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When it comes to the big energy users in your kitchen, refrigerators are way up there. The average walk-in operates at full capacity 16 to 18 hours a day. Add to that the energy lost every time it’s opened. These strategies will help you conserve energy on both old and new units.

Checking things out
A bit of basic maintenance is the first step in reducing energy costs:

Clean your coils. It’s an unglamorous job, but the more clogged and dirty the evaporator and condenser coils are, the harder they have to work. Not only does that increase your energy costs, it shortens the refrigerator’s “life-span.” If in-house staff can’t make this a priority, it could save you money to set up a twice-yearly cleaning with a service team.

Check your gaskets. Worn, cracked or missing door gaskets are a major cause of energy loss. Try the classic “dollar bill” test: Slip a dollar bill between the gasket and the door, then close the door. The bill should give you some resistance when you try to pull it out. If it doesn’t—or if it falls out—it’s a sign the gasket needs replacing.

Close the doors. Remind your staff to always shut the door on the walk-in and never leave it propped open, even for short periods. Installing strip curtains is an inexpensive way to cut down on the outside air that gets in.

Consider a refrigeration economizer. Retrofitting your current refrigerator with an economizer can save energy and money. An economizer monitors the air outdoors and draws it in to substitute for compressor-generated cooling. The fans on the economizer utilize less energy than the compressor does, resulting in savings.

Cashing in
Your local utility company may also be a cost-saving resource. Programs vary widely, so it’s worth making a call to your energy provider to see what they offer. Pacific Gas & Electric in California and a few other utilities do energy audits and analyses.

Some utility companies are also offering rebates or incentives for installation of more energy-efficient refrigeration. ComEd, which serves Chicago, offers incentives of $80 or more on refrigeration economizers. And these rebates aren’t just for large purchases: Southern California Edison offers one for replacing gaskets and several others offer money back on strip curtains. The Consortium for Energy Efficiency provides a downloadable list of current utility incentives on its Web site, www.cee1.org.

What’s new
If it’s time to replace your refrigerator, selecting Energy Star-listed equipment is a smart idea; in fact, it’s even required by law in some areas. The Department of Energy estimates that an Energy Star-labeled refrigerator can save up to $200 annually in electricity costs. And new 2010 specs make Energy Star refrigerators 30 percent more energy-efficient than standard models.

You’ll also find energy-saving features built into the newest crop of products. The defrosting function on Electrolux SMART refrigerators automatically detects ice build-up on the evaporator and runs only when necessary. Delfield and Turbo Air feature magnetic door gaskets to ease cleaning and replacement.

If it’s not time to replace, check with your equipment vendor to see if retrofitting is an option to upgrade energy efficiency. Some manufacturers, like Master-Bilt, have complete retrofitting programs for walk-ins.

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