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Humidity Control In Your Restaurant Kitchen

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Last Updated on October 6, 2020

poor humidity control in restaurant kitchen

Poor humidity control is not just a comfort issue for restaurants

Too much humidity makes us unhappy for a whole host of reasons beyond comfort: sticking doors and musty smells to name a couple. If you’re running a restaurant, poor humidity control creates problems that can actually drive away customers and hurt your business.

Plus, if you’re concerned about the spread of COVID, humidity control should be part of your mitigation strategy.

How poor humidity control hurts your restaurant

Here are some symptoms of poor humidity control that you may recognize (and some you might not realize are happening):

Condensation. If you’ve got glass doors and windows, you may notice condensation appearing on the glass on muggy days. Needless to say, this is not an inviting sign for your prospective customers. You might as well put out a sign that says, “it’s muggy in here!”

Wet floors. When the humidity gets really bad in your kitchen, or even in your dining room, floors can sweat. Or, they take a long time to dry after being mopped (especially in the kitchen and restrooms). This is a safety hazard that can seriously cost you.

According to the National Floor Safety Institute, nearly 3 million food service workers are injured in slip and fall accidents, and that’s not even considering customer injuries due to falls on slippery floors. In many cases, poor humidity control is to blame for wet and slippery floors.

Mold and mildew. You probably know that high humidity can lead to the growth of mold and mildew in your home when you have humidity control problems. It’s just as likely to happen in restaurant kitchens and bathrooms.

Mold can show up on walls and floors, on ceilings, and even inside the walls and air conditioning ducts. This problem can even lead to Sick Building symptoms, since you may not even be able to see the mold that’s making people ill.

Related topic: Summer Humidity is Scarier Than You Think

Increased risk of COVID transmission (as well as other viruses). The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is known to thrive in indoor conditions with very high humidity (because the virus can survive for longer periods of time) and very low humidity (because airborne virus particles can travel more easily). So, properly controlling humidity at moderate levels can help to decrease the risk of spreading illness in your space. (Get answers to your questions about COVID and your HVAC system).

guide to HVAC strategies for COVID

Failing gasket seals. Did you know that the rubber gaskets that keep your refrigeration equipment sealed can rot in high humidity? That can cost you, not only in increased repair costs to replace the gaskets. When the doors don’t properly close for some time before you notice the problem, you’re running up your electric bill and causing refrigerated food to spoil faster.

Produce spoilage. It’s not only refrigerated food that may be getting wasted in high humidity. Produce stored in open air will spoil more quickly when you have humidity control issues in your restaurant kitchen.

Baking difficulties. Humidity can wreak havoc on baking processes that depend on precisely controlled conditions. Baking times can vary widely, resulting in poor quality results. Meringues can fall, buttercream can break down, and chocolate can bloom when you’re dealing with a humidity control problem in your kitchen. Next thing you know, your pastry chef will be throwing in the towel and walking out (not to mention your customers).

Thermostat wars. Are your kitchen workers complaining about the heat, while customers are asking you to turn down the air conditioning because they feel like they’re eating in an igloo? That’s because the higher humidity levels in your kitchen are demanding more than your AC system can handle.

Read on to find out why your air conditioning system isn’t providing the humidity control you need in your restaurant.

Why your HVAC equipment can’t handle the humidity in your kitchen

Not to get too technical, but here’s something you need to understand about the capacity of air conditioners. They are designed to cool two different ways: Sensible cooling lowers the air temperature while latent cooling removes humidity.

In decades past, air conditioners were designed so that approximately 25 percent of the total cooling capacity was used for latent cooling, and the remainder for sensible cooling. In recent years, however, equipment is being designed for better energy efficiency. As a result, modern equipment only uses 10 to 15 percent of its capacity for humidity control.

To make matters worse (where humidity is concerned), while equipment is less able to remove humidity, building practices are making spaces more humid.

Buildings are more air-tight and better insulated for energy efficiency. That means the load for sensible cooling is reduced, without reducing the need for humidity control. In fact, building codes are increasing the required levels of make up air (fresh air from outside) which can further increase humidity.

So the need for humidity removal goes up, at the same time you might be getting a higher-efficiency AC with a lower capacity for latent cooling.

So how can you solve this problem? In a nutshell, to get sufficient humidity control you need HVAC experts to choose the right equipment and the right ventilation design for your space.

HVAC options for better humidity control in restaurants

Look into these HVAC technology options that can provide better humidity control, especially in a restaurant with varying levels of humidity in different areas.

Get the right size unit for the space
Did your building contractor choose and install your AC system (instead of an HVAC company)? In that case, you might have a system with a capacity that’s too large for your space. Oversized systems turn on and off frequently and never run long enough to remove humidity. The problem gets compounded in a restaurant kitchen where there’s so much moisture from cooking and dishwashing. Getting better humidity control might mean downgrading the capacity of your AC.

Get better HVAC design
For proper humidity control in a space with multiple uses, such as a restaurant kitchen and dining room, proper HVAC design is essential. You might need to create separate zones with a VRF system. The ventilation design is also critical, to add the right amount of makeup air in both the kitchen and dining areas, keep kitchen smells out of the dining room, and to control humidity.

Related topic: 8 Reasons Restaurants Need a Make Up Air Unit For the Kitchen

Go with multiple stage heating and cooling
Speaking of VRF systems, they also do a better job of humidity control because they have the ability to run at different capacity levels. That means they can run longer at a lower capacity, which removes more humidity from the air. The ability to create zones as well as run at the needed capacity makes VRF systems a smart choice for restaurant HVAC.

Related topic: VRF Cooling Systems Provide Customized Comfort for Restaurants

Add a smart humidification system
A humidity control system provides independent humidity control based on actual humidity levels in the space and not just the temperature. This can be a good option when you’re not yet ready to replace your HVAC system.

Want to learn more about the smartest HVAC options for food service businesses? Get your free copy of this informative reference to The Ultimate Guide to NYC Light Commercial Air Conditioning, which has an entire chapter dedicated to restaurant HVAC systems.

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