Opinion: Commercial kitchen ventilation considerations for a winter lockdown

Elta Group’s David Millward urged the kitchen ventilation specification process to be educational.

David Millward, product manager at industrial fans specialist, Elta Group, discusses why effective commercial kitchen ventilation needs to be a top priority, with the prospect of air quality remaining high on customers’ agenda:

Social distancing, self-isolation and city-wide lockdowns have forced many fixed establishments to shut shop this year, while others have adapted to capitalise on the home-delivery market. One thing that’s for certain is that the kitchen will remain the heart of any restaurant that weathers this storm, and attention must therefore be given to ensuring it can continue to operate safely and efficiently.

In the UK, it is all-too-familiar to see ventilation system design quality compromised due to budget restraints. This is largely down to a lack of awareness over the risks surrounding occupant wellbeing, as well as the functionality of the kitchen itself.

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What are the risks?

  1. Health and safety of staff

First and foremost, if ventilation isn’t optimised to remove harmful pollutants effectively, while bringing in enough airflow for gas combustion, this can have damaging effects on the health and wellbeing of staff. It poses the risk of impacting cognitive ability, and exacerbating existing health conditions, and should be taken extremely seriously as a result.

  1. Noise pollution

If a ventilation solution is not fully optimised in the design stage, it can have an impact on the acoustics of a restaurant. When you consider the lengths that many establishments go to ensure optimum ambience for customers, a noisy ventilation system can have a damaging effect on reputation.

  1. Increasing energy bills

Ageing equipment is one of the biggest energy-drainers in a commercial setting. While a ventilation system may have been compliant and optimised at the point of purchase, it could quite possibly be impacting a business’s bottom line by draining resources. As we know all-too-well, now is not the time for wastage, so by allocating capital to improving equipment, businesses will see the benefit in the long-run.

  1. Disruption due to breakdowns or fire alarms

Poorly specified equipment will often struggle to withstand the heat of a busy kitchen. This means it is more prone to failure and breakdown, disrupting service as well as potentially setting off the fire alarm at regular intervals.

  1. Damage to the kitchen

When cooking with poor ventilation, the air quality is compromised and food particles can be carried around the kitchen. This can not only contaminate surfaces, but also damage them. With poor ventilation, users need to clean the kitchen’s surfaces more frequently to avoid contamination, and preserve them against the potential of stains and water damage.

Substandard specifications

It may not be the most exciting piece of equipment, but the above should serve to highlight ventilation’s pivotal role in the health and operational capacity of a kitchen. However, it’s not uncommon for end users to want to drive down costs and therefore jeopardise key elements of the specification process. Here are a few of the potential things that could go wrong, which are worth reiterating to your customers when specifying commercial ventilation this year:

  1. Incorrect temperature ratings of fans

In order to keep costs down on an installation, there is a tendency to install lower cost fans that are designed for around 60°C ambient temperature. In an environment with cooking materials reaching much higher temperatures, sometimes up to 200°C, this is unacceptable.

  1. Incorrect air velocity calculations

One way to remove grease is to position baffle filters on a canopy. These are designed in such a way that the grease will hit a wall, drip down the surface, and then run away. However, if too much air is drawn across the space, it will carry the grease straight through the filtration and into the duct – and that is a serious fire hazard.

  1. Omission of accessories

There are many accessories that can help optimise a system but these are often the first thing to get cut out of a quote. Examples include silencers to reduce noise, or controls to improve efficiency levels, both of which have tangible benefits for a kitchen.

Potential solutions

  1. Demand Control Ventilation

Commercial kitchen operators need versatile systems that can balance cost with impact. For example, typical commercial kitchens have various arduous ventilation systems with high resistances against which a fan has to operate. Demand control ventilation is a technology that utilises sensors to manage the levels of smoke, moisture, grease and cooking odours within set levels at all times. Solutions come in the form of: humidity transmitters; PIR sensors; pressure, CO2 and temperature transmitters; and room humidistats.

  1. Centrifugal Box Fans

While space saving is a common goal for many building solutions, social distancing rules are forcing businesses to utilise space more effectively. When it comes to specifying commercial kitchen ventilation, centrifugal box fans provide a potential solution. For example, Elta Fan’s Slim Qube has a slim body shape and lighter weight, which is ideal for restricted spaces, and the more efficient backward curve impeller helps businesses significantly drive down energy costs.

What to do next

The impact of Covid-19 on the food and beverage sector has moved the goalposts entirely. Indoor air quality has shot up the priorities to become of the utmost importance in public settings to protect human health, as well as protect a business’s reputation and overheads.

The specification process needs to be an educational one in order to avoid cut corners. It is therefore the role of distributors, contractors, and facilities professionals to ensure that ventilation standards are not just adhered to, but exceeded.

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Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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