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Heating and cooling systems

Pay me now or pay me later: Practice "space conditioning"

If you want to keep your guests comfortable and cozy without breaking the bank, it's time to get to know your HVAC system a bit better.

Your restaurant’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment — your HVAC system — works for you day and night. It keeps your guests and staff warm in the winter and cool in the summer. You probably flip it to the desired temperature and consider it a non-negotiable expense.

But lack of attention to your HVAC equipment could easily cost you big money! On average, HVAC systems use nearly 30 percent of the energy in your restaurant, according to the Energy Star Guide for Cafes, Restaurants and Institutional Kitchens. Your equipment's efficiency has a big impact on your utility costs.

You can improve your HVAC performance and save money by properly maintaining the equipment you have, replacing old HVAC equipment with energy-efficient options, and updating your kitchen equipment. Let's look at each:

Step 1: Maintenance Start simple

Here are some easy ways to properly maintain the equipment you already have:

  • Engage the services of an HVAC contractor for an ongoing preventive-maintenance program that supports your energy-efficiency goals.
  • Clean or replace filters on HVAC units twice a year (or as needed).
  • Clean air-conditioning condenser and evaporator coils four times a year (or as needed).
  • Have an HVAC professional check the refrigerant charge in the air-conditioning system.
  • Repair and seal all ductwork. Leaky ductwork above the ceiling tiles can go undetected for years, silently stealing cool air before it gets to the dining room.
  • If applicable, maintain evaporative cooling units, or swamp coolers, including broken belts, pumps, motors, distintegrating media and faulty float valves.

Step 2: Replace old HVAC systems with more energy-efficient options

Energy-efficient light-commercial HVAC equipment often uses 7 to 10 percent less energy than standard equipment.

  • Look for the Energy Star. Equipment that has earned the Energy Star rating is designed to reduce energy waste and save you money.
  • Install equipment correctly. Nearly half of all heating and cooling equipment never performs to its advertised capacity and efficiency because of incorrect installation. Hire certified HVAC technicians to install your new equipment.

Step 3: Update cooking equipment

You can bring down your HVAC bills by updating your cooking equipment. Energy-efficient cooking equipment puts less of a strain on your HVAC system because more of the heat goes into cooking food, instead of sending wasted heat out into the kitchen air. The Energy Star Guide for Cafes, Restaurants, and Institutional Kitchens has information on Energy Star-qualified commercial kitchen equipment.

Want more practical advice? Check out:

More Resources

  • Walking the Talk: Reports from the field: Restaurateurs and suppliers talk sustainability.
  • Ask the Expert: We connect you with industry experts for answers to your questions.
  • Watch: Conversations with sustainability innovators.