Flooding Could Mean Problems for Outdoor Walk-ins

Enough rain fell on Texas last month to cover the entire state — all 269,000 square miles of it — in eight inches of water.

The result, as everyone knows, was massive flooding in many areas. One hard hit area was Dallas, home of service agency Refrigerated Specialists, Inc. According to Account Manager Mike Via, his company has been busy dealing with the fallout.

Surprisingly, Via hasn't seen any damage inside restaurants themselves. What he has seen is massive flooding impacting outdoor walk-in refrigerators and freezers.

Fortunately, he has seen only a handful of condensers that got damaged in the floods, since most are remoted to the operation's roof. In those few cases where there was damage, technicians had to go through the condensers piece-by-piece, draining water, drying parts and replacing components that they believed could be damaged. "Anything that's below the water line you want to go through with a fine toothed comb and make sure you don't have any moisture of any sort," he said.

Most of the real damage, though, has been to the refrigerated boxes themselves. The units that have been hardest hit, said Via, are those under construction. In many cases, those units were not fully sealed and weatherized. Unplugged holes that were put in place for fire suppression systems and electrical wiring allowed water to easily flow directly into the box. In some cases, those units have been so saturated that they may end up as total losses before they see a day of service.

The fate of many operational units is just as unclear, Via added. One such unit, for instance, had a drain line that fed to the box's exterior. "It looked like a water faucet. Water just poured out of it for 12 to 14 hours."

In such situations, he said, it's important to allow as much time as possible for water to drain from the box. That's because the insulating foam between the panels has almost certainly soaked up water like a sponge. The longer it has to drain, the better.

To encourage the process of removing water, Refrigerated Specialists is recommending that operators restart their walk-in freezers in stages, lowering the temperature by about five degrees every day or two until it hits zero. This will allow the refrigeration itself to pull moisture from the air over time.

Some customers, Via said, have rented refrigerated trucks to give this this water and moisture removal extra time. They are, no doubt, doing this largely to avoid the worst-case scenario that could result from bringing the temperature down too quickly. "If you start freezing the water, obviously it's going to start separating that foam. It's going to get between the foam and the panel and basically going to destroy those panels," said Via.

Still, even allowing several days for a unit to drain and for its refrigeration to pull moisture from the air, there's no guaranteeing that the box will survive. Units with insulated slabs — essentially a pit filled with insulation below the concrete slab, undoubtedly have moisture below the floor, which is impossible to remove. And the insulated foam inside the panels themselves may never fully drain.

Signs of trouble he said, will likely include rust on the surface connectors that hold the panels together and mold and mildew on the weather stripping between panels. In addition, water in the insulation may weight doors and panels down, throwing them out of alignment and making them hard to close.

"We really don't know what it's going to be like in six to eight weeks or in four to six months," said Via. "The damage has not revealed itself all the way, for sure. We expect to see more down the road."