Spec Check: Undercounter Refrigeration Units

For operators seeking to save space while creating convenient cold storage options, undercounter refrigeration represents a viable alternative for preparation and cooking lines. Also known as a lowboy, this equipment’s smaller size makes it suitable for kitchens with smaller footprints or for operators looking to keep valuable worktop space clear.

Sizes vary significantly based on the application. Undercounter units can be 24 to 108 inches long, with depths ranging from 24 to 34 inches. The smallest footprint of an undercounter refrigeration unit is usually 24 inches by 24 inches, although these units may have ventilation requirements that prohibit boxing them in on the sides. These units tend to be 30 inches tall to fit under counters.

“The height of undercounter refrigeration systems used in the front of house needs to be [no more than] 34 inches to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements,” says Harry Schildkraut, FCSI, principal of S2O Consultants, Inc., based in Hawthorn Woods, Ill.

Undercounter refrigerators typically feature stainless steel construction on the exterior with a choice of aluminum, painted white aluminum, stainless steel and ABS plastic for the interior. Operators can also specify unfinished tops or have them finished with stainless steel or a laminate. Doors may be unlaminated, laminated or glass. These units typically feature foamed-in-place polyurethane insulation.

When purchasing an undercounter refrigeration unit, operators can choose from a variety of features, including automatic condensate vaporizers, automatic defrost, casters, door swing and handle options, self-closing doors and vinyl-coated shelving. Other options include pull out drawers, a backsplash, low-profile casters and a one- or two-tier over shelf assemblies.

Specifying Considerations

  • Operators that require refrigerated storage in prep and cooking areas often specify undercounter units. Other applications include placing these units in waitstaff areas or near expediting windows.
  • Undercounter refrigeration can help provide backup storage to supplement refrigerated prep tables. It’s also compact enough to fit in the surrounding area.
  • Whether specifying a one- or two-door unit, operators need to make sure the model is the appropriate size for the space allocated. Also take into consideration clearance for opening doors and drawers.
  • Placement in relation to other equipment and walls represents another key consideration. Some front-breathing, self-contained units allow operators to build the cabinets in on three sides. Other models require clearance on the three sides or in the back to create proper ventilation space. A lack of proper ventilation space could force the compressor to burn out.
  • Determine the types of products the operator will store in the refrigeration unit. This ensures the specification of the proper type and size of unit.
  • “Operators also should consider the maximization of available space,” Schildkraut says. “For example, [it’s possible to utilize] the void space above the compressor for a refrigerated drawer.”
  • Undercounter units offer either self-contained or remote refrigeration systems. To determine which type best suits the operation, confirm placement of the equipment prior to specification.
  • The use of refrigerated drawers, as opposed to doors, is becoming more popular with undercounter refrigeration units. This configuration provides culinary staff, including chefs, quick access to ingredients.
  • Understand how the unit addresses condensation. Most units include pans underneath to collect drips. Other models offer an optional electric condensate feature. Some units utilize hot gas, which transfers heat from the compressor to eliminate condensation issues.
  • Check the type of casters available. Because casters come in different sizes, it’s necessary to confirm height clearance to ensure the unit will fit under the allotted countertop. Order smaller caster sizes if height is an issue.

Considering Features and Options

  • Operators can specify a variety of door finishes, including laminated, unlaminated and glass. Glass doors provide added visibility to assess the items that are out of stock.
  • Weight-bearing tops are standard on some units and not on others. If an additional worktop will be necessary, this is a viable option.
  • Also, for easier cleaning and more flexible use, consider refrigeration units with casters.
  • Exterior thermometers help monitor temperatures within the unit and ensure food is being held safely.
  • Systems that provide precise temperature holding capabilities are available.
  • Shelving options are available for different pan sizes, depending on what’s being stored in the unit.
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