Walk-in Refrigerators and Freezer Floor Buyers' Guide
The right refrigeration keeps a restaurant’s perishable foods easy to access and safely stored. Since it's one of the most critical pieces of equipment in a restaurant, it's important to consider your options carefully before investing in a walk-in cooler or freezer. You know to be sure to consider carefully the size you need and to choose one that's built with materials that will hold up to the conditions of your venue. But, did you know the same level of consideration should be given to your walk-in’s floor?
Walk-in cooler and freezer flooring will contribute to the longevity your equipment and the safety of your staff. The wrong walk-in cooler floor can make it difficult for staff to access stored food, a challenge to move inventory in and out, and can even create serious damage to the floor beneath the cooler. Some walk-ins come standard with floors and others do not. Floors that are included are usually made of the same material as the rest of the walk-in. For those walk-ins that do not have floors, a variety of reinforced insulated walk-in floors are available that hold up to all kinds of traffic and stored perishables. When it comes to a walk-in’s floor, there are a few questions to answer before you order.
Freezer or Cooler?
If you are in the market for a walk-in freezer, an insulated walk-in freezer floor with R-value of at least 28 (R-28) is required under the federal Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). Having an insulated floor will not only save on energy costs, but will also keep perishables at their optimal storage temperatures. The energy savings alone can help to recover the cost of the insulated floor.
Where Will the Walk-in Cooler be Located?
Whether or not you'll need an insulated floor for your walk-in cooler depends on where the unit will be placed. For coolers located indoors on bare concrete slabs or on a concrete floors finished in vinyl or tile, a floor isn’t essential because concrete can hold up to the stress of heavy loads and provide adequate, although not optimal, protection from outside heat. However, an insulated floor will make the walk-in more energy efficient. For this reason, it is often recommended that pre-fabricated insulated walk-in cooler flooring be used. In the case of new construction, thermal breaks and slab insulation can be installed when pouring the concrete floor. This will keep condensation from forming within and on top of the concrete.
For a walk-in cooler that is placed above-grade like over a basement, crawl space, or on a second story, an insulated floor is required. This is to prevent warmer air underneath the cooler from forming condensation that can, over time, damage the flooring beneath the walk-in and compromise your building’s structural integrity.
If you are planning to place a walk-in in an uninsulated warehouse, garage, or outdoors on a non-insulated slab, a reinforced insulated walk-in cooler floor is essential to prevent condensation from forming. When the ground underneath an uninsulated walk-in cooler or freezer is warmer than the air inside it, the refrigeration system will pull heat out of the flooring and condensation will form on the floor's surface. This heat transfer not only makes the compressor work harder to cool the walk-in, but it also causes the floor to sweat, making it slick and dangerous for staff to walk on.
According to the National Floor Safety Institute, falls cause the highest number employee injuries out of all workplace accidents, with wet floors responsible for 10 percent of those occurrences. In addition to causing a slip hazard, slippery floors make it difficult to safely maneuver racks, carts, and pallet jacks through the walk-in. Moisture can also condense on perishables and shorten their shelf-lives.
In addition to shielding your equipment from outside heat, an insulated walk-in cooler or walk-in freezer floor can save on the electricity required to run your walk-in.
How Will Perishables be Accessed and Transported?
Your walk-in's flooring will determine how products can be transported in and out of the cooler, beginning with how it interfaces with the floor outside the cooler:
- Many operators choose to install their walk-in floor directly on an existing floor. That requires the simplest installation, but does create step-up that can limit access to the walk-in to foot traffic only.
- Exterior ramps are designed to handle hand cart, rolling rack, pallet jack, and heavy foot traffic. This type of ramp begins its ascent into the walk-in outside the entrance. While this type of access can withstand any amount of traffic, it can be create an obstacle in thoroughfares and walkways, so be sure the location of your walk-in is suitable for this kind of solution.
- Taking up no space outside the walk-in, interior ramps begin their ascent into the walk-in at the door. This type is designed only to withstand light cart and foot traffic, but is the best solutions for walk-in coolers installed without much walkway clearance outside.
- Recessed walk-in cooler flooring can be installed flush with the floor outside the walk in. The equipment installer or a contractor will need to determine whether the existing floor can be adapted for this type of installation.
How Much Weight and Traffic Will the Floor Need to Support?
It is important to think about what will be stored in your walk-in before you decide on a floor. Will it be lightweight perishables like bags of produce or heavy stationary loads like kegs of beer? Will your inventory be transported by hand, with a hand cart, rolling rack, or by a pallet jack? These are all critical questions to answer because a range different reinforced floors are available to support everything from light foot traffic to heavy keg storage.
Many manufacturers offer insulated reinforced floors with a layer of plywood to support mobile loads as heavy as 1,000 pounds per square foot. Add steel reinforcement into the insulation and some floors can support stationary loads up to 5,000 pounds per square foot.
To make it safer to access your walk-in, flooring is available with a number of different surfaces. Diamond tread plates create a non-skid surface both inside the unit and on access ramps. These protect employees from slipping in case there are spills or water on the floor. Rubber surfaces are also available that have the same benefits, and both types are available to cover the entire floor or to be placed down the walkway of cooler only.
Choosing the right walk-in cooler flooring is an important step in setting up you walk-in. KaTom can help you guide you through your options. Just contact one of our customer service representatives at 1-800-541-8683 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more tips on choosing the equipment for your operation, consult our buyers' guide on choosing the right walk-in cooler or freezer.