Business is booming, but your kitchen needs an upgrade. So you buy an extra fryer, maybe a larger griddle. Seems simple, but failure to factor in your gas supply could lead to an expensive surprise.
The problem usually goes back to the design of the operation’s main gas line.
There’s a clear process for determining the size of the gas supply line, says David Duckworth, director of field operations and training/development for Commercial Kitchen Parts and Service, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas.
During building design, the Btu rating of all the pieces of gas equipment (including HVAC) are added up, then matched with the distance from the gas meter to the end of the line. Plumbing designers can then refer to sizing charts to determine how big of a gas line is necessary.
The problem comes, however, when only the required pipe and no bigger is installed, and even reduced, as gas demand decreases further down a cooking line. While that approach will work to start, it simply doesn’t give a kitchen the ability to grow or evolve, says Duckworth.
“If they’ve done it in that manner, you cannot move things around. Sometimes the Btu rating on the equipment at the beginning cannot be moved to the end because there’s not enough fuel in the line to feed that higher-Btu piece of equipment.”
Operators can see the effects of this immediately: The flames on a range will suddenly drop or even extinguish, for example. In some cases, pilot lights will shut off.
Avoid these problems from the start with a more robust gas supply line design. Duckworth recommends running the specified sized pipe — or even a little bigger — the full length of the gas line. From there, he recommends using a 1¼ inch pipe off the line — large enough for any piece of equipment — along with a bell reducer to step down the gas supply to less powerful pieces of equipment. This approach will give operators flexibility to add high-Btu equipment at any spot in the kitchen.
While this approach adds to the construction cost, it’s a good investment. “I would recommend if you’re a small company and you plan on growing, you accommodate for that. It will save you money in the long run,” Duckworth says.
But what about operators that inherit a space, or didn’t follow this procedure? Fixes are costly, Duckworth says. Options include tearing out and replacing the entire gas line or installing an entirely new, second gas line for the new pieces of equipment. In some cases, operators can obtain permission from their gas provider and municipality to install a “medium pressure” gas line to increase gas volume.
Duckworth recommends having the gas supply line evaluated by a licensed gas piping plumber before any purchase. These professionals should be able to tell operators what their systems can handle. If they don’t like the answer they get, the solution is stark, but simple, Duckworth says. “It may just mean you can’t have a piece you want, or you invest in a solution.”