Staving Off Leaks

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It’s not uncommon for full-service and quick-service restaurants to keep a store of thousands of dollars in raw materials on a daily basis. But the smallest of refrigeration leaks could put that investment, and the well-being of diners, in jeopardy.

By using a special sealant available through a preventive-maintenance program, Two Rows Classic Grill in Houston is protecting its perishable inventory and extending the lifespan of its cooling equipment.

In the restaurant business, refrigeration, heating and air-conditioning equipment are often the primary components of a company’s operating expenses. That’s why a leak can be so detrimental to a restaurateur.

Most leaks are caused when metals dissimilar to the refrigerator’s or air-conditioner’s coils give off small electric charges that corrode the coil and cause microscopic pinholes that leak. Unmanaged or improperly repaired leaks could lead to unit replacements—a financial burden as well as an inconvenience when dealing with perishable inventory. When a cooling unit goes down unexpectedly, restaurants often rent mobile cooling units to ensure their perishable inventory doesn’t spoil. Besides making a large capital investment in a temporary solution, this option also distracts employees whose time would be better spent serving customers.

This is not the best option for companies that operate multiple cooling units. For example, Dallas-based Two Rows operates four restaurants under the Two Rows Classic Grill banner in Texas. Each features a main refrigerator, a walk-in freezer, two coolers and eight freestanding smaller units that store prepared foods. Overall, these units store $6,000 to $8,000 in perpetual inventory daily.

Rusty Loeffler, owner of Two Rows, ensures his equipment stays in top-notch condition by using preventive-maintenance programs. And he’s been able to extend the lifespan of aging equipment in his Houston location (the oldest restaurant in the chain) with the help of maintenance partner Lone Star Heating & Cooling, Houston.

Lone Star is responsible for maintaining the 13-year-old restaurant’s refrigeration, heating and air conditioning.

As part of the maintenance program, Lone Star checks Two Rows’ equipment on a monthly basis, and each month the focus changes. One month, for example, the team focuses on the roof, “where we check out all equipment and parts on top and inside of the roof, including refrigeration condensing units,” said Pat O’Donnell, president of Lone Star.

While checking these systems, O’Donnell’s team also evaluates the main coils, filters, belts and all mechanical connections. O’Donnell once did find some corrosion on Loeffler’s rooftop units. Rather than add panels or caulk inside the refrigerator, O’Donnell used a sealant called Super Seal from Windsor, Ontario-based Cliplight Manufacturing to stave off the leak.

O’Donnell’s team uses an electronic tool called a sniffer to detect leaks in coils and equipment panels. If the source of a leak is undetectable with the sniffer, he injects the sealant into the suction side of the cooling equipment. The sealant then is absorbed and mixes with the oil flowing within the unit’s mechanics. As it comes in contact with a moisture point of leakage, the sealant forms a bond that permanently seals the leak.

Since working with Lone Star last year and using the sealant as a preventive measure against microscopic leaks, Two Rows has not needed to replace any equipment “and doubled the life of equipment through the program,” O’Donnell said.

“For Two Rows, one rooftop unit cost on average $11,500,” he explained. “Two Roads’ equipment is nine years old, and one injection costs an average of $300. By stopping the leak, we are upholding the lifespan of the equipment at a lower cost than ripping it out and replacing it with a new one.”

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