Meeting the Hot Water Needs of Commercial Food Service Providers

Peter Biermayer
Water heaters

There are a number of ways commercial food service providers can reduce water consumption for greater operational efficiency. Because of California's tendency for high drought levels, water conservation is a necessity for restaurants. Restaurants can save on operational expenses and increase productivity by installing energy-efficient water heaters to reduce energy consumption.


Addressing hot water challenges
According to an industry report, 15% of the total gas consumed by commercial buildings in California is done so by commercial food service operators.1 Restaurants use approximately 52% of water in the kitchen and 31% of it domestically, such as in restrooms.2 A large amount of this can be linked back to restaurants' hot water usage, which makes up a significant portion of the facility's energy consumption.


While restaurant codes and regulations differ by state, guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specify water temperature for hand washing to be at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This is relative for any food service provider, as such temperatures must be complied with in restroom sinks. In certain states, temperatures for mechanical dishwashing can range from 150 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures for sanitization can range from 165 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.


Restaurant kitchen equipment also uses a great amount of hot water. Reducing water usage would help decrease restaurant water heating costs. To maximize utility bill savings, restaurant owners can monitor some of the more water-intensive equipment, especially those that enable a continuous water flow, such as with dishwashing equipment and food preparation sinks. Making regular technology upgrades is another way to reduce energy caused by high water usage and increase long-term savings. Such technology can include water distribution pipes, faucets and other appliances with thermal efficiency models, especially those rated with a higher Energy Factor (EF).


Water management applications
Efficient commercial water heaters and technologies help restaurants conserve energy and water and achieve savings. Size, fuel type, cost and market availability are just a few factors restaurants today must consider when making energy-efficient water investments. ENERGY STAR-certified commercial water heaters include instantaneous tankless units and gas storage models that utilize 25% less energy than a traditional commercial unit. This can be accomplished by using efficient heat exchangers. Additionally, restaurants can conserve hot water or reduce operational costs through:


  • Replacing their standard pre-rinse spray valves with more efficient low-flow pre-rinse spray valves. Replacing the pre-rinse spray valves at the dishwashing section of the kitchen can save 25% to 60% in energy usage.
  • Drain-water heat recovery technology, which works especially well with demand and solar water heaters.3 Heat can be used to preheat inlet water or could also be recovered for later use if a storage tank is provided.
  • Replacing countertop steamers with boilerless steamers to reduce operating and maintenance costs. Connectionless steamers, which operate without a boiler or drain but can produce as much food as traditional boiler-based steamers, run at a lower operational cost because they consume less water and energy. As a result, restaurants can achieve up to $2,700 in annual savings with such energy-efficient water investments.4
  • Scheduled assessments to ensure efficient water use. Contractors can serve as an additional resource to help restaurants maintain energy efficiency and compliance with regulations regarding water conservation.

Factoring in the savings
To demonstrate achievable savings through efficient water usage, the PG&E Emerging Technologies (ET) program helped Berkeley, California-based Comal Restaurant implement a high-efficiency condensing water heater. This saved the facility $1,000 annually in water heating costs.5 The restaurant also utilized a hot water recirculation line that was preset to shut off at a certain time during closed business hours.


Because restaurants experience high-volume clientele, which can cause higher energy demand, they can better manage this through such programs as PG&E's Peak Day Pricing. This program enables businesses to save money by conserving energy during peak demand times. Available in November, food service providers can reduce energy use on peak day pricing event days to save money. Restaurants can also gain additional savings based on water usage by the gallon. This is important to consider, as quick-service restaurants consume 500 to 1,500 gallons of water a day and full-service restaurants consume up to 5,000 gallons per day.6


Restaurants can also achieve commercial water efficiency by better maintaining wash curtains, utilizing gas booster heaters when shopping for a new dishwasher, monitoring rinse pressure and water temperature, and adding insulation to a hot water system.


Meeting energy-efficiency needs for water preservation in restaurants is crucial to achieve optimal savings. By working with the right technician, restaurants can also gain insight into other areas of their business where they can cut unnecessary costs to preserve water for maximum energy usage and operational efficiency. Restaurants can download the "How to Get the Best Results from a Lighting or HVAC Project" eBook from PG&E and find out how they can save by upgrading to energy-efficient technologies.


Referenced in article:


  1. The Food Service Technology Center
  2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  3. U.S. Department of Energy
  4. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  5. National Restaurant Association
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