow sprayers consume less than two gallons per minute while conventional sprayers consume three to six gallons per minute. These pre-wash sprayers save a considerable amount of hot water thus conversing a large amount of energy in the process. They are not only more efficient, but also are an overall better product with a stronger spray and recommended simply for of their superior performance.

The FSTC created a pre-rinse savings calculator that estimates the energy and water savings of installing a low-flow pre-rinse sprayer. According to their calculations, replacing a traditional sprayer that is used just one hour per day with a low-flow equivalent will save over $200 a year in gas bills even with a high efficiency hot water heater. This calculation does not include water or wastewater savings and has an even greater potential savings with an electric water heater.

The Water Efficiency section on this site provides the results from tests conducted by the FSTC on most major manufactures of pre-rinse spray valves. The tests show gallons per minute use and the speed of cleaning for each unit.

Several energy efficiency programs like the Energy Trust in Oregon, even offer free sprayers with installation to qualified businesses. Update: Unfortunately, this statement is longer true, but I'm keeping it here in hopes they bring it back until all the old sprayers are gone. Check with your local utility or state energy department for similar programs. If your utility does not offer free sprayers, the low-flow versions can be purchased at most restaurant equipment stores or online. A typical nozzle should cost around $60 and will fit on any standard pre-rinse assembly.

Water Heaters

Heating water in a typical restaurant consumes about 11-18% of a restaurant's annual energy bill. If your water heater is an old unit, the savings from a high efficiency unit can pay off quickly, especially in facilities that wash many dishes. Electric heaters are more efficient than natural gas heated units, but electricity is often more expensive than natural gas in many parts of the country. More importantly, natural gas units heat more quickly than electricity so they are normally used in full service and large facilities where there is a strong demand for hot water. If your electric water heater cannot keep up with your demand, you may want to consider installing a gas heater if the services are readily available. An on-demand in line with an efficient electric heater may be another option. Demand is the big variable here, so talk with a reputable plumber that will help you calculate your demand and discuss what options are most economical in the short and long term. Many plumbers will sell you the cheaper, lower efficiency unit that will pump out a lot of hot water, but unfortunately at the expense of your gas/electric bill for the next ten or more years.

If you are thinking about upgrading your water heater, the GAMA Database is a great place to find information and efficiency ratings on a wide variety of electric and gas hot water heaters. Energy Star only labels residential water heaters, which may be sufficient for a small business with a low hot water load.


Solar hot water heaters can be an economical option for certain foodservice operations. Small cafés and delis may be able to provide a large portion of their hot water needs, while larger facilities can benefit from the heat gain so the traditional water heater does not need to raise the temperature of the water as much it would without the solar heater.

Even large facilities in certain areas of the country like the Southwest should investigate solar water heating options as the solar potential there can provide a large amount of very hot water. The Lucky Labrador Pub in Portland, Oregon, provides themselves with 180° water in the summer with their solar water heating system. See the Renewable Energy section of this site for additional information on solar and other renewable energy options for foodservice operations.

When shopping for solar water heaters, make sure the system is OG-300 certified, and also a system that fits with your local climate. There are several different styles and options that each work better in a particular climates.

On Demand (Tankless) Water Heaters

Commercial tankless water heaters are a relatively new product on the market and have little documented use in the foodservice industry. Most foodservice operations would need at least two or three units daisy-chained in order to provide enough hot water for a foodservice outlet. A couple models claim to provide just over 6 gallons per minute at a 90-degree heat gain.

Businesses in the Southwest or Hawaii could potentially benefit from using a tankless system because the low heat gain needed in areas where the ambient water temperatures can reach over 70-degrees.

The FSTC has done at least one test on tank vs. tankless water heaters with somewhat inconclusive results that lean toward high efficiency tank style water heaters.

Heat Transfer

Capturing waste heat for any number of sources is a very viable and economically valuable option in some cases. Waste heat from HVAC systems, walk-in coolers and freezers, kitchen exhaust systems or ambient air can be used to preheat incoming water. This principle works with a few different technologies like heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps and various other heat recovery systems. The basic idea is to recycle heat that would normally be dumped outside into a usable energy source to heat water coming into the water heater.

Hot Lips Pizza in Portland, Oregon, is an example of a restaurant that uses a heat recovery system in the exhaust ventilation of their pizza oven to provide the facility will all their hot water needs. Their standard hot water heater rarely turns on. You can read about their system on the BetterBricks web site.


Insulation is one of those simple things that plumbers often overlook or completely ignore, even though well insulated hot water pipes can prevent a significant amount of heat loss – they are not paying the utility bills. Most plumbers do not build insulation into their bids, so if you are building new or remodeling make sure your plumber insulates the hot water pipes before sheetrock is put on. If you are not onsite, it is a little extra work for them to insulate as them plumb, but if you are on the construction site, its may be cheaper to wrap the pipes yourself even if it is not as efficient. If your current hot water pipes are not insulated, it is wise to at least insulate to the dishwasher and the most used faucets, or at least any exposed pipes.

HVAC / Kitchen Ventilation

HVAC and kitchen ventilation is a broad topic with its own page, which covers heating, cooling, kitchen exhaust systems, alternative systems and energy saving tips.

Vending Equipment

Energy Star also created efficiency standards for cold beverage vending machines. The machines, which include rebuilt units, are 50% more efficient than standard units. Because most vending equipment at foodservice and hospitality establishments are acquired through outside contracts, Energy Star has also created a sample procurement language to assist purchasing managers in specifying Energy Star qualified equipment.


While not listed by the FSTC or Energy Star, there are a few notable products available to help vending machines consume less energy. The Vending Miser can reduce the energy consumption of a cold beverage vending machine by half by turning off the compressor when there is no activity nearby. The vending machine is equipped with a motion sensor and plugged into the Miser, which is then plugged into an outlet. If the sensor detects motion, the compressor turns on if the internal thermostat calls for cooling. When there is no motion after 15 minutes, the compressor turns off saving around $160 a year. The manufacturer of the Vending Miser also makes a Snack Miser and Cooler Miser for other vending machines.

Tufts University installed 75 Vending Misers on their campus and has since created a "Vending Miser Information " document to educate other schools and organizations interested in the technology. It documents adjusted payback periods, electrical and staffing issues. It is a wise read for any institution installing several units.


Besides picking the right equipment, maintenance is the most important detail to keeping equipment working efficiently. This, of course, is easier said than done in a business where employees are notoriously abusive to the equipment. I have found the usual cleaning list paired with a detailed maintenance schedule and an attentive manager does fairly well in regards to keeping equipment in order. A comprehensive foodservice maintenance schedule should be mandatory in any foodservice operation. I have provided a sample schedule for modifying to fit most facility's needs. In addition to a maintenance schedule, an equipment repair log is very useful to see common repair issues, recoup fees for faulty repairs and just keep track of repairs and equipment that may need replacement rather than repair. These documents are listed in the Tools section of this web site.

Most equipment companies provide some sort of maintenance schedule in their owner/service manuals. Vulcan in particular does a good of listing daily, weekly, and quarterly cleaning recommendations in their owners manuals, which are also available online. Their maintenance lists are specific to Vulcan products, but can be adapted for most other gas equipment. Keep a copy of maintenance recommendations in a maintenance folder or integrate the manufacturer's recommendations into a maintenance schedule.

For natural gas equipment, the Southern California Gas Company created an "Equipment Maintenance for Optimum Efficiency Guide." Their guide details maintenance and energy efficiency tips for griddles, fryers, steam jacketed kettles, steamers, ovens, ranges and broilers. This is a great resource for creating a customized, comprehensive maintenance and cleaning list for cooking equipment.

Refrigeration costs represent around 13-18% of a typical restaurant's total energy bill so it is especially important to keep to refrigeration equipment cleaned and maintained in order for the units to work efficiently. Dirty coils on refrigeration compressors make the cooling units work harder and longer to keep the box cool. This consumes a lot more energy and can lead to a compressor failure, which will cost several hundred dollars to repair. Condenser fins and coils should be cleaned at least once a month and benefit from a quick dusting on a weekly basis. Most refrigeration specialists recommend vacuuming or brushing the fins gently with a stiff bristled brush in the direction of the fins to remove any excess dust and lint. Then spraying the fins with a light degreaser (nothing caustic) and allowing this to sit for 5 to 15 minutes before spraying the fins again with water to remove any built up dirt and the degreaser residue. Be careful not to get the fan wet as it can short out.

It is also important to replace leaking door seals on all refrigeration equipment. They are very simple to install and can be purchased from a commercial kitchen parts company. Regular maintenance of refrigeration units will keep your energy costs down and your equipment running correctly for a long time.

Check the Tools link for downloadable maintenance and repair files.

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