Comparing Self-Contained Refrigeration & Remote Refrigeration

Condesner Pros and Cons

When considering the commercial refrigeration available, you will likely see units noted as self-contained and remote. While the remote units might seem tempting due to their lower prices, there is a good explanation for why they’re so much cheaper: They don’t have a condenser.

In reality, this type of commercial refrigeration does have a condenser, it’s just not in the box itself as it is in self-contained refrigeration. The two are not interchangeable, and there are some pros and cons to consider about purchasing either. Below, we take a look at these two types of commercial refrigeration and examine what situations each is preferable for.

Self-Contained Refrigeration

Most commercial coolers have self-contained refrigeration systems, which means the entire system, from condenser to evaporator, is built into the cabinet. The condenser can be located on the top, the bottom, or even the sides or back of a commercial cooler, but the evaporator is always on top of the unit. The two are connected by tubes carrying coolant that enables the system to ensure proper holding temperatures for food storage.

Self-contained refrigerators are convenient and suitable for almost any application, offering simple "plug and play" operation.

Self-contained refrigeration is convenient and suitable for almost any application, offering simple “plug and play” operation that shouldn’t require any technical work. Manufacturers prefer to produce this type of commercial refrigeration system because they have fewer warranty calls from them. With remote refrigeration, there is an involved process to setting up the cooling system that, if not performed properly, can make the commercial refrigerator or freezer fail.

Pros of Self-Contained Refrigeration:

  • Includes the entire system, which means you only have to make one purchase.
  • All components are in one place, which makes service and maintenance easier.
  • No need to run or maintain lines to an external condensing system.
  • Simple installation that likely will not need a technician.
  • Can easily be relocated if it becomes necessary to move them.

Cons of Self-Contained Refrigeration:

  • This type of commercial refrigeration can heat up a kitchen, since its hot operating parts are all in the cabinet.
  • Self-contained refrigeration is likely to have slightly less interior space than comparable remote refrigeration because the manufacturer has to fit the entire works into a similarly sized box.
  • Noise of both condenser and evaporator operations is inside your facility.
  • Can drive up electric bills by producing hot air from condensers that the air conditioning system must work to cancel out.

Remote Commercial Refrigeration

More than 90 percent of the commercial refrigerator and commercial freezer models sold in the United States will be self-contained refrigeration, but there are certain applications where a remote unit is preferable. Those include kitchens with limited ventilation that tend to get very hot. Additionally, facilities with low ceilings may be best served by remote refrigeration because a self-contained unit may not be able to draw in adequate air for operation, which can mean it works harder and is less efficient. Finally, grocery stores and other facilities that house large banks of multiple commercial coolers typically choose these units to keep the heat and noise that could be created by so many self-contained systems out of the customer space.

Remote refrigeration is preferable in kitchens with limited ventilation, issues with heat, and/or low ceilings.

A remote refrigeration system consists of an insulated cabinet for cold food storage that has the evaporator and ductwork built in. The condenser and compressor, meanwhile, are located in a separate unit connected to the box by a pair of lines that transport coolant between the two. Typically that part of the system is located outside the building, usually on the roof, though it can also be placed in an interior “plant room.”

There is some misconception about remote refrigeration that multiple units can operate with a single condenser/compressor unit. Though multiple refrigeration units can be tied on to a rack system that looks like a single cooling tower, inside there is actually a single condensing and compressing unit for each connected commercial cooler.

Pros of Remote Refrigeration:

  • Moves hottest parts of the commercial refrigerator or commercial freezer outside the customer or kitchen area, cutting interior temperatures and slashing air conditioning costs.
  • Removes noise of condenser and compressor from interior, which can make a significant difference in facilities with multiple commercial refrigerators.
  • The commercial cooler itself typically offers more interior space with remote units, since a large part of the refrigeration system is not in the box.
  • Remote refrigerators can be more efficient, especially if outside temperatures are cooler than those inside. However, this is heavily dependent upon your area's climate.

Cons of Remote Refrigeration:

  • Despite the last pro item above, remote units can consume more energy than their self-contained counterparts because they have to be oversized to battle outdoor heat and efficiently move coolant through a longer system. They also require more refrigerant to fill those long lines.
  • Require more work at install because of necessary drains, trenches or other means of running the lines, and a separate condensing unit that often has to be lifted onto the roof.
  • Are harder to service in part because the system is broken up and also because there may be an issue with connecting lines that might not be readily accessible.
  • This type of commercial refrigeration cannot be moved without great effort and expense.