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Get non-technical restaurant equipment repair tips and advice so you can do repairs yourself and save money.

How Refrigeration Thermostats/Cold Controls Work

How Refrigeration Thermostats/Cold Controls Work

The first step to understanding how refrigeration thermostats (aka cold controls) work is to understand a counter-intuitive fact about refrigeration physics:
Cooling is achieved by sensing and removing warm air, not by adding cool air.

A thermometer, then, measures how much heat is present. If the heat level reaches a certain, um, level, the refrigeration mechanism kicks, and the refrigerant starts its trip through a maze of intestine-like coils, and the warm air is removed.

That’s the big picture, anyway. Let’s dive in and explore the process in greater detail.

A refrigerator thermostat/cold control is basically the brains of the refrigerator cooling system—it runs the show.

Thermostats are typically found inside the refrigerator and have a knob that allows users to adjust the temperature setting. Once a user sets the desired temperature, the thermostat maintains that temperature by controlling the flow of electricity to the compressor. If the thermostat is the brain, the compressor is the heart of the operation, responsible for pumping the refrigerant through the coils.

When the air inside the refrigerator is at the desired temperature, the thermostat stops the flow of electricity to the compressor. When the thermostat senses too much heat, it allows electricity to flow, activating the compressor.

How does the thermostat control the electricity, you ask?

In most commercial refrigerators, the thermostat has a capillary tube filled with gas. As the temperature in the fridge increases, the gas expands and pushes on a diaphragm, which operates a set of contacts which in turn operates the compressor.

Pretty cool, huh?

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Tundra’s Toolbox: Putting the ROI in DIY

Tundra’s Toolbox: Putting the ROI in DIY

Here’s a lesson we’ve learned about the restaurant and food service business:

The more stuff you can fix on your own, without having to hire pricey contractors, the more money you can save. And when you save money, you feel good. Fix stuff, feel good. Rinse and repeat.

Fortunately, food service professionals are already a handy lot. We’re used to solving problems and getting things done. What’s more, we use “tools” to ply our trade every day.

But if you’re going to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself, you’re going to need the right tools for the job, and that’s where we can help you. (You didn’t know Tundra carried tools? Yes, yes we do!)

Tundra’s toolbox features high-quality wares from brands like Alfa, Commercial, CHG, Winco and others. Whether you need a basic item like an adjustable wrench or a specialty piece like a cutting board refinishing tool, we’ve got you covered.

And for those of you just getting started, our tool collections, such as this 27-piece kit, will help you tackle all but the most challenging DIY projects.

If you’re brave enough to troubleshoot electrical and gas issues, we even have a couple of helpful books to guide your efforts.

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How to Clean a Commercial Griddle

How to Clean a Commercial Griddle

If you ask 10 professional chefs how to clean a commercial griddle, you’re likely to get 10 different answers.

There are several ways to skin the proverbial cat.

While cleaning methods and materials may differ from chef to chef, the goal is universal: a clean, sanitary griddle that allows for efficient cooking and delicious, unadulterated food.

What You’ll Need

It usually takes 5-10 minutes to properly clean a grill.

Directions

  • While the griddle is hot, pour 1 cup of cooking oil (you can use fryer oil) onto the griddle surface.
  • Scrub the griddle surface with a griddle brick/pumice stone, making small concentric circles—Miyagi style—until the surface is clean.
  • Scrape the oil into the grease trough and discard. Turn the griddle off.
  • Pour (carefully) 1 cup of club soda/seltzer water onto the still-hot griddle. The carbonation helps loosen and lift stubborn grease.
  • Scrub the griddle surface with your griddle brick/pumice stone, making small concentric circles until the surface is clean. Scrape remaining liquid into the trough for discarding.
  • Pour 1/2 cup of vinegar onto the griddle surface, spreading liquid out evenly across the entire surface and not allowing the vinegar to pool.
  • Rub the griddle surface with a rag, making small concentric circles until the surface is polished.
  • Scrape the vinegar into your grease trough and discard.
  • Rub the surface with a rag soaked in cooking oil to polish and reseason the steel.
  • Bask in the warm glow of your newly cleaned griddle.

“How Often Should I Clean My Commercial Griddle?”

If your griddle sees heavy daily use, we advise cleaning it daily. This will prevent flavor transfer, efficiency loss and unsightly burnt-oil-flake contamination.

Shop griddle supplies at eTundra.com:

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DIY Restaurant Equipment Repair

DIY Restaurant Equipment Repair

In General

There are many maintenance tasks that can safely be performed by restaurant owners that would save a substantial amount of money on service calls. Here are some of the things restaurant owners can do to keep service calls to a minimum.

Knowledge of a Technician

You might be surprised to find that many service technicians that routinely charge well over $100 a hour, have only a high school education… or less.  I don’t say this to displace anyone’s profession, but yet to inform the general public.

It’s not formal education that helps most technicians stand out from others, but years of experience that makes them experts.  The vast majority of technicians learned from other technicians or attended a community college program to attain enough knowledge to work as a technician on restaurant equipment.  Some have also attended a specialty course to be able to work with refrigerant (freon), but nonetheless, most learn by doing, and the longer they have been working in the field, the more they know.

Maybe you can do it yourself.

I have no way of knowing how “mechanically inclined” you or your staff may be, but I can tell you from experience that not everyone is.  With that said, most of the information you need you already have (or should have) in the form of the manual that came with the equipment. I know it’s a boring read, but you should read through these manuals when you receive any new piece of equipment. Some are just installation guides that will offer almost none of the information you need, but the user’s guide, on the other hand, can have a lot of very useful information – especially when it comes to equipment repair.

Most companies offer an additional manual that may (or may not) come with the equipment, and are full of good information that is useful in maintaining equipment – they are often called a “service manual” or “parts and service manual.” Most of the time you can download a copy free of charge from the manufacturer’s website. This is the most useful manual you can own for the repair of a piece of equipment. It will have a parts breakdown that will show you drawings of every part and how those parts fit together. Often it will have a troubleshooting section that will identify a specific problem and give you possible remedies to fix it.

I know of only two books available on restaurant equipment. These books were written years ago by a guy named Don Walker and are dated, but I still keep a copy of both.  He gives great general information that is timeless and does it in a somewhat humorous way.  One book covers gas equipment repair and the other one is about electric equipment.  If you are going to work on restaurant equipment, I suggest you buy one or both of these books.

DIY Restaurant Equipment Repair DIY Restaurant Equipment Repair

The last way to become informed on your specific equipment is by the use of the technical service line almost all manufacturers offer. I list this last because these lines are set up for service personnel, but I can tell you from experience that as an owner or manager you will not be turned away if you call. If it is a good company, the person you speak with will have worked on that piece of equipment before, and will know enough about it to understand what you are trying to explain, even if you don’t know the technical terms to use.

If you call, you will need the model number and serial number along with any other information you can get off the equipment. It is helpful to have a parts breakdown (drawing) of the equipment in front of you, so you can see what the various parts look like and be able to call a part by name. You should also be able to explain to the technician on the other end of the line what the machine is doing (or not doing). You can usually find an 800 number for tech service on the manual or by using the contact us section of the company’s website.

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Know-How from the Guys Who Know How

Tundra Restaurant Supply has been in the business of pleasing customers and sharing industry knowledge for almost 20 years. From the sales floor to your kitchen, our team of technicians and know-how gurus are here to make sure your restaurant equipment works properly, is installed correctly, and gets fixed when something fails.

Kevin Nakata, inside sales and technical support, has been with the company for nearly 3 years and frequently helps customers troubleshoot problems. Sharing some technician insight, Kevin has highlighted a handful of valuable products every restaurant can benefit from buying.

Know How from the Guys Who Know How

Kevin Nakata – Inside Sales and Technical Support

What are 5 products service technicians use regularly?

  1. Seat Washers (faucet part) – “Over time seat washers go bad, and this is the main reason for most faucet drips. Techs purchase seat washers because when you have a faucet that drips a seat washer usually takes care of the problem.”
  2. Silicone Sealant –“ Silicone Sealant is used to fill holes in walls or reseal around sinks and toilets. Techs also use silicone as filler in walls instead of spackle. Since silicone comes in a wide variety of colors and you can match it to walls easily techs don’t have to sand and paint the wall. You can use it on sinks to keep the mold from getting behind the sink and for keeping other debris from getting in to the cracks and causing bacteria growth. The reason they use it on toilets is to keep the sewer gases where they need to be. Nothing smells worse than the smell of sewer when you are trying to eat or use the bathroom.”
  3. Thermocouples – “This is the fix-all when a pilot light does not stay lit. Nine out of ten times when a pilot light does not stay lit the thermocouple is bad.”
  4. Faucet Parts – “Techs keep these on hand for the simple reason a faucet is easy to repair and it only takes 30 minutes or less to fix any faucet problem.”
  5. Pilots and Pilot Valves – “These parts are the most commonly used parts for gas range tops. Techs keep these on hand simply because pilot heads and valves go bad after time due to food debris getting to these pieces which causes them to clog. It’s easier to replace a bad pilot than trying to unclog one.”

Each of these technician go-to products can be purchased for less than $50, in some cases less than $1, and save you a ton of time and money. Calling in a technician to fix a small leak or a clogged valve automatically costs you big bucks, and you may be getting charged an hour’s wage for a 15 minute fix. Stock up on some technician essentials and be ready for that leak or clog. It’s smart to keep a tool kit on-site, and adding a few extras like faucet parts and seat washers help complete your kit.

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Troubleshooting Commercial Refrigeration Problems

Keeping product out of the danger zone and ready for preparation on the line is one of the most important tasks facing any commercial kitchen, and your Troubleshooting Commercial Refrigeration Problemscommercial refrigeration units play a critical role.

Maintaining and fixing the refrigeration units in your restaurant can be expensive, which is why it’s all the more important for you to be able to fix common issues that come up quickly without wasting a lot of time waiting for help.

Here’s a list of common commercial refrigeration issues and how to address them:

Did this troubleshooting guide help you?  Is there something that we missed here that will help others?  Leave a comment below and share your experiences fixing commercial refrigerators!

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When Restaurant Equipment Goes Down: 10 Ways To Save

When Restaurant Equipment Goes Down: 10 Ways To SaveKeeping your commercial kitchen humming along is not always an easy proposition.  You use this equipment every day, and sooner or later something is going to give out on you.  If the next step you’re used to taking is picking up the phone to call your service tech, this post is for you.

That’s because if you have the right tools and a little basic knowledge, you can handle the most common equipment failures yourself on everything from ranges to fryers to overhead warmers to faucets.  We’ve written several great guides to help you fix your restaurant equipment yourself.

Check out these posts, and if you have any questions about fixing equipment, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you with and answer!

1.  How To Fix Countertop Warmers

2.  How To Replace Door Gaskets on Refrigeration Equipment

3.  Identifying and Replacing Electric Thermostats

4.  Identifying Commercial Faucets and Parts

5.  Replacing Gas Safety Valves

6.  Converting Gas Equipment In 5 Simple Steps

7.  Can You Trust Generic Restaurant Equipment Parts?

8.  Fixing Commercial Fryers

9.  Fixing Commercial Ovens

10.  Fixing Gas Ranges

Being able to handle minor equipment repairs will not only save you money, it will also reduce your downtime, meaning your busy kitchen won’t miss a beat.  Half the battle is having the skills to replace parts.  The other half is being able to get parts fast.  Go here for a complete inventory of restaurant equipment parts.

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4 Strategies For Better Commercial Refrigeration Efficiency

4 Strategies For Better Commercial Refrigeration EfficiencyNow that we are entering the hottest time of the year, it’s a good time to examine the commercial refrigeration units in your restaurant and make sure they are operating as efficiently as possible.  No matter what you do, you’re going to end up spending more money on refrigeration this time of year than any other.  However, that doesn’t mean you should have to spend any more than absolutely necessary.

Have you optimized your commercial refrigeration efficiency?  Doing so can save you a LOT of money.  Here’s the main areas you should focus on:

Clean those coils! You’ve probably heard it before but if you haven’t gotten behind your refrigerators and freezers and cleaned off the coils, you need to hear it again.  The condenser and evaporator coils take the heat inside your refrigerator and disperse it outside the unit, and if air can’t pass over the coils, then they radiate heat much more slowly.  That makes your unit work harder to keep things cool and it consumes more electricity.

Replace worn or torn door gaskets. The door gasket forms a seal when the unit’s door is closed, preventing cold air from seeping out and warm air from seeping in.  If that gasket isn’t sealing properly, it’s costing you money.  Health inspectors also don’t like torn gaskets because food bits and grime gather in them and create a breeding ground for bacteria.  Luckily, replacing the gasket is an easy process.

Turn off door heaters. All this heater does is prevent frost from building up on the inside door of your refrigeration unit.  Most units don’t even have a frost problem, and so the heater just uses up energy.  If you do have a problem with frost buildup or have water pooling in front of the unit, then you absolutely must have the door heater on.  More often than not, however, it’s not an issue.4 Strategies For Better Commercial Refrigeration Efficiency

Outfit your walk-in. Strip curtains help drastically reduce the loss of cold air when the door to your walk-in is open, and when it’s closed, the curtain adds an extra layer of insulation.  Also make sure the door latch is working properly and actually catching when you close the door.  A worn or broken latch means the door gasket isn’t fully sealed, and you’re losing cold air.  Also use a door closer to automatically pull the walk-in door shut quickly after it’s opened.  The less cold air you lose, the better off you’ll be.

It’s amazing how much in energy savings you can realize from a few simple steps.  Of course, there will always be a point where you cannot optimize your refrigeration equipment any more, and natural degradation in performance will occur no matter what you do.  When the time comes to buy a new commercial refrigerator or freezer, buy an Energy Star rated model if at all possible.  Even if you can’t find an Energy Star unit that works for you, simply upgrading to a new unit will mean better efficiency because new technologies are being added to commercial refrigeration units all the time, and a new unit will perform better simply because it’s newer.

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The Quick Guide to Commercial Refrigeration Problems

Commercial refrigeration is key to the success of any restaurant and keeping your units properly running can save you both time and money. Whether your commercial refrigerator won’t stop running when you want it to or simply won’t run at all, this quick guide will help you to troubleshoot all of your refrigeration problems and find the right solution.

If your commercial refrigerator won’t run at all or won’t stop running, you’re probably looking at a defective thermostat.  You can test this easily. First, unplug the unit and open the evaporator housing. Locate the wires attached to the thermostat, remove and connect together with electrical tape. If the unit runs properly when turned back on, simply replace the thermostat.

Encountering difficulty with rising temperatures? The first step towards a solution is identifying what type of refrigeration thermostat your refrigeration unit uses.  If you’re dealing with either an air-sensing thermostat or evaporator-sensing thermostat, you can replace the part yourself. But be aware that the two are not interchangeable, so be sure to correctly identify which you’re working with first. If your commercial refrigerator uses a low pressure control, you’re going to have to call a service technician to get the part repaired.

The Quick Guide to Commercial Refrigeration Problems

Problems with a broken or malfunctioning fan motor need to be dealt with immediately, because without proper refrigeration your food is at risk of going bad quickly.  First off, you need to identify whether your unit uses a condenser fan motor or evaporator fan motor. A condenser fan motor will be found outside the refrigeration interior while an evaporator fan motor is found within the interior. Replace the motor fan by identifying the specific model of motor and blade (both are usually stamped into the back of the product and are easily accessible) and ordering a new one. Installation is usually brand-specific and can be found in your unit’s accompanying guidebook.

If the door to your commercial refrigeration unit is improperly closing, you could potentially be throwing away energy and money. The quick fix to this problem is simple: you need to update your gaskets. This do-it-yourself fix merely requires you to ascertain the dimension, brand and style of the existing gasket and order a new one. Replacing old gaskets is as easy as popping them off and snapping the new ones on.

The Quick Guide to Commercial Refrigeration ProblemsIf you need to replace faulty hinges or latches in your commercial refrigerator, start with simple identification. With both hinges and latches, you must determine whether you’re working with flush or offset parts, which is determined simply by running your hand over the part, looking to see if it is smooth, or flush, or not. If you’re working with offset hinges and the offset size is not available on the back of the part, you’ll need to measure the distance from the wall surface to the door surface to find the correct size. In terms of latches, there are two different types: magnetic  and those with a strike-and-latch lock. These latches will have an easy to identify number on them. With both latches and hinges, the easiest method is always to look for their ID number to order the right part the first time around.

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Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Refrigeration

In this article I would like to talk about the refrigerators and freezer units commonly found in a commercial kitchen and restaurant. The average unit will give long service with minimal maintenance; however there are a few things you should know that could possibly prevent breakdowns. You should also read Greg’s article on this subject he posted some time back.

The way it works: Any common unit used to cool (refrigerator or freezer) that operates with a refrigerant (freon) works in essentially the same way. I will give you a rough outline so you will get the basic idea.

Every commercial refrigerator or freezer is made up of 3 main parts you can identify:

Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Refrigeration
1. The compressor: the compressor is really nothing but an electric motor that is sealed (welded) in a metal case. The case will be located on the outside of the unit (not in the compartment to be cooled). Compressors are made by several companies and in various styles but most compressors are made by Copeland. You cannot mistake the compressor for anything else because nothing else on your cooling unit will look like the compressor. Think of the compressor as the HEART of your cooling unit. There is no maintenance that can be done on a welded compressor. It is full of oil but typically the oil is designed to last the life of the compressor.

When a welded compressor goes out all you can do is replace it. A compressor is expensive but it is often cheaper to replace the compressor than to replace the entire unit. I have also replaced compressors because the particular equipment was built into “the line” and it has to repaired rather than replaced.
Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Refrigeration
2. The condenser coil: The condenser coil is square, usually black in color, and will have a fan placed behind it that forces air through it. Most of these coils are around 12 inches by 12 inches. The condenser coil will be located very near the compressor (usually directly in front of it). The fan that forces air through the coil is almost always located between the coil and the compressor. This fan not only removes heat from this coil but has the added benefit of cooling the compressor. You must keep the area where this coil and fan are located FREE FROM ANYTHING that blocks air flow (i.e. don’t stack boxes on top of or in front of the area where the compressor and coil are located). The condenser coil will require cleaning on a regular basis (every 3 months). The coil will pick up whatever is floating in the air in your kitchen and deposit it on the coil.

If you allow the coil to clog up, it will cause your cooling unit not to perform at it’s optimum. In fact if this coil is left completely clogged for any extended period of time it will shorten the life of your compressor or completely burn it up. Think of this coil as one of the LUNGS of your cooling unit. Without air, the HEART (the compressor) will stop.Adventures In Restaurant Maintenance: Refrigeration

3. The evaporator coil: the evaporator coil is also called the “cold coil”. This coil is located inside the compartment to be refrigerated.  In most cases you will not be able to see this coil without removing a cover. This coil’s purpose is to distribute cold air into the unit. Like the condenser coil, there is a fan near the evaporator coil used to force air through it. The evaporator coil can be many different sizes and is usually a lot thicker than the condenser coil. It is often a silver color (aluminum) and can have several fans blowing air through it. Think of this coil as the other LUNG of your refrigeration unit.

The evaporator coil gets extremely cold when the unit is running. Air on the inside of the refrigeration unit is re-circulated through this coil over and over again and getting colder with each pass. This air is what makes your unit cold. It takes the heat from any object you place in the cooling unit and transfers it to the evaporator coil. The heat is then absorbed by the refrigerant (freon) passing through this coil and delivered to the rest of the system (compressor and condenser coil) to remove it from the unit.

These three main components work in unison to cool your refrigerator or freezer. Your freezer will also be equipped with a defrost heater that melts the frost off the evaporator coil several times a day to keep it from freezing up.

What you as a owner/manager can do:

You can extend the life and efficiency of your refrigerators and freezers by keeping the condenser (outside) coil clean. You can also insure the door gaskets are in good shape and are sealing all the way around. Also train your employees not to leave the door open any longer than necessary.
The refrigerators and freezers are some of the most maintenance free equipment in your kitchen. If you buy a quality unit and see that the minor maintenance described above is done then these units should give you many years of trouble free service.

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