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Restaurants use about 2X more energy per sq. ft. than most commercial buildings out there. And most of that energy is used on HVAC (Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning) systems. In terms of restaurants’ annual energy consumption, HVAC is just behind food preparation.

For that reason, restaurant owners need to invest in an efficient HVAC system. This will help them to save money, especially when the energy price surges. Installing modern HVAC in customer spaces will make the businesses cost-efficient and sustainable. Also, this will help to improve the air quality and ventilation in restaurants.

Those are not the only reasons that you should make you upgrade your restaurant’s HVAC though! For instance, it makes the working/ dining conditions for the occupants more comfortable.

Before you upgrade your system, always consult a Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning professional. If you’re in California, for instance, you can consult Innodez Design and Engineering.

Nonetheless, it’s good to have a basic understanding of HVAC installation in kitchens. Luckily, that’s what this article is all about. We have highlighted the complete HVAC design guidelines for restaurants. Let’s get started!

Commercial Kitchen Air Conditioning

What is a Commercial Kitchen HVAC System?

HVAC is the control of humidity, air quality/ motion, radiant energy, and temperature. Thus, a commercial kitchen HVAC refers to the components that control these elements.

Unfortunately, some people use AC and HVAC interchangeably. However, an AC system only cools the air. On the contrary, HVAC promotes proper ventilation, air circulation and controls the temperature.

That aside, a restaurant HVAC is comprised of many components. Some of these parts include;

  • A furnace – heats the space
  • AC units –cools the air
  • Ductwork –circulates cold & hot air
  • Thermostat –controls temperature
  • Ventilators –improves air circulation
  • Make-up air unit – Replaces air drained by kitchen hoods

You probably have most of these in your home Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning. However, the restaurant HVAC system services a larger space and it’s bigger. The only part you may not see in your home’s system is the make-up air unit. So, let’s see what it’s all about!

Make-up Air Unit

As the name suggests, this unit ‘makes up’ for the air removed from the kitchen hood. In other words, it replaces air removed from exhaust hood fans with fresh air from outside. This makes the kitchen less stuffy and prevents odors from entering neighboring areas. Also, by adding fresh air to space, they improve indoor quality. Not to forget that they help to remove airborne contaminants and pollutants.

The makeup air unit is one of the interdependent units of the kitchen exhaust system. The other units are; rooftop kitchen hood, exhaust hoods, and exhaust fans. An exhaust system eliminates cooking vapors, particulate matter, heat, and grease-laden steam.

Make-up Air Unit Restaurant Design

Importance of a restaurant HVAC System

HVAC systems play an important role in commercial spaces, restaurants included. They improve the working conditions, indoor air quality and make the space comfortable. However, there are many other benefits offered by these systems. Here are some of those benefits;

  • Keep diners comfortable and safe

As we stated earlier, HVAC systems give diners a comfortable and safe environment. They filter our air pollutants like mold/ virus, thus improving the indoor air quality. Besides, they improve ventilation and air circulation, which gives guests peace of mind.

HVAC also ensures proper air pressurization, protecting diners from CO poisoning. This protects them from experiencing headache-induced CO poisoning.

  • Restrict odors

We all love the smell of delicious food. However, no one wants to leave the restaurant with the smell of fried onions. Makeup air units and exhaust hoods prevent food odors from moving into the dining space. This creates a favorable atmosphere both for staff and guests.

  • Control kitchen air quality & temperature

Commercial kitchens tend to get hot and stuffy. That’s because the air gets filled with oven heat, fryer grease, and smoke. If the kitchen doesn’t have an efficient HVAC, it becomes a dangerous working space.

To solve this issue, you’ll need air conditioning units, makeup air units, and exhaust hoods. Moreover, you’ll need ventilators to prevent smoky air from affecting the staff’s health.

  • Enhance air filtration & ventilation

Air conditioning, ventilation, and makeup air units circulate air throughout the restaurant. These units work together, creating a comfortable and safe environment for occupants. Also, they improve ventilation to remove airborne contaminants and pollutants. As you know, unventilated air can promote the growth of bacteria, mold, and viruses.

  • Minimize Energy loss

HVAC systems installed by professionals efficiently regulate air temperature. Thus keeping the indoor air warm when it is cold outdoors and vice versa. Also, modern systems have smart energy-saving thermostats. This enables you to control the room temperature remotely. On top of that, they’ve been designed to learn the occupiers’ behavior. This allows them to reach a balance between lower bills and comfortable temperatures.

Restaurant HVAC Design

Designing a restaurant HVAC system is a thoughtful process involving iteration and teamwork. Thus resulting in a system, process, or device that satisfies a certain need. Over the years, the main goal of the design has been to provide safe & comfortable environments. Nonetheless, the process is continuously refining the guidelines in effect. Currently, it’s requiring occupant comfort, air quality, ventilation, and energy efficiency.

Restaurant Ventilation Design

The amount of occupancy ventilation is something you should consider during HVAC design. Hence the need to apply the basics of restaurant ventilation during the design phase. To accomplish that, you’ve to understand the owner’s appliance preferences and menu.

Ventilation requirements and the owner’s kitchen equipment may change during the design stage. Also, the design team may require data on certain components for early estimates. This includes; wastewater/ water supply flow rates and the amount of makeup/ exhaust air.

Exhaust hoods are the foundation of a restaurant kitchen ventilation system. They’re needed where heating elements like grills, stoves, and fryers are used. In most cases, the type and size of the hood system will depend on the number of cooking units and the equipment type.

Restaurant Ventilation Design

Commercial Kitchen hoods

The role of a kitchen hood in a restaurant is to improve ventilation and remove odors. It removes fragrances, smoke, and thawing particles from the atmosphere when cooking. Also, it gets rid of most chemicals and fats from the restaurant chambers. This protects the occupants from unpleasant smells and unhealthy fumes. Also, this increases the longevity of other appliances by protecting them from grease.

Another benefit of having a kitchen hood is that it keeps your restaurant clean. It keeps the walls and countertops free from grease residues and smoke. More importantly, kitchen hoods reduce the CO buildup by ensuring proper ventilation.

Regarding fire safety, kitchen hoods eliminate smoke particles and excess heat. This lowers the temperature of hot kitchens and removes excessive smoke.

Overall, kitchen hood installation is an important task in commercial kitchen ventilation systems. Besides, it will ensure that your restaurant kitchen has fresh and cleaner air.

Types of Kitchen Hoods

There are many types of kitchen exhaust hoods in the market. But, they can be classified into ducted and ductless depending on their ventilation.

Before you choose the ideal hood for your kitchen, there are 2 factors you should consider. First, where do you intend to install the kitchen hood? For install, will you install it against a wall or over an edge in the kitchen? Secondly, what is the size of your hood? Moreover, you should also consider the wall height beforehand.

With that in mind, let’s look at different types of ventilation systems!

  • Ducted Kitchen hoods

Ducted hoods are quite common in homes or commercial kitchens with broader ranges. They move air and irritants out of the kitchen, which restricts where they’re placed. However, this is the preferable type of ventilation. They should be ducted outside the building, if possible. Besides, they’re more effective in getting rid of steam and moisture from the cooking area.

If you intend to install a ducted hood in your restaurant, ensure you install the proper ducts. This will enable them to move dirty air and contaminants out of your kitchen completely.

One thing you need to note though is that exhaust ducts tend to be short. Therefore, they’re more effective when you mount the hood to an external wall. Ensure the duct doesn’t flow through a basement/attic for efficiency and reliability. Instead, the duct should move into an outdoor rooftop.

As a drawback, this hood comprises a pipe system that moves to the outside of the restaurant building. This can restrict where you position the hood and range in the kitchen.

  • Recirculated/ Ductless Hoods

Ductless hoods have a closed system that filters air and directs it back to the kitchen. They purify the air and circulates it back into the cooking area.

This isn’t the best way to improve kitchen ventilation. But it’s a great option when you cannot extract air completely. Besides, ductless hoods are very flexible since you can mount them anywhere you like. Unlike ducted hoods, you don’t need to install it neat exterior pipe.

On the downside, they’re less effective at removing moisture than their ducted counterparts. This can cause the kitchen to become very humid since it draws in the fresh air. Other than that, it’s a great option when outdoor ventilation isn’t possible.

Commercial Kitchen Hood Design

Signs that your commercial kitchen’s HVAC system needs an upgrade!

  1. Mechanical damage

As we stated earlier, an HVAC system is made up of various components. This includes; air conditioning units, vents, and furnaces among others. If any of these parts has physical damage contact an HVAC professional right away. They will help you out with the restaurant’s mechanical design. Don’t try to fix the system yourself as it may cause more damage.

  • Grease build-up and smokier kitchen

If the exhaust hood is not working properly, the kitchen can become smokier than usual. Also, you may start to notice more grease buildup on kitchen walls and countertops. So, get them fixed ASAP to ensure the safety of your cooks.

  • Faulty System

In some cases, the HVAC system can stop working. For instance, the pilot light of the furnace can fail to start. This can cause serious health concerns to occupants like depressurization. To avoid such issues, get the system check out immediately.

  • Imbalanced temperature

This is a condition where different areas in the restaurant have varying temperatures. For instance, some areas of the restaurant can feel oddly hotter than others. This is another indication that there is a problem with the HVAC system.

  • Negative Air pressure

Negative air pressure causes drafts and makes the doors more difficult to open. To solve this problem, you need to replace or fix the makeup air unit.

  • Increased energy bills

Issues with HVAC systems can cause a significant increase in your electricity bills. This can be caused by things like ineffective insulation, or improperly sealed windows. Call a professional to inspect your restaurant insulation and ductwork.

  • Unwanted smells

Any restaurant is expected to have a certain amount of food smells. However, that aroma should be mainly contained in the restaurant kitchen. Unfortunately, improper ventilation can make the dining space smell like the kitchen. And that’s not a good thing! This can result from broken exhaust fans or faulty makeup air units. Get them and the entire HVAC checked out!

  • Increased humidity

It’s normal to have high humidity in some regions. However, if the restaurant humidity level is unusual, the system may be having a problem.

If you notice any sign mentioned above, there is a good chance your restaurant HVAC needs an upgrade. Get the system inspected right away to keep your guests and staff safe. However, before you do that, you need to consider these tips as well;

  • Install a properly sized HVAC system for your restaurant

More than 25% of all rooftop industrial HVAC systems out there are oversized. For this reason, they don’t operate at peak effectiveness. This results in increased energy costs and accelerated wear & tear.

Using the right-sized unit, therefore, will considerably lower energy costs. Moreover, it will reduce emissions and increase the unit’s life expectancy. To determine the correct-sized unit, the contractor should adopt ACCA/ASHRAE sizing practices.

ACCA- Air Conditioning Contractors of America.

ASHRAE- American Society of HEATING, Ventilation & Air Conditioning.

  • Use programmable thermostats

Automatic thermostats monitor the atmosphere of the restaurant continuously. This helps them to respond before temperature variations become outsized. Moreover, they minimize HVAC operations when the restaurant is closed.

  • Don’t ignore the restrooms

Typically, ventilation systems in restrooms are always running. Therefore, even the slightest reduction in energy consumption will have a huge impact. So, should consider upgrading conventional vent fans in restrooms with energy-efficient models.

  • Shut down appliances when you are not using them

Let’s say you’ve turned on your kitchen’s heating resources, yet you’re not using them. They will produce heat which the HVAC system has to regulate, right? Well, why not incorporate an automatic shutdown/ startup program them! This will ensure that your system is not working overtime. Shutting down appliances when you’re using them will increase energy savings.

  • Adopt quick warm-up heaters in patios

A heated patio tends to attract many customers, especially during cooler seasons. Unfortunately, they’re quite difficult to heat up naturally. That’s why you need to consider installing patio heaters in outdoor spaces. They heat up fast, meaning you can turn them on the instant they are needed.


Installing/ upgrading your restaurant’s HVAC system can be rewarding to your business. However, you should always consult an HVAC professional before you install the system.

If your restaurant is in California, reach out to Innodez Design and Engineering. We’re highly experienced at providing restaurant HVAC systems services. Don’t worry about the many elements of the restaurant HVAC process. Our HVAC experts have a solution for your restaurant!

Commercial Kitchen HVAC System Design
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