Finding a Commercial ADA Refrigerator

Ensuring your building is accessible to as many people as possible is important, and the Americans with Disabilities Act includes guidelines that help you achieve that while avoiding ADA-related lawsuits. When most people think of ADA guidelines, they likely picture wheelchair ramps or the accessible stalls in public restrooms, but there's a lot more to it, including some requirements that may impact how you set up your kitchen and which equipment you can use. Learn more about how ADA guidelines affect refrigeration below.

Compliant Countertops

The ADA guideline that affects commercial refrigeration the most actually has nothing to do with the refrigerator itself; rather, it's about countertops. The standard countertop height of 36 inches can make it difficult for wheelchair-bound customers to reach across the counter. To solve this issue, the ADA requires that at least a 60-inch-long section of any customer-facing counter be no more than 34 inches tall.1 This counter height is also commonly used in assisted living spaces and accessible hotel rooms.

The amount of equipment and storage required in a restaurant setting means that every open space needs to be taken advantage of, including those under ADA-compliant 34-inch-high counters. However, if you need a refrigeration unit there and order a standard undercounter unit, you're likely to be disappointed – they are made to fit under 36-inch-high countertops. Thankfully, specialty undercounter and worktop commercial refrigeration is available to meet your needs.

ADA Compliant Refrigerator Options

ADA compliant undercounter refrigerators and freezers are made to fit under 34-inch-high countertops, with most being 32 to 3212 inches high to allow for a 112- to 2-inch-thick countertop. For most models, this means using smaller legs or casters, so that no storage capacity is lost. ADA-compliant worktop refrigerators are also available if you need to align a worktop with an adjacent ADA countertop. Below are some of the choices you need to make when purchasing an ADA-compliant undercounter refrigerator.

Compressor Location

Where the compressor is located on your undercounter refrigerator will determine where the unit can be installed. Compressors that are mounted on the back of the unit will require several inches of clearance and will expel warm air from the rear of the unit and away from the operator. A bottom-mounted compressor sometimes also expels air from the rear, but in many cases will be front-breathing, allowing the unit to be installed flush against counters and walls.

Number of Sections

Like standard refrigeration, ADA-compliant refrigerators can have one, two, or three sections. Each section will generally house either a door or two to three drawers. These factors dictate how much cold storage space is available, along with how long the unit is. Consider not only how much product you need to store in the refrigerator or freezer, but for glass door units, how many different products you need to be user-facing. Widths range from as narrow as 20 inches to as long as 72 inches.

Access Type

Undercounter refrigerators and freezers are accessed by either doors or drawers. Drawers are most often used to store food pans and supply a cook line or replenish a nearby buffet. Doors allow you to use wire or glass shelves or interior drawers for storage. Doors can be solid, which are more energy efficient, or glass, which allows you to merchandise products easily.

Specialty Options

The specialty options available on ADA compliant refrigerators vary by manufacturer. Below are some of the ones currently offered.

  • Door locks can help keep the contents of your refrigerator safe. Most refrigerator locks are keyed and may be located on the top or bottom of the door.
  • Self-closing doors help conserve energy and maintain safe temperatures for food storage by ensuring the door is never left open, which allows cold air to escape and puts more strain on the compressor.
  • Interior lighting makes products inside the refrigeration unit more visible. These can come on automatically when the door is opened or be controlled by an on/off switch.
  • An external vinyl finish can help your unit fit in with its surrounding décor, which is especially important in apartments, hotel rooms, and hospital rooms, among other settings. This is most often offered in black or white.
  • Some features that might help with HACCP or record keeping include external thermostat readouts, temperature loggers, and open door alarms. These help ensure food is kept at safe temperatures and make keeping up with HACCP records easier.
  1. ADA Accessibility Guidelines. United States Access Board. Accessed June 2017.