Although the actions covered in this section require more-extensive implementation, they can dramatically increase the efficiency, comfort, and safety of your QSR. Ask your local utility’s representative for more information about initiating such projects.
Commissioning is a process in which engineers observe a building’s energy systems and perform a tune-up to ensure that they are operating appropriately and efficiently. Doing so can lead to reductions of 10% to 15% in annual energy bills. When this process is applied to an existing building that has not been commissioned before, it is called retrocommissioning; when it’s applied to a building that has been commissioned before, it is called recommissioning. Recommissioning is recommended every three to five years to maintain top levels of building performance. In QSRs, commissioning also allows you to evaluate the airflow between cooking and dining areas and to use that information for implementing air-pressure balancing measures. Commissioning usually costs between $0.05 and $0.40/ft2.
High-efficiency kitchen equipment. Cooking equipment, coolers, and dishwashers are energy hogs in a restaurant—high-efficiency cooking equipment can be 15% to 30% more energy efficient than standard equipment. But the benefits of purchasing energy-efficient models go beyond energy savings, because they tend to offer better performance than standard-efficiency models. For a list of Energy Star–qualified products and an online calculator that can help you determine savings for your particular upgrade, visit the commercial food service section on the Business & Government tab of the Energy Star website.
Smart vent hoods. Commercial kitchen exhaust hoods remove a lot of indoor air, forcing the ventilation system to draw outside air into the kitchen to make up for the high airflow. In climates where the kitchen makeup air is conditioned, that conditioning can account for up to one-quarter of the entire energy use of a food service establishment. Intelligent, variable-speed hood controller systems can significantly reduce energy costs in your kitchen. A photoelectric smoke or heat detector determines when and how much ventilation is needed, and then activates the exhaust fan at the proper speed—a big difference from the continuous operation of the fan in a traditional vent hood. In appropriate applications, this technology yields a one- to two-year simple payback period.
Connectionless steamers. If your QSR uses a steamer, you should know that replacing inefficient steam cookers represents a substantial opportunity for energy savings. Self-contained, or “connectionless,” steamers recirculate steam rather than continuously venting. As a result, they provide the most efficient alternative to conventional units, and they offer combined annual water and energy savings of up to $6,000 per machine.
Ice makers. The energy efficiency of new ice makers has improved considerably over the past decade. There are now many efficient models to choose from, some of which provide substantial energy savings with little or no incremental cost over less-efficient models—a win-win situation. When looking for a new ice maker, consider buying an Energy Star–qualified model to make sure you’ll see significant energy savings.
Evaporator fan controllers in coolers. Nearly all walk-in coolers have forced-circulation evaporators that contain motorized propeller fans. These fans run continuously, despite the fact that full airflow is only necessary 50% of the time. Inexpensive walk-in cooler controllers are now available that slow these fans when full cooling capabilities aren’t necessary.
Demand-defrost kits. On average, timer-based defrosters (used to defrost the ice that accumulates on the evaporator coils during operation) account for about 20% of the total energy consumption of walk-in freezers. Demand-defrost systems, which initiate defrosts only when they are needed, can save significant amounts of energy by reducing the number of defrost cycles. Independent tests show that advanced demand-defrost controllers can reduce defrost cycles by as much as 40% compared to defrosters with timers—saving from $150 to $3,000 annually on energy costs depending on the size of the freezer. In addition, these controllers can help maintain the quality of products kept in the freezer because fewer defrost cycles translates into more-consistent temperatures.
LED display case lighting. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have become increasingly attractive options for use in refrigerated display cases. The efficiency of LEDs improves in cold operating environments, unlike linear fluorescent systems, where the output drops in low temperatures. LEDs are also directional in nature, allowing for less wasted light. Because of these benefits, LED light strips are over 40% more efficient than the fluorescent systems typically used. LEDs can also be tied to occupancy sensors so that the cases are only illuminated when customers are present. The use of LEDs also reduces case compressor loads in a number of ways: The cases use lower-wattage lamps, so there is less heat to dissipate; the heat sink for an LED can be positioned to allow at least some of the heat to be dissipated outside the case (with fluorescent lighting, most of the waste heat must be offset with additional cooling inside the case); and when LEDs are used with occupancy sensors, they will spend less time in “on” mode and therefore contribute less to the cooling load. LEDs also provide even light distribution, can be dimmed, have a very long lifetime, and have been shown to appeal to customers.
Upgrade old linear fluorescent lighting. If your facility uses T12 fluorescent lamps or commodity-grade T8 lamps, relamping with high-performance T8 lamps and electronic ballasts can reduce your lighting energy consumption by 35% or more. Adding specular reflectors, new lenses, and occupancy sensors or timers can double the savings. Paybacks of one to three years are common. LED troffers, but not tubular LED lamps, have also become a viable alternative to linear fluorescent lamps. The US Department of Energy (DOE) published its Exploratory Study: Recessed Troffer Lighting (PDF) in March 2013, which reported on the results of its testing of LED troffers and tubular LED products installed in a mock office space. DOE researchers concluded that LED troffers can compete with fluorescent fixtures both in efficacy and other lighting quality factors, including glare, light distribution, visual appearance, and color quality. The only caveat was that some of the products flicker when dimmed. This could be a compatibility issue—it’s important to make sure that LEDs are compatible with the dimming products they’re paired with.
Tubular LED T8 products were not rated as highly. There was no efficacy benefit to the LEDs, and the color quality varied widely among the products tested. In addition, the LED tubes produced glare and an uneven light-distribution pattern. Concerns arose about safety with the tubular LED products as well—a safety inspection showed that more than half of the products would not have passed for a variety of reasons: labeling issues, poor installation instructions, poor mounting or construction, and other complications.
Switch to CFLs or LEDs. Replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or LEDs not only saves energy, but the bulbs also last much longer, so they save on maintenance. CFLs are now available in 2,700-kelvin models that produce a warm color tone similar to that of incandescent lamps. You can also adjust their light intensity by installing dimmable ballasts. Just be sure to use CFLs in appropriate ballasts, especially if dimmers are in the circuit. LED replacement bulbs in a wide range of form factors found in QSRs (A-lamps, PAR lamps, MR16s, and others) are also becoming more affordable. They are more efficient, last longer, and are easier to dim than CFLs, but they’re still more expensive, and care must be taken to ensure compatibility between the LEDs and any dimming controls. Look for Energy Star–rated products, and use the DOE’s Lighting Facts database to find LEDs that will meet your needs.
Use LED recessed downlights. In the dining room, recessed downlighting fixtures equipped with white LEDs can save considerable energy compared with an incandescent or CFL light source. LED downlights are also fully dimmable and, according to many, provide superior light quality. LED products are also available that mimic the dimming properties of incandescents, which emit a warmer glow as they dim.
Use LED signage. Replace incandescent exit signs, exterior signs, colored accent lights, downlights, and menu boards with LED versions. LEDs direct light very effectively and come in many colors, which make them a good candidate for restaurant applications. Although their initial costs are high, the lamps can last 5 to 10 years, so you’ll also save on maintenance costs.
- Exit signs. These signs must be lit both day and night, which can take a bite out of a restaurant’s budget. A single LED exit sign saves on the order of $45 per year and will shine brightly for 5 to 10 years, which can significantly reduce material and labor costs compared to standard incandescent models.
- Open signs. LEDs are the best choice for replacing neon “open” signs—they use 80% less energy than neon but have about the same initial cost.
Use smart lighting design and LEDs in parking lots. Parking lot light levels may depend on local ordinances, but can generally be fairly low. Many parking lots are designed with far more lighting than most experts recommend. Not only is overlighting costly, it can be dangerous to drivers if their eyes cannot adjust quickly enough in the transition from highly lit to dark areas. LEDs are becoming a popular choice for parking lots because they function well in the cooler conditions that are typically found at night, provide a more even light distribution, and create less light pollution. The DOE’s Better Buildings Alliance has published specifications for LED parking lot lighting and parking structures; it estimates that employing LEDs can cut energy use by 40% or more. A 2012 DOE case study, Walmart Parking Lot Goes LED (PDF), illustrates many of the benefits of using LEDs to light parking lots and shows savings of more than 50%. More examples can be found at the DOE’s Federal Energy Management Program website, which offers an Outdoor Solid-State Lighting Case Studies page with lots of links.
Controls can also help to reduce parking lot lighting energy use—see, for example, two studies from the DOE on the use of occupancy sensors in parking lots and garages: Use of Occupancy Sensors in LED Parking Lot and Garage Applications: Early Experiences (PDF) and Demonstration Assessment of LED Parking Structure Lighting (PDF).
Water heater measures
High-efficiency water heaters. When replacement time comes around, upgrade your tank water heater—whether gas-fired or electric-powered—to a high-efficiency model. Though high-efficiency models often cost a little more up front, they can save hundreds of dollars per year in fuel expenses.
Tankless water heaters. High-efficiency tankless water heaters, also known as instantaneous or on-demand water heaters, heat water only when it’s needed and can save significant amounts of money and take up less space than traditional models. Tankless water heaters also have very long lifetimes—20 years (compare that to traditional water heaters’ 6 to 10 years). Their reduced energy costs go a long way toward offsetting the higher purchase price, which can run from $1,000 to about $2,000, depending on output capacity. Tankless water heaters do have one drawback: They maintain temperature at the cost of pressure, so they may provide hot water more slowly than conventional tank water heaters. This can reduce the performance of flow-dependent equipment. The good news is that this problem can be solved by right-sizing the unit and ensuring proper installation, or, in some cases, by plumbing multiple tankless units in parallel to provide the desired pressure and flow rate.
Water-efficient dishwashers. High-efficiency dishwashers are distinguished by their low water consumption per rack for conveyer or door-type dishwashers (this may not apply to under-counter units). Reduce the amount of water heating that’s necessary by purchasing or renting a dishwasher that’s certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) to have a water consumption rating of less than 1 gallon per rack (this rating is available on the NSF website).
Low-flow prerinse spray valves. Installing low-flow sprayers is one of the easiest and most cost-effective methods of saving hot water in a commercial kitchen; it can reduce the amount of hot water required to wash dishes by 50% or more without compromising cleanliness or slowing down the dishwashing process. The Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) offers a free Pre-Rinse Spray Valve and Water Cost Calculator that can help estimate cost savings from installing a low-flow valve.
Optimize makeup air. Kitchen ventilation systems represent one of the largest uses of energy in a commercial food service facility. A recent FSTC design guide, Improving Commercial Kitchen Ventilation System Performance: Optimizing Makeup Air (PDF), presents strategies for minimizing the impact that the introduction of makeup air will have on hood performance and energy consumption. A commercial kitchen ventilation system that is designed using the guide is not only likely to improve safety and comfort, it will also save a good deal of energy.
High-efficiency HVAC units. A highly efficient packaged air-conditioning/heating unit can reduce cooling energy consumption by 10% or more over a standard-efficiency commercial packaged unit. Select equipment that has multiple levels of capacity (compressor stages) with good part-load efficiency.
Demand-controlled ventilation. If your restaurant has large swings in occupancy, energy can be saved by decreasing the amount of ventilation supplied by the HVAC system during low-occupancy hours. A demand-controlled ventilation system senses the level of carbon dioxide in the return air stream, uses it as an indicator of occupancy, and decreases supply air when carbon dioxide levels are low.
Reflective building roof coating. If the roof needs recoating or painting, consider white or some other highly reflective color to minimize the amount of heat the building absorbs. Cool roofs can often reduce peak cooling demand by 15% to 20%. For a list of suitable reflective roof-coating products, see the Energy Star Roof Products page.