5 Commercial Refrigerator Tips to Consider Before Buying

While each commercial refrigerator will serve its own purpose in your restaurant, café, bar, or convenience store, they all share some general similarities. To keep your commercial refrigerator functioning at peak efficiency, you’ll need to understand how they work.



1. How You Plan to Use it

If you plan on using your commercial refrigerator to store food items, it will need to be NSF rated based on the type of food held. Some models are rated for packaged and bottled products, while others can hold open food items safely.

The National Sanitation Foundation rating for commercial refrigeration refers to the ability of a unit to protect food items from physical contaminants as well as properly refrigerate them to avoid pathogen development. An NSF rating also ensures the unit will be able to be properly and thoroughly sanitized to prevent harmful bacteria growth on the interior of your commercial refrigerator.

2. Installation Location

From reach-in refrigerators and freezers to chef bases, where you place your commercial refrigerator can have a major impact on the way it performs.

  • Placing a fridge too close to your range or cookline can cause it to run less efficiently. For refrigeration in your kitchen, it’s best to keep equipment in its zoned area to optimize efficiency.
  • Some commercial refrigerators are designed to be used outdoors and may carry a UL rating for that function.
  • Other fridges, like open-air merchandisers, may need to be placed in areas where the ambient temperature will not exceed a certain level.

Understanding your commercial refrigerator’s intended purpose and capabilities will prevent poor food quality, overworked refrigeration systems, and costly repairs down the line.

3. Compressor Location

The location of your commercial refrigerator’s compressor impacts a lot of things you may not realize.

  • First, and most importantly, the compressor needs proper airflow to function properly and not burn out.
  • If your fridge or freezer has a rear-mounted compressor, you will want to avoid placing it directly against a wall. A good general rule is to allow around six inches of clearance for proper breathing.
  • Common compressor locations are top-mounted and bottom mounted. Each option has its own benefits and downfalls.
  • Top-mounted compressor: This configuration means the compressor will not pick up dirt and debris from the floor when cycling air. The heat from the fans and refrigeration system won’t rise into the unit, which can save on energy costs. A top mounted compressor usually means more storage space inside the unit. However, this type of unit does not do well near the cook line since it will pull in greasy steam that could clog the condenser coils.


  • Bottom mounted compressor: Servicing and cleaning the compressor is easy and won’t require a ladder to reach. Temperatures on the floor can be up to 15 degrees lower than those near the ceiling, which means the unit won’t have to work as hard to pull air in. This type of unit can be used at the cookline without damaging the coil, but the bottom-mounted fan is more likely to collect dust and debris from the floor. However, insulating the bottom floor of a unit with a bottom-mounted compressor to prevent hot air from rising into the unit can raise production costs.

  • Front breathing: Building a cook line is easy with a front-breathing commercial refrigerator. Sandwich or pizza prep tables, and some undercounter or worktop refrigerators feature a front breathing refrigeration system. This type of system is great for refrigerators that will be placed directly against a wall or built into an existing prep line. The only space that is required to be clear for this type of compressor location to properly breathe is the space between the unit and the floor, which should be clean.

4. Energy Efficiency

Your commercial refrigerator’s insulation, door type, and the type of motors used to distribute air all impact energy costs.

  • Insulation prevents heat from pouring through the cooler’s walls. Less hot air in means less work cooling the interior. Foamed-in-place insulation is the most popular and efficient type of commercial refrigeration insulation on the market right now. The effectiveness of insulation at preventing air from leaking into the unit can be measured by R-value.

R-Value is the rating system used to grade insulation products or a material’s insulating properties. The “R” stands for “resistance” and refers to the resistance a material has to heat flow, or temperature conduction. When a product or home has a high R-Value, this means it is well insulated. – USA Insulation

  • Door type also ties into insulation since the seal or gasket around the door as well as the insulation of the door itself can prevent or allow air to leak in or out. Self-closing doors, tempered glass, and positive seal gaskets are all common features that help commercial refrigerators retain their cold air. 
  • Fan motors work hard around the clock to keep your commercial refrigerator’s interior temperatures in a food-safe range. Newer technology utilizes electronically commutated or “brushless” fan motors for increased torque per watt used. Traditional fan motors can be made to function more efficiently, but commutated motors are far more efficient, and often paired with off-cycle defrost systems, or advanced temperature control settings that allow for less cycling and less energy use throughout the day.
  • The ambient temperature of the area the refrigerator will be placed in can also affect energy efficiency. Hotter ambient temperatures force the unit to work harder to pull and cool air. Commercial refrigerators placed near cook-lines and cooking equipment will need to cycle more often to retain food-safe temperatures, making them less efficient on energy costs.
  • ENERGY STAR – The most reliable way to know your commercial refrigerator is energy efficient is to look for an energy star rating. Learn more about ENERGY STAR to ensure your commercial kitchen is reducing energy costs wherever it can.

5. Brand

Purchasing commercial refrigeration is a big investment. Without quality refrigeration, your restaurant or business will lose quality in your products. Choose equipment manufactured by a brand that is reliable and trusted in the industry for peace of mind. Some brands may offer the best value with a lower price point, while others focus on manufacturing top-of-the-line models that feature high-quality components and technology to assist in energy efficiency. Many brands offer warranties that cover parts, labor, and compressor or compressor parts.

Commercial refrigerators are key to keeping foods safe and tasting great. The right refrigerator will serve its purpose of maintaining cold product temperatures while keeping energy costs low. By understanding the pros and cons of how a fridge functions, you will be equipped to make the right purchase for your business. Burkett offers a wide variety of products to fit even the most specific refrigeration needs from top-of-the-line brands like True Refrigeration, Delfield, Turbo Air, and SEAGATE.