Building a commercial structure that incorporates substantial refrigeration elements is a complex task, and there’s a lot to consider. Whether it’s a cold storage warehouse, a supermarket with extensive frozen sections, or a food processing facility, it’s crucial to understand the significant components involved, effectively plan for them, and ensure that you have the right design and building team on board.
Cold storage may be as small as a reach-in cooler, or as large as hundreds of thousands of square feet of cooler and/or freezer space. Identifying what will be stored inside and knowing the logistics of the facility’s operations all contribute to the planning and construction of the building. Existing buildings can also feasibly be renovated to suit this purpose, with extra considerations and an adaptable build crew.
Building Structure & Exterior Considerations
The structure’s exterior is pivotal when integrating commercial refrigeration systems. The exterior skin, insulation systems, roofing, floor slab and ventilation must all be considered. Whether renovating or building new, the structure will heavily influence the longevity and energy efficiency of the building. Some of the components to consider include:
Wall, roof, and floor insulation are vital to maintaining energy efficiency and preventing condensation. Insulation comes in many forms and must be evaluated to effectively resist moisture build up.
These prevent moisture infiltration, which can degrade insulation and cause structural issues. Vapor barriers of some form should be evaluated for areas such as walls, roof structure, windows and ceilings.
Doors and Entrances
Insulated doors, rapid roll-up doors, or air curtains can minimize temperature fluctuations. These systems can be manual or electronic with a variety of controls available depending on budget and desired functionality.
Floors should be adequately insulated and able to handle low temperatures without cracking. Often made of concrete, freezer spaces typically need heating installed within and below the slab to prevent heaving and cracking.
Coated steel and metal deck with insulation above the decking in lieu of below, or with insulated metal panels at the ceiling that resist corrosion are often the best solution to prevent moisture damage.
Height, Storage, and Fire Protection
Vertical space can be utilized to maximize storage, but this may require specialized equipment and added safety measures. Higher ceilings can aid in better air circulation, ensuring uniform temperatures. Production strategies must be considered relative to storage solutions.
Efficient racking systems, optimized layouts, and multiple temperature zones might be necessary for facilities storing various products. Many buildings may have areas for bulk storage options with entrances into production areas, potentially with equipment that transports materials between them.
Cold temperatures typically dictate constructing spaces with fire-resistant materials and specialized sprinkler systems designed for low temperatures. Racking will often dictate the placement of fire suppression piping and sprinkler heads, and temperature the type of system utilized. Local building codes must be reviewed and in compliance to achieve permits and inspection approvals.
Evaluate electrical load and confirm service size for new construction and renovations to accommodate the refrigeration equipment. Be sure to include any truck charging requirements for exterior refrigerated trailers at loading docks.
Commercial Refrigeration Components
Identifying and installing the right refrigeration systems is key to a successful commercial refrigeration project. As we discussed in a previous article, there are many components that make up a refrigeration system, all of which must be carefully considered when planning.
- Compressors, condensers, evaporators, and expansion valves are integral parts of the refrigeration cycle, working together to circulate refrigerant, absorb heat, and cool the desired space.
- Refrigeration fluids or gases are crucial to actually cooling the space. Their choice impacts efficiency, environmental concerns, and regulatory compliance. Common refrigerants include ammonia, CO2, and propane.
- Piping, controls, and automation components work in tandem to maintain efficiency, energy conservation, and optimal functionality of the refrigeration system. Controls and automations range from minimal to very complex, depending on the size and function of the building.
When designing each commercial refrigeration system, consider how the product will be stored and transported. Product temperature will vary between users; some will keep product in temperature-controlled trucks, others will be at ambient temperature. Certain products are required to be maintained at a certain temperature while others will need to follow a rigid cooling schedule. This may require temperature-controlled loading docks and dock seals to control the environment. Understanding how the building user will control product will allow you to create the most efficient build to meet the client’s needs.
Planning and Assembling the Right Team
Finding the right design and construction team is a crucial element of achieving the right space both on time and on budget. When it comes to cold storage and refrigerated spaces, there are a few things to consider when choosing a reputable general contractor:
- Hire experienced designers: Refrigeration is complex, and an experienced designer will ensure the system is efficient and compliant with local and federal codes, as well as food safety standards. Referrals from others who have created similar buildings can be a great place to start.
- Collaborate with a knowledgeable builder: Work with a reputable contractor during the design process to complete a thorough preconstruction process. With a design-build or similar collaborative design and construction process, owners can find optimal options for cost, schedule and longevity of the building.
- Involve a refrigeration engineer: These experts can propose various systems depending on how the building should function. They can ensure the system operates at peak efficiency and meets all technical requirements.
- Maintenance and support: Engage a construction team that brings trade partners on board with expertise in refrigeration systems. This team will include a full-service mechanical and electrical contractor. Ideally, the general contractor and trade partners have the capacity to provide ongoing operational support for the life of the building and/or business.
Ensuring a Successful Project
Achieving a successful project usually means constructing a building on time, on budget, and meeting the end-use goals of the occupant(s). There are many means and methods to get from the idea of a building to the completion of it, with some more critical than others. These include:
- Clear communication: Regular meetings and updates will keep everyone on the same page. In a previous article, we discussed communication techniques and its importance to the construction process.
- Comprehensive preconstruction processes: Develop a clear budget, including contingencies for unforeseen expenses. Complete preconstruction investigations help prevent surprises both during and after the building is complete.
- Know the desired operational outcomes: A great design and construction team can help identify best practices for construction, but the business operator must know what items are must-haves vs. nice-to-haves with regards to the functionality of the building. Active participation during preconstruction by the end-user will help significantly.
- Regular review: Regular reviews and quality checks should be performed throughout the construction process by all team members, including the design team, specialty consultants, ownership and end users, in addition to the contractor’s teams.
Building a commercial refrigeration facility with significant components requires expertise, meticulous planning, and a comprehensive approach to integrate the refrigeration systems seamlessly with the building structure. It’s critical to evaluate not just the building process, but also how the building needs to operate in the short and long-term. Of equal importance, support for ongoing maintenance will increase the lifespan of the building.
If you’re contemplating a construction project involved cold storage, reach out our teams today.