It’s OK To Vent: What Adjusters Should Know About Commercial Kitchen Ventilation

Many kinds of commercial properties may have kitchens, from small delis with single grills to full-service restaurants and beyond. Proper ventilation and grease management are essential in operating them safely. Kitchen HVAC equipment is responsible for managing grease vapors, odors, contaminants, moisture in the air, and combustible gases. Adjusters should know about this equipment because when it operates correctly, the system controls the kitchen’s temperature, humidity, and airflow, and prevents smoke and fire incidents and associated claims.

Each commercial kitchen requires ventilation appropriate to the volume and type of food preparation that occurs there.

Each commercial kitchen requires ventilation appropriate to the volume and type of food preparation that occurs there.

Commercial Kitchen HVAC Equipment

Exhaust hoods are one of the most important pieces of HVAC equipment within a commercial kitchen. Hoods remove smoke, grease-laden vapors, fumes, and odors. Type I, also called grease hoods, are installed above equipment that generates grease or smoke, like grills or fryers. They contain devices that pull in grease from the air and remove it from the kitchen. Type II hoods, or condensate hoods, are installed above appliances like ranges or ovens. Adjusters should expect to see them in places that generate steam, heat, or combustion byproducts where grease and smoke are not present.

Commercial hoods include important components like upblast exhaust fans, which pull the air and any airborne cooking byproducts from the kitchen into the hood and through filters. Air is blown out of the top, and a sealed compartment, such as ductwork, protects the motor from the heat, moisture, and contaminants being removed. Additionally, a secondary grease trap captures condensed grease to prevent it from getting onto the roof. If ductwork penetrates a fire-rated wall or ceiling, the air duct must have a continuous enclosure or be protected with a listed duct-through-penetration system, or the fire rating will be compromised. Downblast exhaust fans eject air down toward the fan base and roof, which could be a fire hazard if grease accumulates there. They should never be used in a commercial kitchen. Regardless of type, 41% of commercial exhaust fans HVACi assessed in 2022 were impacted by hail; nearly 16% of them were impacted by wind; and 19% of commercial exhaust fans were non-damaged at the time of assessment.

Make-up air must also be brought in to replace the air taken away by the kitchen exhaust at approximately the same rate as the air removal. This balances the air pressure in the kitchen and throughout the rest of the commercial facility and contributes to overall Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Depending on the size of the kitchen, this may require a separate make-up air unit. In 2022, 33% of commercial make-up air fans and commercial make-up air units were non-damaged at the time of the assessment, 20% of them had been impacted by wind, 13% had been damaged by fire, and 13% were damaged by foreign object impact.

These components work together to make the environment comfortable for the kitchen staff, but good ventilation also reduces the risk of smoke and fire damage.Commercial kitchen hoods exhaust contaminated air and grease.

Commercial kitchen hoods exhaust contaminated air and grease.

Smoke and Fire Damage

As described above, commercial kitchen exhaust can help prevent losses by removing grease vapors from the air, but grease accumulation is one of the most common causes of smoke and fire damage in commercial kitchens. If filters and grease traps are not cleaned regularly or otherwise properly maintained, grease can accumulate, overheat, and combust. The National Fire Protection Association advises that hoods should be inspected for buildup monthly, quarterly, annually, or semi-annually, depending on the volume and type of food production. Backed-up grease traps may generate flammable or toxic gases, like methane or carbon monoxide, which can also cause a fire in a hot kitchen.

Commercial kitchen smoke and fire incidents may result in extensive property damages to costly equipment. When losses occur, an expert familiar with the equipment should inspect the site to verify the cause of loss, the extent of the loss, and what Like Kind and Quality equipment would restore the kitchen to pre-loss condition. However, it’s also possible some claimed equipment may be non-damaged, requiring no action from the adjuster or policyholder to return the equipment to pre-loss condition.

Commercial kitchen fires don’t just affect cooking equipment. This furnace was damaged by smoke and heat when a fire occurred in a restaurant kitchen.

HVAC Investigators (HVACi) provides the leading HVAC and refrigeration system assessments and desktop pricing reviews for residential and commercial claims nationwide. HVACi’s team of qualified subject matter experts can provide the information that adjusters need to settle a claim for commercial kitchen HVAC equipment quickly and accurately. Submit an assignment to see how HVACi’s fact-driven approach, extensive in-field network, and quick cycle times can help you settle commercial kitchen claims.

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Commercial Refrigeration Claim Case Study

Policyholders may not know what caused the damage to their equipment – and they don’t have to. The insured in this case study didn’t know why the commercial walk-freezer wasn’t working, and the contractor only advised that repairs weren’t possible. Even under these circumstances, adjusters can still make a confident and accurate claim settlement decision by seeking the support of an objective third party expert who can determine cause of loss and scope of damage.

Fill out the form to read HVACi’s recommendations for how to settle the claim and return the insured’s property to pre-loss condition – no replacement necessary.

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5 Things to Know About Economizers

Economizers are required on rooftop package units at residential and commercial properties in some parts of the country because they make HVAC systems more energy efficient. Economizers detect outside temperature and humidity conditions to determine if circulating external air inside will still maintain desired temperatures while lessening how much the HVAC system must work.

Our guide breaks down this complex equipment with the top 5 most important things to know about economizers, including how they work, the different types available, their advantages, why they might fail, and what codes and regulations could impact them. Plus, our labeled internal and external diagrams offer a better understanding of how this equipment works.

Fill out the form to obtain your copy of the guide to reference while handling your next claim that has an HVAC system with an economizer.

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Economizer Basics: Who Uses Them, Where They’re Required, and Why They Wind Up in Claims

Economizers, which can be added to the rooftop package units frequently used at commercial properties, have a variety of sensors and other components to gauge if outdoor temperatures and humidity levels are mild enough to give the traditional HVAC system a break. Outside air is applied instead of mechanical cooling to maintain conditions inside.

These components allow policyholders to reduce their energy consumption, but economizers are also included in claims. Adjusters should know how these components work in case a damper or sensor failure winds up on their desks.


A Sensory Experience

Economizers use a system of sensors and vents to maintain proper temperatures inside using outside air.

Externally, economizers look like stacked vents attached to the outside of a rooftop package unit. But multiple components make up this equipment, including the sensors that read temperature, heat, and humidity levels, and the dampers that regulate how much air is let in or out. Enthalpy economizers regulate the use of outside air based on the enthalpy, the amount of internal energy within a system combined with the product of its pressure and volume.


Types of Economizers:

Dry Bulb Economizers: Sensors detect if outdoor air is a certain temperature, which will then open a damper to allow outdoor air in. But there isn’t detection for humidity, which could make for unfavorable conditions inside.

Single Enthalpy Economizer: Sensors determine if the humidity and heat levels are below presets before using outdoor air to cool a building.

Differential Enthalpy Economizer: Two sensors measure indoor and outdoor air enthalpy, and dampers ensure optimum and lowest enthalpy is achieved.

Integrated Differential Enthalpy Economizer: Sensors track return and outdoor air enthalpy, plus there are controls that communicate with an indoor thermostat. If the outdoor air’s temperature and enthalpy are low enough, cooling will start with the economizer, and if not, the compressor will cool the structure.


Economizing Policyholders’ Energy Consumption

The largest advantages of an economizer are reductions in energy consumption and the cost of maintaining the temperature in a commercial building.

According to Powerhouse Dynamics, a single rooftop unit compressor for a small commercial building can draw 5 kilowatt (kW) while it’s running, costing several thousand dollars a month in warmer months. The fan draws only several hundred watts to 2kW, so the cost to cool a building when the compressor is off is cut in half, which can lead to a larger annual savings.

When outside air can be used instead of the traditional cooling methods, the HVAC system doesn’t have to work as hard, which is a benefit to the system itself. Condensing units work less, which reduces maintenance costs, wear and tear, and breakdowns. This could lead to longer system lifespans.

Another advantage is that air quality is improved because of increased ventilation. It is no longer the same air being conditioned and recycled in a facility, but rather, new air from outside is used. Some of the controllers will aid in bringing in the required amount of fresh air and modulate building pressure. To do so, they can have manual or adjustable fixed dampers.


Keep Moisture Out of It, But Follow the Code


The International Energy Conservation Code’s Climate Zone Map is one of the factors that decides if a commercial facility is required to have an economizer. Photo By: 2012 International Energy Conservation Code

Climates may dictate if economizers are a good choice for a policyholder. Those that are humid and hot are typically not ideal for economizers because the outside air may rarely be cool enough or dry enough to be good for inside.

Climate zones, which denote how warm or dry an area is, are considered in codes and requirements about economizers. Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico are too hot and muggy, so they are exempt from economizer rules because of a lack of energy savings. Having that moist air could increase a policyholder’s risk for mold and mildew, according to Buildings.com, but there are stipulations on where economizers must be used.

According to C403.5 of the International Energy Conservation Code, among the reasons an air or water economizer should be provided are if the individual fan system has a “cooling capacity greater than or equal to 54,000 Btu/h (4.5 ton) in buildings having other than a Group R occupancy.” Group R relates to places providing overnight accommodations, including houses, apartments, and hotels. The total supply capacity of fan cooling units not provided with economizers shouldn’t exceed 20% of the total supply capacity of all fan cooling units in the building or 300,000 Btu/h (25 ton), whichever is greater. Economizers should also be installed on “individual fan systems with cooling capacity greater than or equal to 270,000 Btu/h (22.5 tons) in buildings having a Group R occupancy. The total supply capacity of all fan cooling units not provided with economizers shall not exceed 20% of the total supply capacity of all fan cooling units in the building or 1,500,000 Btu/h (125 ton), whichever is greater.”

Economizers are not required if the individual fan system is not served by chilled water for buildings located in specific climate zones or when 25% of the air designed to be supplied by the system is to spaces not designed to be humidified about 35 degrees Fahrenheit dew-point temperature, if the systems won’t operate more than 20 hours a week, and if the systems are for supermarket areas with open refrigerated casework, among other exceptions.

Adjusters should check if their policyholders are required to have an economizer when handling a claim related to an HVAC system.


Difficulty Detecting Damages

Economizers can sustain similar damages to other outdoor package unit components. This one had foreign object impact.

Economizers typically bring in outside air when conditions are appropriate; otherwise, the standard HVAC system is used. This may make it difficult to know if an economizer is malfunctioning without active monitoring.

Among the damages that can occur are that the sensors can fail or fall out of calibration or other components that detect the condition of the air could have a problem. One damage that might be more noticeable is if a damper is physically stuck, which could keep outside air flowing in even when it shouldn’t. This could be caused by an actuator or linkage failure, which are common. Economizers are usually open about 10%, which can also affect costs. Vents or outside components may sustain damage from hail, foreign object impact, or other perils from being outdoors.

Building codes require some fault detection and diagnostics systems, including refrigerant pressure sensors and a unit control that is configured to provide system status, among others.

Problems could also start before an economizer is ever used. According to a Washington State University Extension Energy Program report about checking economizer operation, nearly 50% of new economizer installations have one or more problems that reduce its effectiveness. This means that rather than having a way to minimize energy consumption, it could actually be costing the policyholder more.

It’s important to have an expert in HVAC systems assess the economizer and the other components listed in insurance claims to ensure they are working properly and to keep the system running as efficiently as possible. The team at HVACi can help by using knowledge and experience to provide comprehensive and objective reports that empower adjusters to accurately handle claims related to HVAC systems and their components. To find out more about what is included in the assessments, submit a claim now.

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The Basics of Chillers

When a damaged chiller claim lands on your desk, you need to be ready for the complexities that come with it. These systems are often intricate and specialized based on the space or equipment they’re cooling, meaning they present their own challenges to insurance adjusters like you. If you’re not familiar with this complicated cooling equipment and you’re working on a claim that includes one, you’ll want to know the basics.

Water pipes for a chiller system

How Do Chillers Work?

Chillers transfer heat away from a space that requires climate control much like a traditional split system or package unit does, but they use water (or a water solution) to do so instead of air. There are two types of chillers: water-cooled and air-cooled. They work similarly throughout most of the process until the refrigerant reaches the condenser, and both are outlined in the following sections.

Water-Cooled Chillers

Diagram A

The cooling process begins when water enters the evaporator from the primary return where heat is transferred from the water to the refrigerant.

The now-chilled water is then sent to the water tank via the primary supply (shown in blue), where it is distributed to the various climate-controlled spaces by the water pump. Because heat always moves from hot to cold as stated by the second law of thermodynamics, the chilled water absorbs the conditioned space’s ambient heat in the air handler. A fan then forces the cooled air into the space via the ductwork. The warmer water is then returned to the chiller to be cooled once again.

In the meantime, the heat absorbed by the refrigerant (path shown in green) in the evaporator needs to be transferred to allow the refrigerant to absorb more heat. The low-pressure, high-temperature refrigerant moves from the evaporator to the motor-run compressor, which increases the pressure and temperature.

After that, the refrigerant enters the condenser. Water-cooled chillers use water to surround the refrigerant pipes and draw in the heat (path shown in red). The water is then pumped into a cooling tower to release the heat. After condensing, the refrigerant goes through an expansion valve to reduce pressure (and temperature) before returning to the evaporator, where the process begins again.

Air-Cooled Chillers

 Diagram B

Like with water-cooled chillers, the process begins with the primary return bringing warm water to the chiller. Heat is transferred in the evaporator to the refrigerant, and the water runs through the primary supply to the cooled space. The refrigerant moves through the compressor to raise the pressure and temperature, and then it reaches the condenser. Here, fans circulate outside air through the condenser, which absorbs heat from the refrigerant (again, the second law of thermodynamics dictates that hot moves to cold) before expelling this heat to the ambient air. The refrigerant then goes through the expansion valve (as before) and returns to the evaporator.

Where Are Chillers Used?

Chillers have several uses and are sometimes preferred over traditional split systems or package units because the water conducts heat better than air. This is also why water-cooled chillers are known for being more consistent and efficient in their performance and for having a longer lifespan than their air-cooled counterparts. Water-cooled chillers are common in medium and larger facilities (so long as they have an adequate water supply), such as airports, hospitals, hotels, shopping malls, commercial buildings, and more. (Pictured: A portable chiller)

Air-cooled chillers are more prevalent in small to medium sized facilities where space and water may be limited. The costs to install and maintain these chillers are lower than that of their water-cooled counterparts, but they typically have a shorter lifespan. These chillers are commonly used for restaurants, corporate and sporting events, and temporary structures.

Chillers are also often used for industrial or medical applications. Assembly equipment, construction sites, lasers, MRI machines, and various other high-powered equipment and facilities may require chillers to maintain a workable temperature.

Common Problems That Affect Chillers


Chillers use metal tubes (usually made of copper or carbon steel) to transfer water between the chiller and the climate-controlled space. The simple presence of oxygen in water can cause corrosion, but if the water and pipes are treated properly, this can significantly reduce the risk. However, if the water treatment is inadequate, sediment, minerals, and bacteria can enter the system. If there is a buildup of sediment or bacteria that causes oxygenation levels to differentiate, the metals can begin to corrode. In addition, any point where two different metals are used can be at risk for corrosion due to their different electrochemical properties. No matter how the corrosion occurs, it can cause leaks that will damage the chiller, reduce its efficiency, and possibly damage the area surrounding the chiller.

Compressor for a chiller

Poor Maintenance

These complex machines require a lot of maintenance to keep them in good working order. If proper steps aren’t taken, the chiller can corrode, clog, lose efficiency, or experience a number of other issues. For example, if proper water treatment isn’t maintained or if open cooling towers aren’t cleaned, sediment or particulates can be introduced to the system, causing clogged pipes and poor heat transfer. An air-cooled chiller’s condenser can be blocked by debris or become caked in dirt, which also lowers efficiency.

Electrical Issues 

The electrical systems within a chiller are carefully designed and as complex as the rest of the machine. They can easily be thrown off balance by a high voltage surge or wear and tear. If there is a grounding issue or a power supply failure, the chiller may detect this and shut itself off. Overloading the chiller can cause it to overheat, which will likely result in failure. Wires and cables can become loose or damaged after maintenance or due to negligence, which can result in chiller malfunctions.

We Can Help Settle Your Chiller Claims

Chiller claims are no walk in the park – several components can malfunction and cause the entire system to fail, and the source may not always be clear. To handle them properly, you may need an expert opinion. If you’re handling a chiller claim, let us help! Our trained technicians will document the damages and our experts will put together a comprehensive report outlining damages, cause of loss, and costs involved with repair or replacement.

Make settling chiller claims easier on yourself. Submit your claim today!

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Chiller Claim Guide

Claims involving commercial HVAC equipment can be complex, particularly when it comes to chillers. Determining the cause of loss, scope of repairs, and an accurate settlement amount can be daunting for even the most experienced adjuster.

Our basic guide will boost your knowledge before the next chiller claim comes across your desk. This tool is free for adjusters and includes details on:

  • The differences between water-cooled and air-cooled chillers.
  • Basic required chiller maintenance.
  • Hazards that can damage chillers.
  • Data analysis of chiller claims.

Request your free copy now by filling out the included form.

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Package Unit Glossary

All-in-One Package: The parts and functions of a package unit

While package units may not be the most popular residential HVAC systems (though they are still found in many homes), they’re quite common in the commercial space. If you have a policyholder come to you with a claim on their package unit, you want to make sure you are in the know when talking to the insured and the contractor. You don’t want to waste time sifting through document after document trying to figure out what each part mentioned in the estimate does. You want to get the claim processed as quickly and accurately as possible. 

To this end, we’ve created an HVAC package unit schematic and glossary that describes each component in plain terms. This way, you can look through it as you read a damage report or estimate and quickly know exactly what the contractor is talking about, allowing you to review it much more efficiently.

Don’t let yourself get slowed down by a package unit claim! Download your package unit glossary by filling out the form provided.

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