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Commercial HVAC, Commercial Installations, Commercial Kitchen

FAQ: Commercial Kitchen Ventilation Regulations & Best Practices


Hood ventilation for restaurants

Designing a restaurant kitchen is a complicated business, especially when it comes to your ventilation. Many consider the kitchen ventilation system to be one of the most complex parts of designing a food service establishment.

You know you need the right ventilation equipment to comply with kitchen ventilation regulations and to keep your kitchen cleaner and functioning well. But what exactly do you need? Here are the most common questions we hear about hood ventilation for restaurants, and some information and resources that can help.

Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Commercial Kitchen Ventilation Regulations and Best Practices

How many CFM do I need for my vent hood?

We often hear this question, yet it can’t be answered without a lot more information about your operation. People mistakenly believe that to get effective hood ventilation for restaurants, you just need to choose a hood that can vent enough air volume (expressed as cubic feet per minute or CFM).

In fact, there is a great deal more that you must consider when designing your kitchen to ensure you comply with kitchen ventilation regulations. How effectively your exhaust hood can vent what’s called the effluent from cooking (smoke, grease, heat and by-products from cooking equipment) depends on many factors above and beyond air volume capacity. For example:

  • the type of cooking equipment you use (ranges or griddles or deep fryers or ovens, or a combination)
  • the food you cook (higher fat products produce more grease)
  • position of your cooking appliances in the kitchen (center island or along a wall)
  • how the hood is positioned relative to the equipment (overhead vs wall mounted, and how much overhang, height and presence of side panels)
  • your ventilation design behind the walls, including ductwork, fans and makeup air systems

To learn more about selecting a commercial kitchen vent hood, read this article:
5 Essential Tips for Choosing a Commercial Kitchen Exhaust Hood

I know commercial kitchen ventilation regulations require a vent hood with fire suppression over cooking equipment. But are things like soup pots and panini presses considered cooking appliances?

If you are talking about small domestic-type equipment items that are used only for serving and keeping food warm, that application may not require a vent hood with fire suppression (type 1). That may happen when you don’t actually have a commercial kitchen and you prepare food elsewhere.

However, any commercial equipment and any on-site cooking and food preparation DOES require it, at least in New York City. The first step to determining what you need to comply with NYC commercial kitchen ventilation regulations would be to file an application with the New York City DOB to start the permit and approval process.

You can also complete a FDNY questionnaire to help you determine what you may need for your commercial kitchen.

What about self-circulating hoods and grease extractors? Are they allowed for applications such as a ground-floor restaurant in a mid-rise building, where it’s difficult to vent to the outside?

Although you will find hoods like this that even include fire suppression, they are not approved for commercial use under New York City building codes.

Smoke and heat must be vented to the outside, either to the roof or possibly through an exterior wall, depending on the application. You can’t vent air into a crawl space. The vent location must be carefully planned, since you must avoid locating it too close to a supply vent that can draw the exhaust back into the building. NYC’s kitchen ventilation regulations are complex. Your best bet is to consult with an engineer who can devise the most effective and affordable plan to present to the city.

How does my kitchen layout affect my ventilation requirements?

Here are some helpful design guidelines that can maximize your ventilation effectiveness and improve the air quality in your kitchen (and your dining room as well):

  • Locate your cooking equipment as far back against a wall as you can and seal any gaps behind equipment.
  • Generally speaking, wall-mounted exhaust hoods are more effective than overhead hoods.
  • Your vent hoods should overhang your cooking appliances so they can capture more smoke and grease.
  • Mount hoods as low as you can while still allowing easy access to the equipment for kitchen staff.

What is a makeup air system and do I need one?

Commercial kitchen ventilation must be designed so that the amount of supply ventilation added to the space is approximately equal to the amount of air exhausted from the space by vent hoods.

In a commercial kitchen, it’s rare for the traditional HVAC system to be able to provide sufficient supply air for a commercial kitchen. That’s why you need a supplemental make up air unit to add fresh supply air from outside. Without it, your exhaust can’t work correctly, heat and smoke will build up in your kitchen, and you’ll have severe air quality concerns in your kitchen. And of course, you’ll probably need one to comply with NYC commercial kitchen ventilation regulations and pass building and health inspections.

To learn more about make up air units, read this related article: 8 Reasons Restaurants Need a Make Up Air Unit for the Kitchen.

What you might not think to ask about commercial kitchen ventilation regulations & best practices

Here’s a critically important tip that you might not be aware of: to get reliable and efficient operation, you must integrate your restaurant’s HVAC system with your commercial kitchen ventilation.

Remember that the “V” in HVAC stands for ventilation! Your heating and cooling system must work hand in hand with your kitchen ventilation, or you may be compromising the operation of both systems. That’s why it’s so important for kitchen design and HVAC design experts to work together. Also, it’s in your best interest to use an HVAC installer that is experienced with and qualified to do installation design for food service establishments.

HVAC and hood ventilation for restaurants is even more important when you’re in a large city like New York, due to:

  • Complex ventilation required for restaurant kitchens and dining rooms
  • Needing to comply with complex commercial kitchen ventilation regulations
  • Limitations in the type of HVAC systems you can use in high rise and historic buildings.

To learn more about the best types of HVAC systems for NYC restaurants, grab a copy of this helpful publication: The Ultimate Guide to NYC Light Commercial Air Conditioning.

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