Designer Mark Stech-Novak's prototype for an ideal energy efficient dream kitchen for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, with induction cooktops and ovens, variable speed hoods, and radiant energy glass counters.
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In the Dark About Eco-Gear?

Mark Stech-Novak / April 2009

Making intelligent purchasing decisions in tough times involves calculating total cost of ownership plus environmental considerations.

My job is to create or re-create kitchens. Now more than ever, the budget is the whip and chair used to fend off us spendthrift project designers in both the front- and back-of-the-house. Tough times make for tough choices. We are tasked to make the best economic decisions, but also those that are right for our planet.

When you buy a new car in 2009, will you ignore the cost of gas and buy a Hummer? No, of course not. You remember when gas was pushing $5 a gallon last year, so you know that the total cost of ownership would be frightening over the life of the car, especially if we revisit that $5 gallon of gas. Total cost of ownership = TCO.

But car companies are selling their product for a song, so you do your calcs and find that with $3, $4, or even $5 per gallon gas, your Guzzler will be cheaper to own for five years than a new Prius. But the little environmental angel of conscience on your shoulder tells you that burning a gallon of gas for every 10 or so miles you drive is the secular equivalent of a cardinal sin.

So I add a little plus sign after my formula TCO. The plus is the better angel of our collective conscience telling us that we're not in this alone and that we need to make decisions both for our own and our planet's good health.

In looking for the most important new and environmentally significant equipment developments in the kitchen, I went to the Delphi of kitchen equipment evaluation: the Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, California.

If a given piece of equipment bears the Energy Star label from our government, it's because the FSTC conducted rigorous road tests on it. They are a continual work-in-progress since there are hundreds of thousands of different pieces of equipment, with newer models coming every year.

TCO+ applies to every piece of energy consuming equipment you buy. A cheap gas fryer may only cost you $1,000, but at 30 to 40 percent efficiency, it's throwing away two-thirds of the energy (also spelled "dollars") you put into it. A high-efficiency Energy Star fryer might cost $3,000 but can be 85 percent efficient. Further, the cheap fryer might last for four years and the Energy Star for six to eight years.

Rarely will a budget-making bean counter take these factors into consideration. If you buy wisely for the life of your lease, you'll find that the more you pay up-front may just mean much less expense and headache down the road.

As David Zabrowski, director of engineering, Food Service Technology Center, puts it: "When you look at the total cost of ownership over the life of the appliance and take into account energy savings, increased performance, and the possibility of extended lifespan, the business case becomes so strong that you'd have to force yourself not to buy the efficient appliance. Usually, when people make the decision to go with cheaper, low-efficiency appliances, it's because they haven't analyzed the TCO or they are in purchasing and not in operations and they're willing to turn a blind eye toward the higher monthly energy bill".

The following are the various areas where TCO has an enormous impact on the long-term operational cost of a project.

You can't cook without hoods, and often these are the first place the budget slashers look to save money. But major advances in ventilation innovation the past five years make going cheap look rather foolish.

The most environmentally significant ventilation inno­vation is variable speed fan control, or "Demand Controlled Ventilation." The idea is that the more you cook, the faster the fan spins to extract the hot and greasy air. When you're not cooking, the fans slow down, saving you energy on fan power as well as heating and cooling. Simple in concept but rather complex in execution when you consider that the system must sense the heat as well as the effluent in the airstream, then adjust the exhaust fan speed in coordination with the make-up air fans. The cost is not insignificant, but the system often pays for itself in less than two years. The added bonus is a far quieter workspace and that little + of energy savings.

Many projects demand pollution abatement for hoods. New UV hoods pass the exhaust air through a chamber flooded with ultraviolet light, changing the grease molecules into dust-like particles that are easier to extract from the air stream and don't stick to the duct walls. These won't save energy per se, but they lessen the need for more draconian and outdated pollution control methods that are true energy hogs and they drop your duct maintenance to practically nothing.

Another ventilation idea: some manufacturers make exhaust hoods that incorporate small, high-velocity, directed air curtains. When done right, these air curtains act like extensions on the hood, effectively increasing the size of the hood and helping to shepherd more heat and grease up the exhaust stack. The more effective a hood is at capture and containment the less air you have to move up the exhaust hood, allowing the hood to operate at a lower speed. These advanced hoods cost more than a standard one, but can save money on not just the operation cost but the size of the duct and the grease shaft.

Lastly, two things that can have a major effect on your costly ventilation system which don't break the bank: using side panels and closing the gap behind appliances.

Side panels: You can maintain better capture and containment of the smoke, grease, and odor from your equipment by simply installing side panels on wall-mounted canopies. Usually, these don't even have to be full-end panels; you can really improve hood performance with just a couple of quarter panels. If done properly, you may even improve the hood performance enough that you can save money by slowing down the exhaust fans.

Closing the gap: The gap between the wall and the equipment under the hood can be your enemy. The hood above is sucking out hot air, the equipment itself is massively hot, and cold air (heavier) creeps across the kitchen floor and up the back of the equipment, forcing the hot air away from the hood itself! Nefarious. The solutions are to mount your equipment on a solid curb or to close the space behind the equipment if possible. Sometimes that's as simple as pushing the appliances back to the wall, and sometimes a stainless-steel closure panel is required.


In any build-out or remodel, the possibility of moving all the compressors to a central refrigeration system is always desirable from an energy standpoint, though it's always more expensive than self-contained or individual localized refrigeration. In doing your TCO calculations, you balance the heat gain, increased maintenance, and noise in the cooking space of self-contained compressors over time versus the initial cost of a remote system. It almost always makes sense to remote the compressors on a walk-in box unless access to the outdoors is just too unreasonable.

One neat trick, based on a well established technology, is to recover the heat off the refrigeration system and use it to preheat your incoming hot water. This technique works best with remote refrigeration, and you get a double-bonus on this one: lower hot water costs and more efficient refrigeration. Here too, the TCO factor weighs heavily: the life of a localized compressor in a hot kitchen is less than the life of a remote air-cooled compressor, which is less than the life of a remote compressor with heat recovery. When every dollar counts, maintenance and energy savings take on greater meaning.

Another new energy- and cost-saving add-on to refrigeration systems are electronically commutated fan motors (ECMs) for walk-in coolers and freezers. In layman's terms: these are highly efficient, small-horsepower motors that are used to drive the fans on walk-in evaporators and condensers. These high-tech marvels do the exact same work as the old shaded-pole motors at one-third the energy cost. In California, all new walk-ins are required to have these by law. If you consider that these motors are operating continuously, "24-7-365", the savings are too good to ignore.

Walk-in freezers need defrosting to operate properly. Timer-based defrosters can represent as much as 20 percent of the energy consumed in running the box. New demand-defrost systems, which initiate the defrost cycle only as needed, can reduce significantly the energy consumption of the freezer.

One of the more curious features of old-school kitchens--those hideous plastic strip curtains on walk-in doors--can save a great deal of energy because they act as a barrier to warm air (and flying vermin) that might enter the box. They are a bear to keep clean, so you should put some thought into going with the hinged versions made by companies such as Eliason and Cool Curtain Industries.


Let's start with the mundane. You need to use hot holding cabinets for banqueting. A noninsulated cabinet can be one-third the cost of an insulated one, but energy-wise, these are like running the furnace with the windows open in the dead of winter. Not only do they waste a tremendous amount of energy, they also add a lot of heat to your already hot kitchen.

Steamers fall into two categories: Energy Star and non-Energy Star, and the dividing line can be pretty big. The Energy Star kind consumes one-half to one-fifth the energy of the non-Energy Star ones with boilers and as much as one-thirtieth of the water. Once again, this is a no-brainer. Go with an Energy Star steamer unless you have absolutely no other choice or you simply have too much money and need to throw some down the drain.

We all know and love our gas-fired ranges, even if they are only 25 to 35 percent efficient in delivering the energy consumed into the product being cooked. Standard radiant type electrical ranges can reach as high as 60 percent, but induction ranges rank in the 80 to 90 percent efficiency range. Chefs often tell me that they would use more induction if it were less fragile. What I find are induction ranges improperly installed or used in too close proximity to high heat sources. Today's induction technology is far more robust and well-designed than just a few years ago so the longevity issue is no longer relevant. Consider the TCO of a gas range versus an induction range, and the energy savings alone is persuasive. The reduction in heat generated in the kitchen space and load on the ventilation system are added incentives to try induction cooking.

Combi-ovens are rarely viewed as energy-saving appliances. But consider the alternative in banqueting kitchens designed without them, and the versatility of these becomes apparent: used wisely, they replace myriad other far less efficient appliances. And "wisely" means using the combination mode sparingly. Follow the manufacturer's recipe recommendations and use the programmable controls. Running your ovens in full combi-mode all the time can double your cost to operate these versatile appliances. Consider sous-vide methods in conjunction with other slow cooking processes to fully benefit from energy savings with combi-ovens.

For info: Hot holding cabinets:,,
Induction ranges:,,,,

Water usage
An old prerinse spray valve in your dish station can use four and one-half gallons of water per minute, which could cost you as much as $1,600 a year to operate (at one hour per day of use). Newer low-flow valves use 1.6 gpm or less. The lowest flow valves are down to about 0.65 gpm and have the equivalent cost of operation of $250. The cost for a newer low-flow unit? About $65.

Ultrahigh efficiency condensing water heaters are the solution to rising natural gas costs. There are now condensing heaters available in both the storage-tank type format and the on-demand "tank-less" style. Choose the format that fits your water consumption needs. Make sure the tank gets installed properly and then sit back and reap the BTU savings.

For info:,,

Operations and maintenance
Lighting is an often overlooked area of savings in the kitchen as well as in the dining room. Incandescent lights waste 85 percent of the energy consumed as heat. A typical incandescent bulb has a lifespan of 750 to 1,000 hours. A compact fluorescent bulb has only 25 percent loss in heat and a lifespan of 7,500 to 10,000 hours. Cold cathode fluorescents can last for 25,000 hours. Newer LEDs are rating in the 50,000 hour range. Take a stroll through a large hotel banquet room and count the light fixtures, multiply by their average wattage, and then consider the idea that you could cut that number drastically and not spend the time or money to replace new bulbs for another 10 years. At the very least, replace all those incandescent light bulbs in exhaust hoods, walk-in coolers, store rooms, bathrooms, and break rooms with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

Waste costs are escalating faster than most other utilities at present, mostly due to communities trying to recuperate lost revenues from other sources. New waste-reduction systems are available that can reduce the weight of organic waste by 93 percent, and the by-product is compost-ready or usable as mulching for your landscaping. These units do consume electricity, so you'll want to weigh the cost of tipping fees against the added utility costs.

For info:

How do you sell your budget makers on the concept of TCO+? Whether buying equipment for a new space or old, you're probably into a lease or a mortgage for, at minimum, a 10 year term. Calculate the cost of operation for any given piece of equipment for those 10 years and how that cost would be affected if the equipment only lasts four to five of those 10 years. Sell your financial folks on the rebates offered by many energy companies for using Energy Star appliances and newer lighting technologies. Lastly, give them the little + push from the angels of their better nature to begin to see that money spent wisely is often very rewarding over time.