Equipment Guides

Restaurant HVAC 101: Cost Saving Tips & Tricks

To help restaurant leaders and operators understand the ins-and-outs of their HVAC systems, and how to avoid major cost pitfalls, we have compiled everything you need to know about commercial HVAC systems!
Kareem Azees
Marketing Lead
Last updated:
November 28, 2022

News Flash: there are huge cost-saving opportunities within your restaurant HVAC system!

HVAC systems are extremely important to your restaurant: they are responsible for maintaining indoor air quality, removing contaminants in the air, and heating or cooling. Making sure that your HVAC system is up-to-date and well-kept is critical in ensuring the longevity of your expensive restaurant equipment. Not only that, but having your HVAC system constantly running at the suggested optimal level is an easy way to ensure long-term cost savings.

However, the HVAC system is typically forgotten about until a major break down occurs. The 2022 State of Disrepair Report shares that nearly 70% of restaurant repair and maintenance costs are incurred reactively as a result of unexpected equipment breakdowns. This could be the equivalent of thousands of dollars in emergency equipment repairs. 

To help restaurant leaders and operators understand the ins-and-outs of their HVAC systems, and how to avoid major cost pitfalls, we have compiled everything you need to know about commercial HVAC systems!

What are the 3 most common types of HVAC systems found within a restaurant? 

1) VRF Systems

VRF stands for variable refrigerant flow systems, and are usually found in medium to large spaces. The VRF systems that are currently available are:

  • Heat Pump VRF: can provide either heating or cooling, but cannot do both actions at the same time.
  • Heat Recovery VRF: can provide both cooling and heating at the same time. This is usually most ideal when a large room is separated into many smaller rooms.

VRF HVAC systems are known for their reliability, easiness of use, and overall efficiency. The installation process for a VRF system is also fairly short, making this option great for business owners.

2) Single Split Systems

This type of HVAC system is the most popular choice among restaurant leaders and operators since they are typically affordable to install. This type of system includes an air conditioner to cool the refrigerant, as well as a furnace to convert the refrigerant. Single Split systems are controlled by standard thermostats or panels.

Since single split HVAC systems are not used as central units, they are usually cheaper to install compared to a multi split system. However, when installing a single split system, you need to ensure there is a corresponding outdoor unit in order for anything to work.

3) Multi Split Systems

Multi split HVAC systems are similar to single split systems, yet do not require the same amount of corresponding outdoor units in order to operate. A multi split system also has heat pumps built in, which allows you to save money by helping move heat through your restaurant.

A huge benefit in having a multi split system is the effect it will have on your overall energy usage. These HVAC systems use sensors to identify temperature changes, and make timely changes when needed. This helps eliminate the need for constant monitoring or temperature altering.

What is required of a standard restaurant HVAC system?

1) Cooling

Restaurant kitchens can be very hot places — between the ovens, fryers, and stoves, there is a lot of heat being produced. A kitchen that reaches overly high temperatures will cause strain on a restaurant’s utility bills, as it will force refrigerator compressors to become overworked. 

Your HVAC needs to be able to cool the area to eliminate fire hazard, and to keep employees at a comfortable temperature. And since there is likely a lot of smoke in the air, the ventilators are also important to help reduce this.

2) Makeup Air

Makeup Air units are typically found in addition to commercial HVAC systems like those in restaurants, and not found within residential dwellings. The makeup air unit replaces the air exhausted from the kitchen exhaust fans with fresh, clean air. They are usually found on the roof. Ensuring that the makeup air unit is working properly is very important, as it is a critical part in the overall HVAC system.

3) Fire Suppression

Depending on the building codes of your restaurant, you may also have to consider fire suppression systems to work in tandem with your HVAC. While there are many different ways to eliminate the risk of fires within your kitchen, knowing the requirements of your HVAC system will help in reducing the likelihood of emergencies.

What are the 3 most common repair issues for a restaurant HVAC system?

1) Ductwork Issues

If your customers are constantly complaining about the temperature, whether too hot or too cold, then you likely have issues within your ducts. While there are many problems that could arise with your ducts, even the need for a simple cleaning solution would make a huge impact.


It is also important to note the layout of your restaurant, and whether or not it is able to accommodate the ductwork. Making any changes to your restaurant space could alter or stop the proper flow of air. Only HVAC professionals are able to assess your restaurant layout and provide feedback on how the HVAC system is able to perform in that space.

Other issues that could arise with your restaurant duct system is lack of sealing, or the overall pressure being too hard or soft.

2) Poor Ventilation

As we’ve mentioned, the ventilation system in your restaurant is extremely critical. It not only allows your guests and employees to work and sit in a comfortable setting, but also eliminates the risk of fire hazard and smoke. While proper ventilation is a part of the standard health & safety code, many restaurant leaders and operators avoid maintaining this important piece of equipment.

The initial design of the kitchen needs to be inspected by an HVAC professional in order to make sure the ventilation system will not run into any errors, and will continuously be impacting the air quality. Other important things to consider regarding poor ventilation in your restaurant are:

  • Making sure all hood fans are in the proper position
  • Lack of / poor quality makeup air
  • Air is not reaching all areas of the restaurant

3) Lack of Ongoing Maintenance

Since a restaurant HVAC system is constantly running at high levels, the need for ongoing preventative maintenance is extremely crucial. HVAC’s are expensive - and you’ll want to maintain this piece of equipment for it’s entire lifespan.

Routine cleaning and checkups, making necessary small repairs, and part replacements are all critical in preserving the HVAC system. However, these actions are usually only performed properly when a preventive maintenance plan is established.

How can a restaurant impact costs with efficiently maintained HVAC systems?

1) Save On Energy

Efficient HVAC systems lower a restaurant’s energy costs up to 20%, resulting in huge long term savings. This is an easy way to impact your bottom line and increase profitability! While the initial installation fees for quality HVAC systems could be more expensive than economy brands, you will see a higher long-term return on investment.

2) Equipment Longevity

Replacing a broken or misused HVAC system is very, very expensive. While the specific lifespan of a commercial restaurant HVAC unit depends on the make and model, the average HVAC system should last for about 15 years (if there is some sort of ongoing maintenance occurring). Some restaurant operators can extend the lifespan of the HVAC unit up to 20 years, when they are consistently repairing, cleaning, and preserving the equipment.

However, HVAC systems can break down and begin to show signs of deterioration just after 10 short years — this is a worst case scenario, and all restaurant operators will want to avoid a costly HVAC replacement.

3) Monitoring & Control

Don’t accidentally run up your heating and cooling bills! The temperature gages and control panels on your HVAC system should always be working and well maintained, so they are able to give accurate measurements and temperature readings. 

Maintaining your HVAC will ensure you do not overheat, or overcool, your entire restaurant. Depending on the size of your restaurant, an expensive HVAC bill would be a huge detriment to your overall business! And if your restaurant is looking to impact it’s environmental footprint, this is a great way to get started.

4) Customer Impact

While it’s important to ensure your employees are safe and comfortable in your restaurant environment, the customers are also a crucial factor in your daily sales! And if your customers are not happy when they are dining in your restaurant, then you will see a huge dip in profit.

Customers want to be comfortable when visiting or dining in your restaurant - this means controlled temperatures and clean, filtered air. If your HVAC system is not being well maintained, the quality of air will be severely affected. Guests will not want to return (or keep spending money!) if they feel hot, cold, or are having a difficult time breathing.

In our opinion, having the proper preventive maintenance procedures set up for your HVAC system is a no-brainer! Increasing equipment lifespan, lowering daily operations costs, and maintaining happy customers are just a few of the amazing benefits of a well-preserved HVAC unit. If you are looking for other resources on HVAC repairs or preventative maintenance, please check out our other blog posts:

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