What you need to know about the new regulations for floral coolers
The performance standards for refrigeration implemented in 2009 as a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 — which have to be completely implemented by the end of 2012 — have had refrigeration companies searching for the most energy-efficient options for their products for the past four years. New energy-efficient coolers, however, cost more to build, and prices are higher.
Steve Lemieux, president and CEO of SRC Refrigeration, Sterling Heights, Mich., says that most florists can expect it to take as long as three to four years for an investment into an energy-efficient cooler to pay off.
We asked some refrigeration companies to share the changes they have made over the past four years and what they have learned.
One of the required floral cooler changes implemented in 2009 is to replace small shaded-pole (single-phase induction) motors in the fan cabinet with more energy-efficient permanent split capacitor (PSC) motors or electronically commutated (EC) motors.
Wayne Lauer, owner of Flot-Aire Floral Refrigerators, Rolla, Mo., says there isn’t a big difference in efficiency between PSC and EC motors: They both draw basically the same amount of amps.
While the motors are essentially equal in efficiency, the PSC motors are about one-third the price of EC motors (replacement costs average $80 for PSC versus $250 for EC), Mr. Lauer explains. “You would never get your money back in savings,” he says.
Mr. Lauer points out that reach-in coolers don’t fall under the same guidelines as walk-in coolers, explaining that the evaporator motors of reach-in coolers are smaller so they don’t draw as much energy.
Since 2009, Mr. Lauer has witnessed other changes in the industry, such as an increase in the number of fins used in evaporator coils (part of the fan unit inside the cooler) because more fins per inch draw more heat out of the air, cooling it more quickly.
Richard Rosenfeld, vice president of sales for Bush Refrigeration, Inc., Camden, N.J., recommends asking what motors are used in any cooler you consider purchasing. Two identical-looking coolers can have different types of motors inside. He says florists can expect a 50 percent decrease in their electric bills if their coolers have PSC or EC motors.
Mr. Rosenfeld says the 2009 standards also have required refrigerator companies to upgrade to urethane insulation. Floral cooler wall insulation now has to have a minimum R-Value of 28, up from R22. The higher the R value, the more efficient the unit.
Some refrigeration companies construct their floral cooler doors with triple-pane glass, but Mr. Rosenfeld says that double-pane glass is sufficient for floral coolers, noting that triple-pane glass is necessary only on freezers.
Mr. Lauer says Flot-Aire now builds its double-pane glass doors with low-E (polarized) glass, which reflects UV rays like sunglasses. He estimates that low-E glass makes a cooler 11 percent to 12 percent more efficient, depending on the temperature in the cooler, and he adds that low-E glass doesn’t “sweat,” so heated glass is unnecessary, which also saves energy, and it does not affect visibility.
Lighting is one area where refrigeration companies have tried to increase efficiency, but the cost has prohibited most floral refrigerator companies from making energy-efficient lighting standard.
Flot-Aire upgraded to T8 fluorescent lighting (from T10 and T12) to save energy but offers LED lighting as an upgrade. Mr. Lauer says fluorescent lighting relatively efficient because it draws very little wattage.
On the other hand, Mr. Lemieux explains, LED lighting doesn’t give off as much heat and can last 60,000 hours. He says LED lighting also has a more dramatic effect with its whiter light. About the cost, Mr. Rosenfeld estimates that LED lighting costs about $200 per door and that it takes about 12 to 18 months to pay for itself.
Mr. Lauer concurs, stating, “You will never get your money back on what you’re saving in energy.”
Should You Replace Your Cooler?
Unfortunately, energy efficiency comes with increased costs. Mr. Lauer says that the price of a basic walk-in cooler purchased 10 years ago has gone up 50 percent, and the efficiency has gone up only 30 percent to 40 percent.
He adds that the savings are sometimes hard for florists to see because the cost per kilowatt hour has gone up in recent years. “If the price of energy had stayed where it was, you would notice a big difference,” he says.
So, how do florists know whether to replace coolers with more energy-efficient units?
Mr. Lauer advises that if florists have coolers with the old refrigerant (HCFC-22, also known as R-22), they shouldn’t hesitate to purchase a new cooler because the refrigerant and parts are so expensive. And that’s assuming you can find replacement parts.
However, if an old refrigerator has insulation with an R-Value of 22, which has been phased out, and if it is still running adequately, Mr. Lauer believes a florist should keep it running for as long as service calls and repair bills don’t become excessive.
Florists also need to make sure the refrigeration they consider buying is updated to meet the 2009 standards. Mr. Rosenfeld fears that the new standards are not being enforced, so some refrigeration companies might not be complying.
Making Energy-Saving Upgrades to a Current Cooler
Before replacing a functioning floral cooler with a more energy-efficient one, consider replacing parts that will upgrade your cooler to a more energy-efficient unit.
MOTORS Mr. Lauer says that shaded-pole motors in walk-in coolers can likely be replaced with PSC or EC motors. “Every fan motor replaced could save one amp, which is equivalent to running a 100-watt light bulb all the time,” he explains. Most coolers have two to four fan motors, so replacing four could save four amps, he says. In addition, PSC and EC motors reduce the amount of heat produced.
PSC motors. Before changing motors, Mr. Lauer suggests waiting for the first motor to wear out and then plugging in new PSC motors to the same spots the shaded-pole motors were. If you can replace a headlight on a car, he says you can change these motors yourself, which he estimates can cost as little as $80 to $100 each.
EC motors. If you are replacing shaded-pole motors with EC motors, Mr. Lauer recommends hiring a technician because the process is more complicated. However, because of the cost of EC motors (approximately $250 each), he says PSC motors are probably a better choice for most florists.
If you decide to have your motors professionally replaced, make sure you specify you want PSC or EC motors. Mr. Rosenfeld points out that the law does not require that motors replaced in older coolers be PSC or EC, so a technician may not upgrade to a more energy-efficient motor without you requesting it.
DOORS If you have an old door with bad gaskets, along as the glass is not sweating or fogging up, you can just replace the gaskets. However, Mr. Lauer says that replacing the doors with new ones that have low-E and argon gas will save electricity and ensure a better seal.
LIGHTING Some walk-in coolers have lights with standard incandescent 75-watt bulbs, which put off a lot of heat. Mr. Lauer recommends replacing those bulbs with more energy-efficient (Energy Star qualified) “bulbs,” such as compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) or LEDs. These light sources will consume less energy, produce less heat and last longer than standard incandescent light bulbs.