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Walk-in Refrigeration: Have Floors or No Floors

Walk-in Refrigeration: Have Floor or No Floor?

The choice between floored and floorless walk-in refrigeration units requires careful consideration of various factors, including functionality, safety, maintenance, and budget.

Floored units provide essential benefits such as enhanced insulation, improved hygiene, and increased safety, which are critical in commercial settings, particularly in the food service industry. They help maintain consistent temperatures, prevent slip hazards, and support heavy loads, thereby extending the lifespan of the refrigeration unit and protecting the integrity of stored goods.

Floor options vary based on the construction type and materials. These factors define the insulation and durability levels of the flooring, and general maintenance needs. Before you make your decision, consider the features your floors should possess based on your work intensity and type, the environmental conditions of the unit, and your budget. Choose from aluminum, reinforced, plywood underlays, ramps, or diamond tread plates. Consult your provider for more tailored suggestions and get their help with installation and maintenance.

Floorless walk-in units offer flexibility, cost savings, and easier accessibility for handling equipment, making them a viable option for businesses that already have suitable existing floors and need to prioritize budget constraints or specific operational workflows. But insulation, structural integrity, thermal bridging challenges, moisture and pest risks, additional accessories for accessibility, and long term costs are the disadvantages of floorless walk-ins.

Walk-in freezers specifically are required to possess a floor by federal guidelines, regardless of other factors, to maintain an R-value of at least 28 since cold temperatures would crack the concrete over time, and unsound flooring or lack of flooring is one of the main causes of falling hazards at work environments with 10% of accidents occurring due to wet floors according to National Floor Safety Institute. So, it is a good idea to invest in sturdy flooring for your unit to minimize hazards and such.

The decision should align with your business’s specific needs, the physical conditions of your installation site, and your long-term operational goals. Regular maintenance and diligent inspection of whichever type of walk-in refrigeration you choose will ensure optimal performance and durability, safeguarding your investment and supporting the seamless operation of your commercial kitchen.

Do You Need Walk-in Floors?

The decision to have a floor in a walk-in refrigeration unit depends on various factors. The floor is a key factor for the functionality and efficiency of walk-in refrigeration and is mandatory in some cases, such as in freezers and outdoor units. On average, you need walk-in floors for maximum efficiency, safety, and hygiene. Here are 8 key roles of the floor in walk-in refrigeration:

  • Support and Stability: A floor provides structural support for the items stored in the unit. It must be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of goods, shelving units, and any equipment placed inside and should be resistant to high-foot traffic or frequent cart use.

  • Containment of Spills: Walk-in floors can be designed to contain spills and leaks, preventing them from spreading beyond the refrigeration unit. This is particularly important in environments where liquids are frequently handled or stored.

  • Insulation: The floor contributes to the overall insulation of the unit, helping to maintain the desired temperature inside. Proper insulation prevents heat transfer from the surrounding environment into the refrigerated space and vice versa, improving energy efficiency and temperature control.

  • Ease of Cleaning: A smooth and sealed floor surface makes cleaning and maintenance easier than a rough concrete slab. This is essential for hygiene and sanitation purposes, especially in the foodservice industry. Health inspections will definitely consider the state of your floors while they conduct their examinations, and a floor can be the fine line between pass and fail.

  • Protection from External Elements: A floor provides a barrier between the interior of the walk-in unit and the external environment, protecting stored items from moisture and pests that may enter from the ground. The existence of flooring ensures complete partition from the exterior and eliminates the possibility of these occurring.

  • Safety: A well-designed floor reduces the risk of work-related hazards such as slips, trips, and falls within the refrigeration unit. Anti-slip surfaces and proper drainage systems can enhance the safety of your staff and make OSHA inspections a breeze.

What are Walk-in Flooring Options?

Walk-in flooring options include aluminum, reinforced, plywood underlays, ramps, diamond tread plates, and more. Flooring options for walk-in refrigeration units vary significantly based on construction and material, directly impacting the unit’s insulation, durability, and maintenance needs.

The choice of flooring material is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the unit and ensuring optimal performance. Waterproofing is of utmost importance to prevent moisture infiltration, which can compromise insulation and lead to mold or corrosion. Considerations such as weight capacity, slip resistance, and material safety are essential for the safety of personnel and the longevity of the unit.

  • Aluminum Flooring: Aluminum flooring offers excellent durability and resistance to corrosion, making it suitable for environments where moisture or spills are common. This model is designed for light foot traffic and can support around 600 pounds per square foot (25.284-kilogram square meters). It provides a smooth surface that is easy to clean and maintain, contributing to hygiene and sanitation standards, but it is not suitable for heavy storage needs.
  • Reinforced Flooring: Reinforced flooring is designed to withstand heavy loads and high traffic. It typically consists of reinforced panels or layers that provide added strength and durability, making it suitable for industrial or commercial applications where heavy items are stored or moved frequently. This model is the best option for most businesses, and it can shoulder around 2600 pounds per square foot (109.564-kilogram square meters).
  • Plywood Underlays: Plywood underlays are directly flooring material and are used to provide a stable and level base for the flooring material. They distribute weight evenly and reduce the risk of damage to the underlying structure of the unit. It is an extra layer, and plywood underlays can enhance insulation and provide a solid foundation for various flooring options.
  • Diamond Tread Plates: Diamond tread plates feature a raised diamond pattern that provides extra slip resistance. These plates are often made of durable materials such as stainless steel or aluminum, offering both strength and traction. The shaping of the flooring plays a significant role in preventing work hazards, and it should be considered as much as the material.
  • Ramps: Ramps are essential for facilitating the movement of goods and equipment in and out of the refrigeration unit via wheeled trollies. They provide a smooth transition between the floor of the unit and the surrounding area, ensuring safety and efficiency during loading and unloading operations. Ramps are constructed from various materials, including aluminum, steel, or reinforced plastic, depending on specific requirements and environmental conditions. The foreseen weight of the trolleys you’ll use should be taken into consideration before the purchase.

What are The Additional Features of Walk-in Floors?

There are many additional features of walk-in floors that could prove useful for your operations. Here are 8 main additional features you could look for in your purchase:

Nor-Lake KODB7768-C 6' X 8' Outdoor Kold Locker™ Walk-In Cooler w/ Floor, Self-Contained
  • Slip Resistance: Data from the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) regarding slip rates for various walk-in floor types clearly show that opting for slip-resistant floors is crucial to safeguarding employees and products and minimizing the risk of accidents.
  • Waterproofing: You should look for waterproof or water-repellent walk-in floors, especially if you work frequently with liquid products. This feature ensures that spills aren’t absorbed by the floor, which could lead to mold formation or bacteria growth. Water-repellent surfaces are easier to clean, as water and cleaning agents slide off them easily.  
  • Material Safety: Select walk-in floor materials that do not emit any color or odor that could affect stored products. Compliance with state regulations often necessitates the use of non-toxic materials in flooring to ensure the safety of stored goods. This feature is usually guaranteed by reliable providers, and it is not something you should explicitly worry about, but you should be extra careful if you are buying the unit second-hand.
  • Coved Edges: Floors with coved edges have a curved design where the floor meets the walls. This curve prevents dirt and debris buildup in corners, making cleaning easier and improving hygiene.
  • Antimicrobial Properties: Some flooring materials, such as epoxy plating, are treated with antimicrobial agents to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew. This is especially beneficial in environments where health inspections are common and intense, such as the food service industry or pharmaceutical sector.
  • Modularity: A modular flooring system refers to interlocking tiles or panels that can be easily dislodged or extended with the addition of other panels. Modularity is extremely useful if you are planning on growing your business and your machinery along with it. It allows for easy installation and customization, and if your floors get damaged, you can replace the relevant panels rather than the entire flooring. It is a budget-friendly solution to many problems and plans.  
  • Temperature and Crack Resistance: Flooring materials should be able to withstand extreme temperatures. Cooling floors cannot be used for freezers since the temperature is lower, and the constant exposure to low temperatures will crack the flooring over time if it is not designed specifically for it. Temperature and crack resistance go hand in hand in this sense.
  • Customization Options: Some flooring manufacturers offer customization options such as color choices, texture variations, or branding opportunities. While these features aren’t necessarily functional, they add to the aesthetic appeal of the space and align with your branding or design preferences.

Cost Considerations for Floor and No Floor Walk-in Refrigeration

The upfront cost of walk-in units with floors is higher than that of those without floors, but the difference is not marginal. The price of a unit depends on many other and more influential factors, such as its size, panel material, and R-value.

Choosing a floored model as opposed to a floorless unit also has long-term, positive financial implications. The floors act as an additional layer of insulation, reinforce the R-value of the unit, and help trap the cool air. This efficiency will be reflected on your bills through lower utility costs.

Floorless units are more vulnerable to issues like infestation, mold formation, bacteria growth, and eventually failing health inspections. A well-designed floor can minimize the possibility of these problems occurring and ensure your unit’s longevity.  

What are The Installation and Maintenance Challenges of Walk-in Floors?

Level surface needs, cracking, mold and mildew, and damage from heavy loads are the main installation and maintenance challenges of walk-in floors. The flooring needs to be on a level surface and sealed properly. These prerequisites for proper flooring alone could require extensive downtime for your business:

  • Level Surface Need: You need a fairly level surface to place your walk-in floor on. If the location you have in mind for the unit doesn’t have a level surface, you might need to do some extra work on the ground itself to make it even so that it can soundly support the weight of the entire unit.

  • Cracks Over Time: It might crack over time and jeopardize the integrity of your insulation system if the floor isn’t manufactured to withstand freezing temperatures. This can be prevented by purchasing a suitable floor early on.
  • Mold and Mildew Growth: Mold and mildew can grow over time if your flooring isn’t waterproof and lacks proper drainage. Make sure that you have a good drain in place and keep the surfaces as dry as possible.
  • Damage from Heavy Loads: Walk-in cooler floors are often subjected to heavy loads from stored items, equipment, and foot traffic. Overloading or impact from heavy objects can cause cracks, dents, or structural damage to the floor. Find out how much your unit can shoulder per square foot and use it accordingly.

Detecting Damages in Walk-in Floors

Detect the damage on your walk-in floors by educating yourself about the telltale signs of trouble. Detecting the damages early on will minimize the necessary downtime for repairs and the necessary budget and stop the problems from spreading. Here are 4 methods to detect damages in walk-in units:

  • Regular Inspection: Conduct routine inspections of walk-in cooler floors to identify any signs of damage, such as cracks, unevenness, or moisture buildup. If you spot any issues, such as cracks or gaps in the floor, address them immediately to prevent moisture infiltration and further deterioration. Sealants and patching compounds can help reinforce damaged areas. Call for professional maintenance if you aren’t experienced enough to handle it.
  • Drainage Maintenance: Ensure that floor drains are clear of obstructions and functioning correctly to prevent water buildup, clogs, bacteria growth, potential water damage, and even infestation. Periodical drain cleaning and maintenance of the connected pipes will protect your unit and, indirectly, the entire infrastructure.
  • Cleaning Practices: Implement strict cleaning protocols to remove spills, debris, and contaminants from walk-in cooler floors. While some spills could wait a little while you have the time to clean them, having them wait is a bad idea since it’ll cause stickiness, slip hazards, and bacteria growth. Train your staff to make the time to immediately clean up any messes and have them record the incidents to track potential or recurring problems.
  • Temperature Monitoring: Monitoring the temperature levels within the walk-in cooler is another way of monitoring the integrity of the insulation. If you detect any fluctuations in the temperatures, there might be cracks or gaps on your floor or walls.

Walk-in Refrigeration Without Floors

Nor-Lake KLB84812-C 8' X 12' Indoor Kold Locker™ Walk-In Cooler without Floor, Self-Contained

Walk-in refrigeration without floors offers flexibility and specific advantages. If you are planning on using existing floor surfaces for your operations, make sure to address any drainage or insulation issues and seal any gaps or cracks.

Here are 3 pros to getting floorless units:

  • Customization: Floorless walk-in units allow for customization of flooring according to the specific needs of the application. Depending on the intended use, different flooring materials, such as concrete, tile, or epoxy, can be installed directly on the existing floor surface or substrate.
  • Cost Savings: Floorless walk-in units are initially cheaper and less expensive to install than units with integrated floors. These cost savings can be significant for small businesses on a budget that has adequate flooring for the unit.
  • Accessibility: Floorless walk-in units offer easy access for material handling equipment such as forklifts or pallet jacks, as there are no raised thresholds or ramps to navigate. This accessibility streamlines loading and unloading operations, improving efficiency and productivity. While this isn’t a major issue on floored models, it is nice to circumvent it entirely.

Floorless walk-in refrigeration units, while offering certain advantages such as cost savings, accessibility, and customization, also come with several disadvantages that might affect their suitability for some businesses. Here are the 6 cons associated with floorless walk-in refrigeration units:

  • Insulation Challenges: Without a built-in insulated floor, these units have greater difficulty maintaining consistent temperatures, especially if installed over uninsulated surfaces. This leads to increased energy consumption and higher operating costs.
  • Increased Moisture and Pest Risks: The absence of an elevated, insulated floor makes it easier for moisture and pests to enter the unit. This compromises food safety and hygiene, leading to potential health violations and damaging stored products.
  • Structural Integrity Concerns: Floorless units rely on the existing floor to support the weight of stored items and frequent foot traffic. If the existing floor is not adequately durable or level, it can lead to uneven wear, potential structural damage, or increased maintenance costs.
  • Thermal Bridging: The contact between the cooler’s walls and a non-insulated floor create thermal bridges, where heat is transferred more readily. This affects the unit’s efficiency and contributes to the formation of condensation and potential icing issues near the floor area.
  • Accessibility Issues: While floorless designs can facilitate the entry of handling equipment like forklifts, they might require additional ramps or modifications to ensure smooth and safe entry, which incur extra costs and planning.
  • Long-Term Costs: Initial savings from choosing a floorless model might be offset by higher energy bills due to less effective insulation or costs associated with retrofitting the space to accommodate the unit effectively.

Conclusion

Walk-in refrigeration floors are optional separate components of insulation, depending on the location and type of the unit, and the intended ground for installation. The flooring ensures a level surface for your operations, minimizes heat loss, and creates a more sanitary and comfortable work environment for you and your staff.

Conversely, floorless units are often more cost-effective and offer easier accessibility for handling equipment, making them suitable for businesses with adequate existing floors. However, they may present challenges with insulation, moisture control, and long-term durability, which could lead to higher operational costs over time.

When deciding, consider your business’s specific requirements, the existing conditions of your installation site, and your operational objectives. Both choices require regular maintenance and inspections to ensure they perform optimally and last longer, safeguarding your investment and enhancing your commercial kitchen’s efficiency.

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