If you are in the market to replace an old walk-in or purchase a new one, the most important thing to look for is high-quality construction and long-lasting operation.

The following are guidelines to follow when you are shopping for a new walk-in unit.

Most Important: DOORS

Perhaps no other part of a walk-in plays a bigger role in its overall success and longevity than its entrance door.

Other than the mechanical refrigeration system, the only moving part of a walk-in is the entry door. The door must be built to withstand the numerous openings and closings of a typical business day, without losing structural integrity.

The inner door frame should be made of welded, heavy-gauge steel with heavy-gauge metal hinge backing supports welded to the steel inner frame. A metal inner frame, as opposed to wood or plastic, ensures that there is no moisture absorption. This, in turn, helps prevent cracking or warping.

Look for door hinges that can be easily serviced while leaving the door intact. Also, look at models that might have a field-adjustable, floating-hinge backing plate to ensure a proper fit of the door to the opening without having to take the door off. As the door gets used and the fittings begin to wear, the hinges can be adjusted to a proper fit without having to take the door off and having it serviced.

Other things to look for are door closures and hinges that help ensure that the door closes and seals properly. Some features to look for are heavy-duty, hydraulic door closures with a minimum of two heavy-duty, spring-loaded, cam-lift hinges.

Durable Wall Panels

Another measure of a walk-in’s performance is the durability of its wall panels and doors.

Among the strongest panels are those constructed with steel panel straps welded to locking mechanisms that span the width of each panel. This makes for a durable seal and provides an internal steel circle around the walk-in.

One technique uses what is called a “cam-locking” system, with the locking mechanism welded to a steel latch strap. Should the walk-in need to be relocated, the cam-lock allows for the reversal of the lock; panels can be taken apart easily and put back together with the same seam-to-seam connections.

The most energy-efficient walk-ins have pour-foamed-in-place urethane insulation of 4-, 5-, or 6-in. thickness with pour-foamed, soft-nose tongues and grooves at the connecting edges of the panels. This pour-foamed injection process helps ensure there is consistent density and insulating quality throughout the panel.

You may also want to consider the added options of wall protectors to keep racks, mobile shelving, hand carts, and other equipment from damaging the wall surface. Walk-ins can also be fitted with view windows and sliding or swinging glass doors to display merchandise.

Keeping Cool

The key to true performance with any walk-in is the refrigeration system.

There are a few basic refrigeration types available depending on installation and cost requirements. Units can come in various stages of assembly and may require very little installation and electrical labor. Some refrigeration types include preassembled remote units, preassembled remote with quick-connect refrigeration lines, and self-contained models.

Whether specifying an out-sourced refrigeration system or the walk-in manufacturer’s, make sure the system you choose is provided with everything you need to meet your quality requirements.

Safety, Sanitation

For the safest walk-in, choose skid-resistant flooring materials. Slip-and-fall accidents are the most common liability concerns today. Whether your walk-in is supplied with the manufacturer’s insulated floor, or a concrete slab with a quarry tile top surface, make sure it is a skid-resistant material.

Additionally, make sure the walk-in is equipped with an entrance door internal safety release. Enforce its use by taking the time to educate employees on how to activate it.

Many people are afraid to let the entry door close behind them when retrieving or stocking food products. This can result in a loss of efficiency. Assure them that there is a way to get out if the door latches behind them.

Finally, national sanitation codes (such as National Sanitation Foundation International’s NSF-7, 1999) dictate stricter compliances and lower storage temperatures for perishables. Keep this in mind when selecting a walk-in.

Make sure the walk-in is an ANSI/NSF-7-1999-listed product. And, make sure the refrigeration system is properly sized to perform to the newest FDA Food Code standards, which require maintaining 41°F maximum product temperature on coolers.

Temp Monitoring

Most importantly, make sure the walk-in keeps the business from perishing. Downtime of any walk-in cooler can be detrimental not only to the food service operation, but increases the chance of food spoilage.

Most food service operators don’t have time to monitor the day-to-day operation of the walk-in unit. Therefore, consider installing one of a number of optional audible and visual warning systems.

Simple electrical options and upgrades from standard devices, such as digital thermometers and temperature alarms, can be used.

Metal Finishes

Many optional metal finishes are available for both the interior and exterior of walk-in coolers, freezers, and refrigerated warehouses.

When selecting the interior finish, keep in mind that a durable, noncorrosive metal finish is mandatory. Consider a reflective color like white, in either a smooth or stucco embossed finish. If you do not choose to finish the entire interior, the interior ceiling should be done.

There are many exterior aesthetic options to choose from, from embossed galvalume, white, natural embossed aluminum, sand tan, brown, etc., to the most durable embossed stucco stainless steel.

For both interior and exterior finishes, you want to select the best surface available in your budget for prolonging the life and performance of the walk-in unit.

Features, Options

The choice in a walk-in may go beyond its construction to the aesthetics and added amenities. Some features and options available can make the walk-in more convenient and easier to use. These can include electrical lighting, wiring, roof and floor treatments, and door and panel protection choices.

Some things to consider when choosing door amenities are the options of glass view windows, kick plates, locking mechanisms, track ports, vinyl strip curtains, foot treadles, and interior/exterior floor ramps.

Other things to look for with the purchase of any new walk-in are:

  • Local code construction compliances (such as FMRC Standard 4880, August 1994; UBC Standard No. 17-5; ASTM E84-94A; and Metro Dade County certification);
  • Minimum 10-year panel warranty;
  • Ease in ordering, shipping, and installation;
  • Prompt quotations; and
  • Service available on-site.
  • Look for a walk-in unit manufacturer that offers flexibility in size, from the nominal 6- by 6-ft unit to the more elaborate, 10,000-sq-ft refrigerated warehouses. Make sure the walk-in can be customized to provide the right amount of temperature-controlled space to meet your customer’s needs.

    Hall is customer service manager for Master-Bilt of New Albany, MS; 800-647-1284.

    Publication date: 05/14/2001