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If you can't stand the heat... replace the ventilation

In today's tough economic climate, commercial kitchens are keen to reduce costs to weather the stormy recession. David Cook explains how updating ventilation with energy efficient fans is a real business opportunity for contractors
It's hot in the kitchen. The hospitality industry is finding trading conditions tough at the moment. In commercial kitchens where costs are tightly controlled, kitchen operators are finding it particularly challenging and are looking for new ways to counter these difficult times. Some businesses are updating menus, learning new techniques, trying to improve service offerings or investing in new equipment, all in a bid to generate more footfall and loyalty.

Current estimates indicate that the catering industry is one of the largest energy consumers in the commercial market, using approximately two and a half times more energy per square metre of floor area than the average commercial building. Add to this energy prices which are continually escalating, and it makes good sense for kitchen operators to consider investing in energy efficient equipment to help mitigate fuel rises.

But with budgets tight, investing in equipment might appear a tall order for stretched businesses. However, upgrading old inefficient ventilation can offer a simple and cost effective way to help kitchen operators save energy and money. In addition, improving ventilation makes a kitchen environment more comfortable for employees. This is very important since Health & Safety Executive (HSE) legislation requires kitchen operators to provide and maintain safe premises and adequate welfare with respect to temperature and ventilation in kitchens.

Today the requirements placed on kitchen ventilation systems are tighter than ever before with catering businesses demanding higher filtration levels to cope with the grease laden environment and longer duct runs to aid installation. As a result fans have been developed that are powerful and yet compact, providing a controllable ventilation solution suitable for operating reliably in these atmospherically aggressive installations.

Commercial kitchens are often very hot which results in some fans failing due to high temperatures. Failing fans are not an option in kitchens since this can shut down operations. Catering businesses that use gas to cook must have their ventilation systems interlocked with the gas supply for safety reasons. This means these interlocking systems cut off the gas supply should the extract or supply air fail. No gas supply, no cooking and, as a result, unhappy customers who may not return to eat at the restaurant - not the situation kitchens are looking for when they are trying to increase footfall.

For this reason is it important to select robust reliable kitchen fans that will not fail in high temperatures. Kitchen fans need to feature motors designed and tested for operation at elevated temperatures (70° C or higher), whilst being operated at a speed lower than its maximum. If a fan is not manufactured specifically for this environment the fan's motor is likely to fail prematurely due to overheating. It is important fans also feature thermal overload protection that can be wired into all controller circuits and into starter contactors in case temperatures reach above the motor's rated maximum operating temperature. This feature protects the fan motor from damage due to overheating.

There are now fans on the market which feature innovative reversed airflow that helps to cool the fan's motor allowing it to work reliably at high temperatures. With this type of fan its robust motor has ribbed aluminium body castings and is designed to be mounted at the front of the fan towards the airstream to ensure maximum cooling airflow over the motor. Meanwhile, greased for life ball bearings with temperature resilient grease allow the fans to be installed at any angle adding to reliability and offering kitchen siting flexibility.

To ensure kitchen fan efficiency the newest fans on the market are manufactured from die cast aluminium and fitted with narrow profiled blades, thus providing the highest efficiency at maximum airflow making the fan a cost effective kitchen solution. Further energy savings can be made by using speed control through utilising inverter controls. This type of control provides accurate and reliable control functionality while offering substantial running cost reductions and noise control.

This is all good news for commercial kitchens, however to ensure the best performance from a kitchen fan it is essential that kitchen operators put in place a planned maintenance regime to deal with the grease laden environment. It is estimated that more than 80% of kitchen extract ducts are never cleaned. This can have an adverse effect on fan efficiency and it can also affect kitchen insurance. Kitchen operators now have a legal duty under Health & Safety regulations to assess fire risks in the ventilation system, in particular those created by excessive build-up of cooking oil deposits. If sufficient duty of care is not taken charges of corporate liability or manslaughter could be brought against the kitchen operator if a fire breaks out.

In the current climate updating a kitchen fan might not be the first thing a kitchen operator thinks of. However, with the new compact powerful kitchen axial fans on the market it is now possible to replace old fans easily and economically. By upgrading kitchen ventilation operators can not only save money on energy bills but also provide better comfort for staff. It also offers an opportunity to put in place a fan and ductwork maintenance regime that could both save money and, more importantly, ensure a healthy working environment.

The author is commercial and industrial product marketing manager at Vent-Axia
10 December 2012

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