Routine Refrigeration Maintenance: A Case Study

The following table is a case study of two clients of ours. Our service records from 7/1/12 – 6/31/13 were used to create this table. This comparison is between two bars located in the West Loop area in Chicago. One location (Bar #1) has had a routine maintenance schedule and the equipment is serviced quarterly. The second location (Bar #2) has never accepted a maintenance quote and never had all equipment cleaned and checked on a regular basis. They always call on the hottest days and nights getting whatever piece of equipment fixed that needs immediate attention. The table below will illustrate the importance of routine maintenance and the consequences of equipment neglect.

EstablishmentTotal Number Of Coolers & Freezers Scheduled Maintenance 7/1/12 - 6/30/13Non Emergency Service Calls 7/1/12 - 6/30/13Overtime Service Calls 7/1/12 - 6/30/13Compressor Failures 7/1/12 - 6/30/13
Bar #127Every 3 Months1021
Bar #224None1843

This table clearly shows the benefits of a maintenance plan. Bar #1 has more total equipment than Bar #2, but has less service calls for the year. Also, Bar #1 had only one compressor failure as compared to three at Bar #2. The overall cost of service for the year was much less at the client with a maintenance plan. The properly maintained equipment required far less electricity as well. Routine maintenance plans reduce service calls, save electricity and extend the life of refrigeration equipment.

When it comes to reliability of any equipment, preventive maintenance is a crucial factor. Failure to properly maintain commercial refrigeration will almost always lead to costly repairs and loss of product. As Murphy’s Law would have it, these breakdowns usually occur at the most inopportune times like nights and weekends. It is at these times that service of coolers and freezers comes at a premium. Failure to properly maintain equipment also causes much higher utility bills and shortens life of equipment.

Problems caused by failure to maintain refrigeration equipment

  • Increased utility bills

  • Burnt wiring due to increased amp draw

  • Failure of fan motors caused by dirty coils

  • Failure of thermostat due to increased amp draw

  • Failure of compressor due to dirty coils

  • Restriction of metering device caused by overheated & damaged refrigerant oil

  • and more!

Benefits of routine maintenance

  • Reduced electrical consumption

  • Less equipment breakdown

  • Lower service and repair costs

  • Longer equipment life

  • Fresher product

  • Reduced product spoilage

  • Decreases chance of emergency service due to neglect

  • Decreases stress

  • and more!

More information available on the following blogs

Commercial Refrigeration “Service” vs. “Maintenance” – There’s a Difference

Refrigeration Service At O'Hare
O’Hare Terminal 5

In our experience we find that most after hours emergency commercial refrigeration service calls are due to lack of proper maintenance. Failure to properly maintain coolers and freezers will lead to various unpleasant outcomes. Poorly maintained equipment uses more power to maintain temperatures. It’s also prone to premature failure of critical components. These failures usually occur at the worst possible times like nights and weekends. Repairs cost significantly more after hours or on weekends compared to during regular business hours.

A Solid Maintenance Plan Can Prevent Commercial Refrigeration Repairs

The following scenario is a case in point. We received a request for emergency commercial refrigeration service at a customer lounge in O’Hare Airport on Saturday 10/26/13. The client requested repairs on a two door cooler in their kitchen. We let the client know that services come at a premium on weekends and explained our labor rates. We offered to schedule repairs for first thing Monday, but the customer could not wait.

Upon arrival we found that the cooler condenser and evaporator coils were both plugged with debris. One of two evaporator fan motors had failed possibly due to restricted airflow caused by the dirty coil. This caused one half of the evaporator coil to freeze up. The compressor was extremely overheated due to the dirty condenser coil. We defrosted the frozen coil, replaced the bad evaporator motor & pressure cleaned the evaporator & condenser coils. After repairs and cleaning the refrigerant pressures were checked and a system restriction was found. System oil had been fouled due to overheating caused by the dirty condenser. This caused the capillary tube metering device to partially restrict causing a low back pressure. A quote for new capillary tubing will need to be prepared.

All of the problems found with this cooler stem from lack of maintenance. All of this could have probably been avoided with a proper maintenance plan in place.

The following are the main takeaways from this service call.

Consequences of lack of routine maintenance include:

  • All problems with this cooler were caused by lack of maintenance on commercial refrigeration equipment
  • The overtime service call cost the client about $250 more than regular rate service
  • Overheated and damaged oil has caused the capillary tube metering device to become partially restricted and new capillary tubing will need to be quoted
  • The dirty condenser coil caused compressor to run hot and has decreased life of the compressor

Avoid Unplanned Commercial Refrigeration Service – Be Proactive

We strive to make clients aware of the importance of a routine maintenance plan. This is a tough sell for some reason. Most clients operate on a reactive basis instead of a proactive basis. If proper maintenance plans were in place the majority of commercial refrigeration equipment failures could be avoided. Check out some of our DIY tips for commercial refrigeration maintenance.

Some benefits of a routine maintenance plan

  • Prolong life of commercial refrigeration equipment
  • Reduce electrical consumption
  • Reduce the need for emergency commercial refrigeration service
  • Prevent costly commercial refrigeration repairs

Refrigeration Maintenance Pays: A Client Lesson

It never pays to be penny-wise & dollar-foolish when it comes to maintenance of commercial refrigeration. Hopefully you can learn from this customer’s expensive lesson!

We received a call on a Saturday in August for emergency service. As Murphy’s Law would have it, their 2-door cooler broke down on the weekend, when repairs come at a premium.

Let’s backtrack for a minute. We quoted this customer a full comprehensive maintenance plan back in November of 2011. This maintenance, if performed, likely would have prevented the cooler in question from breaking down. The maintenance would definitely save the customer on energy usage & extend the life of the equipment. Unfortunately, as is all too often the case, the customer did not schedule or approve our refrigeration maintenance proposal. Have a look at our quote below for the maintenance work:

Fast forward to the emergency service call. Their 2 door cooler was running at 70 degrees, which we diagnosed as a bad condenser fan motor. Most likely, the fan motor overheated due to the condenser coil being plugged with grease. The compressor was extremely overheated & tripping off on overload. We had to cool the compressor with ice, degrease the coil several times & replace the condenser fan motor. All this was done at our Saturday rate, which is 1.5 times our regular rates. Now take a look at the invoice for emergency Saturday service:

(Note: Our current regular business hour rates are as follows $65 service charge $115.50 per hour plus parts)


Here is how it breaks down:

  1. The emergency service on the one cooler was almost $200 more than the entire maintenance proposal for 12 Refrigeration Units.
  2. The other 11 Refrigeration Units are still overdue for maintenance.
  3. The compressor on cooler serviced has been severely strained & may fail soon.

This scenario is something we see all the time: We try to preach the benefits of  routine maintenance, but it is all too often ignored. For the handful of clients who routinely maintain their refrigeration equipment, the units are operating much more efficiently and have far fewer breakdowns than units that are not serviced regularly. We recommend a thorough maintenance inspection be done a minimum of twice per year.

Here are a couple other maintenance-related posts that are useful:

DIY Commercial Refrigeration Maintenance Inspection

5 Steps To Conserve Energy & Extend Life Of Refrigeration Equipment

Problems Caused By Lack Of Commercial Refrigeration Maintenance

Please contact us with any questions regarding commercial refrigeration.

Problems Caused By Lack Of Commercial Refrigeration Maintenance

Proper commercial refrigeration maintenance is extremely important. It will extend life of commercial refrigeration including coolers, freezers & ice machines. Routine maintenance can also reduce the chances of emergency service caused by major component failure such as a compressor or condenser fan motor going bad due to a dirty coil. We try to get the word out about this as much as possible. We want to let our clients & everyone else know how important maintenance is. In this case an ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure!

The following is a short list of some possible problems caused by not maintaining equipment on a regular basis.

  1. Failure of fan motors caused by dirty coils restricting air flow.
  2. Failure of thermostat caused by high amp draw due to dirty condenser coils.
  3. Failure of compressor caused by dirty condenser coil & excessive head pressure.
  4. Restriction of capillary tubing (metering device) caused by refrigerant oil overheating & fouling.
  5. Wiring burning & failing due to excessive amp draw caused by high head pressure & dirty condenser coils.
  6. Increased electrical consumption & amp draw due to longer run times caused by dirty condenser coils.

That’s six problems caused that can be caused by lack of maintenance. There are more, but these are the most common ones seen in the field. Murphy’s Law says any of these break downs will occur at night or on a weekend when repair service comes at a premium. Taking a few simple steps can guard against equipment failure & also extend the life of coolers & freezers. We have written several blogs to help clients make sure they understand the importance of routine maintenance. Find helpful articles on our Maintenance Tips Tab. The following are a few examples.

Contact us with any questions about commercial refrigeration maintenance, operation & or energy conservation. We would be happy to help!

Commercial Refrigeration Energy Saving Tips

Refrigeration accounts for about 20% of the energy used world wide. There are steps that can be taken to lower commercial refrigeration energy consumption. Following our thorough refrigeration maintenance checklist and performing control upgrades can reduce electrical consumption by as much as 20% and more. It can also extend the life of commercial refrigeration equipment & prevent commercial refrigeration repair service. The following is recommended to start reducing commercial refrigeration energy usage & avoid commercial refrigeration service calls.

Commercial Refrigeration Energy Saving Checklist

  1. Keep condenser coils clean & de grease if necessary. Have the coils inspected once a month or more.
  2. Make sure door gaskets (seals) are in good condition & working properly.
  3. If refrigeration unit is equipped with automatic door closers make sure they operate properly.
  4. Keep commercial ice machines clean & have them serviced at least twice a year. Ice Machine service & repair in Lake County Illinois is needed more often when using well water.

See our DIY Commercial Refrigeration Maintenance Inspection post for more details.

Simple, sustainable, energy saving upgrades are available for commercial walk in coolers & commercial freezers. One such product is Intellicon-RU.  This product can reduce electrical consumption by as much as 10 to 20%! It is a microcomputer controller that once installed makes the refrigeration system run at a higher efficiency level. This also helps reduce service calls & can extend the life of the compressor. Please see our Intellicon-RU post for more details.

By implementing routine commercial refrigeration preventive maintenance & installing energy economizing parts the cost running of equipment may drop by 20% or more. This will pay for itself in the long run. Contact us with any questions about commercial refrigeration preventive maintenance or commercial refrigeration energy saving options.