Ryan Rongo, LEED AP, project manager at S20 Consultants Inc., provided a debrief on  the latest regulation-related changes he’s facing as he works on large-scale university, B&I and sporting/stadium projects. He’s found ongoing legal and financial requirements are having a direct impact on equipment specification.

New DOE Energy Codes

The Department of Energy introduced some new energy code requirements for walk-in coolers and freezers that took effect Dec. 20, 2018, under Title 10/Chapter II/Subchapter D/§431.306 (energy conservation standards and their effective dates). As part of these requirements walk-in coolers must contain ceiling and door insulation of at least R-25. Walk-in freezers should have insulation of at least R-32 for ceilings and doors and R-28 for floors.

The change in the freezer specifications represents a change from a previous recommendation of R-25, which, Rongo says, led to a need to increase in the thickness of an insulated slab from about 8 inches to 10 inches.

R290 and Refrigerants

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program has, since 2016, aimed to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in refrigeration because of their high global warming potential. R290 propane and isobutane have been suggested as alternative solutions but have yet to be widely adopted in the foodservice community. Larger players in the grocery segment, however, do appear to be adopting those alternatives.

In related news, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) will cast a final vote in March on whether to increase the current charge limit for R290, which could lead to a more widespread use of the alternative refrigerant in commercial settings.

Some manufacturers have already gotten on board with R290 and other refrigerants with less Global Warming Potential (GWP) levels. Rongo says this has had an impact on the ability to obtain extra points in LEED projects, which makes up about 75 percent of his large-scale university and sports arena projects.

Compressor racks continue to pose problems when trying to obtain enhanced refrigeration management points in a LEED project. That’s because LEED requires units have GWP levels of less than 50. For reference, R290 has a GWP rating of 3, but compressor racks currently use about 1,300 GWP. In such cases, therefore, Rongo has had to specify more R290 units in the form of drop-in refrigerators to lower the total GWP rating. Though it’s a few years in the making, certainly, if charge rates for R290 are increased, more manufacturers could opt to use propane as a refrigerant for larger pieces of refrigeration.

Minimum Wage and Labor Cost Increases

As the Fight For 15 campaign continues and states across the country make moves or consider making moves to raise their minimum wages, restaurants and foodservice operators have to grapple with rising labor costs across the board.

As a result, many turn toward technology and automation as a way to offset labor challenges and free up those more mundane tasks that don’t or shouldn’t necessarily require paid labor.

“One way sports venues are trying to reduce some of their labor costs is by moving toward in-seat ordering services, where customers can access an app on their phones, pay for their purchase, receive a code and then pick up their food in a lock box near the concessions stands by punching in that code,” says Rongo, who notes that he’s currently working with five new sporting arena projects implementing this service at both the professional and collegiate levels.

Another labor challenge that universities, in particular, deal with, Rongo says, is finding enough staff members who are 21 years or older to sell wine and beer at concessions. As a result, he’s altered designs to take the alcohol out of some main concession areas and install beer and wine taps at portable stands instead.

Rongo has also been specifying more state-of-the-art, self-service soda machines that set limits on refills. In this case, the customer receives a receipt with a QR code to scan at the dispenser for one preprogrammed beverage or that limits refills to one per order.

As new regulations and labor challenges continue to unfold in the foodservice industry, consultants like Rongo have to restudy and rethink specifications in order to meet the changing needs of clients across the board.

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