Equipment Maintenance Tips to Promote Energy Efficiency

Water-Based Equipment

Aside from refrigeration, equipment linked to water — such as steamers, combi ovens, broilers and ice machines — represent another crucial area for maintenance.

"If you have even just an eigth of an inch of scale buildup on a broiler or other element, it can increase energy consumption by as much as 30 percent," Hodge says. Scale buildup can actually form a layer of insulation on the heater's surface, thereby reducing the amount of heat reaching the water. As a result, the heater has to stay energized longer to do the same amount of work as a clean heater.

"It pays to keep boilers and other water-fed equipment regularly cleaned of lime and scale buildup," Hodge says. Once every six months usually is enough to descale equipment, but that depends on the equipment and hardness of the water in the area.

With proper water filtration, though, descaling might only need to happen once a year. In fact, Hodge points out, many manufacturers of steam equipment offer extended warranties on boilers if they have water filtration systems hooked up to them. Softeners alone don't always do the job and in some cases, simply replace lime with salt, which can also cause damage. Other water filtration systems filter out hard water particulates and other impurities that cause the most damage to equipment over time.

In most cases, operators or their contracted maintenance staff can do the cleaning themselves with manufacturer-approved cleaning agents, but enclosed boiler systems are a little trickier, Hodge says. "It's not rocket science, but there is a method to the madness. Just like changing the oil on a car, some people are comfortable with that but many are not."

When it comes to ice machines, many operators think simply changing the filter is enough. In actuality, Hodge says, most ice machine manufacturers recommend cleaning and sanitizing every six months. "Most operators don't do this, though, and that's obvious if you see cloudy ice," Hodge adds. "Even if you have a filtration system, you still have to sanitize the machine because filtration doesn't get rid of dirty air in the kitchen getting into the machine."

Dishwashers and Sanitation

Dishwashers in particular are sensitive to inefficiencies. A planned maintenance program may include tightening seals, checking wash pressures and verifying proper wash and rinse patterns.

Even something as seemingly simple as loading dishes improperly can throw off energy efficiency, Hodge points out. "If you don't load racks properly, dishes won't get cleaned, and you may have to run the cycle again. Silverware gets overloaded quite a bit."

Also, check booster temperature settings, Hodge says, noting that 180 to 195 degrees F is adequate. "I've seen customers crank up the temperature higher because they're seeing spotting, but more than likely it's not a water issue, but an issue involving chemicals or overloading the washer."

Range Remedies

When it comes to ranges, the workhorses of the kitchen, regular maintenance is key for maintaining optimal performance and reducing energy drains. In addition to regular calibration, checking the gas pressure is also important, says Mark LeBerte, president of ATECH in Nashville, Tenn.

"When inspecting burners and pilots, make sure all orifices are cleaned and that the flame is blue, not orange," LeBerte says. "When the flame turns orange that means it's not as hot and the gas pressure or adjustment air is off." Food spills and other blockages can cause this problem.

Typically, realigning burners and pilots requires a professional service agent. Yellow flames cause food to take longer to heat, thereby causing the range to work that much harder. In between check-ups and tune-ups, operators can clean gas ranges using a simple wire brush to remove spills as well as removing the grates and quickly washing them in soapy water — too much moisture can cause rust on these cast iron pieces.

Burner valves also need to be greased every so often or they will wear out and leak. "When you have metal on metal, that's not a good thing," LeBerte says.

For electric ranges, "there isn't a whole lot of preventative maintenance, but if you notice the equipment is taking longer and longer to heat up that probably means one of the coils has gone out." In many models, coils are wired together so when one goes down, others do too. In some cases, entire clusters might need to be replaced.

Simple steps like these to maintain, plan and properly train staff to use equipment can mean the difference between an efficient piece of equipment, or a severely inefficient one, even if it boasted an energy-efficient label when first purchased.