Buying Guide: Walk-In Coolers and Freezers

Buying Guide: Walk-In Coolers and Freezers

Walk-in coolers are a must for many different types of businesses. Restaurants, hotels and flower shops all use them to keep perishable items fresh. Many walk-in coolers and freezers have a variety of options available such as indoor or outdoor usage and remote or self-contained refrigeration.

This is a large investment in your company. Be sure you do your research and buy the one that best fits your needs, not the one that gets the current sales person the most commission!

Walk-In Cooler or Freezer Insulation Materials

There are two main types of insulation used on walk-in coolers: Extruded Polystyrene and Polyurethane. Insulation performance is usually rated in what is termed R-value. The higher the R-value, the more resistance to heat flow, therefore the better its insulating properties.Thermometer

Extruded Polystyrene 

This insulation has a high initial R-value and has a great moisture resistance and ability to retain around 47% of its R-value over the life of the product. Coolers made with extruded polystrene will usually be much more costly up front, but will offer lower operating costs over the lifetime of the unit.


This insulation has a high initial R-value and retains about 19% of its initial R-value over the product life. This means that though the initial R-value is good, the overall lifetime value of the the polyurethane cooler or freezer is likely to be higher. That being said, these units will be more economical up front.

Exterior Materials on a Walk-In Cooler or Freezer

Galvanized Exterior of a Walk In Cooler

G90 Galvanized used to be the most popular choice for walk-ins, but recently has lost popularity. G90 refers to corrosion resistance, and is the minimum required for a walk-in cooler or freezer. It is strong and dent resistant, but can develop “white rust” if not handled correctly or the wrong cleaners are used. G90 Galvanized floors are not NSF approved unless quarry tile is installed prior to use.


While aluminum dents more easily, it is very resistant to corrosion (except for salt spray). Sometimes aluminum floors can be diamond tread plate embossed to add further strength. Most aluminum models have stucco-embossed walls and ceilings to increase strength.


Galvalume is steel coated with a combination of aluminum and galvanizing material. This gives it the strength of steel but is 12 times more corrosion resistant than galvanized. It has a gray color that is usually embossed. It is the best “bang for the buck” as far as exterior goes.

Stainless Steel 

The most expensive alternative, stainless steel is the strongest and least corrosive. Additionally, stainless steel comes in different polishes such as brushed or polished. However, most people choose the brushed polish to minimize the appearance of scratches.

Refrigeration Systems on Your Walk-In Cooler or Freezer

Refrigeration SystemWalk-in coolers and freezers refrigeration systems consist of two major components: the condenser and the evaporator. The condenser is located outside the unit, while the evaporator is inside. The new EISA (Energy Independence and Security Act) states that all walk-ins must be equipped with high efficiency motors. While they cost a bit more up front, they will save you money in the long run. To save money and to be compliant, always ask for EISA compliant equipment.


Remote systems are broken up so that the condenser is located outside of the building and the evaporator inside. They require professional installation, but are important if you do not have enough clearance for required circulation inside.

Top Mount RefrigerationStandard Top-Mount

Top-mounted systems are self-contained refrigeration as opposed to remote refrigeration. They come with all parts, lines and refrigeration gases completely installed. A licensed refrigeration technician should install the refrigeration. The downside to these systems is that the evaporator hangs down inside the walk-in taking up valuable space.

Side Mount Refrigeration


Side-mount systems are also self-contained. In fact, they are the same as the top-mount, just mounted on the side. They will require a condensation drain hose to be connected to a closed drain. You will lose shelf space where the evaporator comes in, but it may be necessary for rooms with lower ceilings.

Outdoor Applications for a Walk-In Cooler or Freezer

Walk-in coolers and freezers can be used outdoors. This can save valuable real estate inside, but there are some additional requirements. The outdoor package must be purchased, which includes a compressor cover, crank-case heater and a fan cycle control. The roof sealing kit must also be purchased to seal off the roof and prevent leakage.

Should I Spend the Money for a Cooler with a Floor?

Walk-In coolers and freezers can sometimes come without a floor. Be aware of some steps you must take to ward off future problems. They must be installed on a ground contact concrete floor. A cooler can be installed without insulating the floor and a thermal break under each wall, but both are recommended. On the other hand, freezers require both floor insulation and thermal breaks.

Walk-In Cooler and Freezer Capacity

tape measureYou want to make sure you get a cooler or freezer the size you need. Make sure to accommodate for future growth and keep in mind that 1 cu. ft. of open storage accommodates about 28 lbs of food.

Additional Options for Your Walk-In Cooler or Freezer

If the walk in has a floor, consider interior and exterior floor ramps to allow easier access.

If you need security, or will be using your walk-in outdoors, you might need a locking door.