Walk In Cooler & Walk In Freezer Buying Guide

walk in coolerIf you are looking into purchasing and installing a walk in cooler, walk in freezer or combo, you have come to the right page. There are many things to consider before purchasing a walk in refrigeration box. We’re going to cover all the important points to help you make an informed decision and proper plan.

Walk in coolers and freezers are available to meet the needs of all types of businesses in the food service, floral and other industries. From a small walk in cooler to a large refrigerated warehouse, walk in refrigeration comes in all shapes and sizes. Suppliers of walk in coolers and freezers offer a wide range of sizes in ready made, pre-engineered/prefabricated walk-ins. Or you can order a custom made refrigeration box to meet your exact specifications.

Whether prefab or custom made, a commercial HVAC technician will be needed for installation and possibly an electrician. Custom built boxes usually require an architect as well. Permits may be required by local building and health departments. Setting up a walk in cooler or walk in freezer requires a good deal of careful planning to get the maximum benefit.

Let’s now start with the check list of each point you need to consider as you begin planning for the setup of a walk in refrigerator unit in your business.

walk in refrigeratorWalk In Refrigerator, Walk In Freezer Or Combo Unit 

First choice to make is whether you need a walk in refrigerator, walk in freezer or combo unit. Walk in refrigerators maintain fresh food under forty-one degrees fahrenheit. Walk in freezers maintain frozen food at around zero degrees. Freezers require thicker panels and higher powered refrigeration systems which consume more energy. The cost to setup and maintain is also higher. Combo units can provide both refrigeration and freezing with separate walk-in compartments. 

Indoor or Outdoor Walk in Cooler

Walk in coolers can be setup indoors or outside. For outdoor installation the unit needs to be made for outdoors. The ground needs to be prepared with concrete. Outdoor units have a rain roof and door hood which prevents water from leaking in. There are a few options for rain roofs which can be either a rubber cover or metal covering the seams. A winterization kit is needed for freezing winters to protect & maintain the refrigeration components. Walk in refrigerators need a heating unit to keep food from freezing when it remains freezing outdoors. 


Check with your local municipalities for permit requirements. Some cities require a permit from the building or health department. In New York City call 311 to apply for a refrigeration equipment permit or check this link for permit details:

walk in freezerSize of Space and Size of Walk In Cooler

To determine the size walk-in unit you need first check the amount of open space in the room where the walk-in will be. Many prefabricated units are made with locking panels enabling expansion of the walk-in size by adding more panels. So it is possible to enlarge the unit if you eventually require more room in the cooler. You can consider your initial food storage needs as well as the possibility of future expansion. To calculate the size of the box needed the recommended rule of thumb is 1 cubic foot per 28 pounds of food. For example a 12′ x 8′ x 6′ box which is 576 square feet can fit about 16,128 pounds of food.

Depending on the type of refrigeration system the evaporator coil may also take up some space inside the box. Though some systems are fully outside the box, freeing up all the interior space for food storage. You need to take into account whatever space is needed for the refrigeration system whether it be inside or outside the box. Some clearance space will also be needed all around the box for ventilation. You’ll need to check manufacturers’ drawings for specifications and recommendations on total amount of space needed, especially if it’s a tight space or has low ceilings. Check on the location of the door, which can vary from one model to another.

For a custom made unit you may need to have an architect submit your own detailed drawings to the manufacturer.

walk in coolerSize and Type of Refrigeration System

The size of the refrigeration system, how powerful it is in terms of horsepower, depends on whether it is a refrigerator, freezer, or both. For example smaller refrigeration units generally have a 1/2 horsepower compressor while freezers have a 1 horsepower compressor for greater cooling power. Larger units will require increasingly more horsepower as the box size increases. First determine the size box you need then decide on the the size of the refrigeration system. Take into account how often the door may be open. If it will be open frequently then you may want to up the power of the system, or at least have a strip door (clear plastic strips which keep in cold air).

Walk in refrigerators and freezers have various configurations for the refrigeration system. Your ideal configuration will depend on such factors as:

  • Power requirements: more cubic footage requires more cooling power
  • Available space where the unit will be installed: some units need space on the outside for the refrigeration system & ventilation
  • Tolerance to extra heat dispersed inside the building: some units release heat inside the building. This could increase energy costs for air conditioning.
  • Requirements for shelving space inside the unit. Some units have the condenser coil inside the box which takes up some of the shelf space.

These are the types of Refrigeration system configurations. Whichever configuration it is, a professional HVAC tech will be needed for installation:

Remote system :

pros : The condensing unit sits outside the building which allows the heat to be released outside. Remote systems generally cost less for the unit itself.
cons : Installation may cost more. Some parts like pipes, insulation & connectors will be needed.
neutral : Some remote systems come precharged & preassembled from the factory and some must be assembled and charged during installation.

Side mounted system :

pros : has the evaporator coil and compressor mounted to a side panel which is best for installation where the ceiling is low.
cons : heat is released inside the building. The coil sits inside the box taking up some shelf space.

Saddle mount system: (same as side mount but evaporator coil takes up less shelf space)

pros : has the evaporator coil and compressor mounted to a side panel which is best for installation where the ceiling is low. Evaporator coil does sit partly inside the box but takes up less space than with a side mount system. Comes preassembled.
cons : heat is released inside the building. The coil sits inside the box taking up some shelf space, though less than a side mount system.

Top mounted system

pros : has the evaporator coil and compressor mounted to the top which is best for installation where space is limited on the side. Comes preassembled.
cons : heat is released inside the building. The coil sits inside the box taking up some shelf space.

Penthouse system (same as top mount with the coil inside the box) : 

pros : has the evaporator coil and compressor mounted to the top which is best for installation where space is limited on the side. Provides 100% shelf space (no equipment inside the box). Comes preassembled.
cons : heat is released inside the building.

Energy & Efficiency

Take into account how much power will be required and how it will be connected. An electrician may be required. Check with your hvac pro to see if they have an electrician or if you will need to get a separate quote. 

  • Look for specs about the efficiency of the walk in cooler.
  • Ensure proper installation for tight seals that minimize leaks and maximize efficiency.
  • Design shelving for easy access and efficient air flow.
  • Insulated floors with thermal barriers under wall panels offer high efficiency
  • LED lighted boxes save energy over regular light bulbs
  • Door closers save energy by ensuring the door remains closed
  • Strip Doors / strip Curtains help keep in cold air when door is open
  • Check that the refrigeration system is EISA compliant. The Federal Goverments Energy Independence
    Security Act of 2009 requires all walk-ins to have high efficiency motors.

Premanufactured or Custom Made Walk In Cooler & Freezer Boxes

Walk in coolers and freezers are available as either premanufactured or custom made.


pros : built with locking panels that allow for expansion of the box when more room is needed. Costs of box and installation are both less than custom built models. Available for immediate shipment.
cons : available sizes & cooling system configurations may not not be the best fit for your needs.

Custom Made:

pros : made any size, exactly to your specifications. Often made with structural tiles on walls and floors.
cons : more costly and less capable of expanding. May need an architect to design and draw specific plans for the manufacturer.

walk in cooler panelsType of Panels, Floor & Door


Walk in cooler boxes are built with panels composed of 2 sheets of metal with insulation between them. Panels make up the top bottom and sides of the box. Prefabricated walk in coolers are made with locking panels. They lock together for a tight seal that keeps in the cold air. As mentioned, boxes built with locking panels can be expanded with the addition of more panels. There’s a few different options for the type of sheet metal and insulation used in panels. Panels are often available with several choices of stucco-embossed and colored finishes.

Types of Insulation:

Insulation in panels can be urethane, polyurethane, extruded polystyrene, expanded polystyrene or fiberglass. The insulation type which is now standard on new units is polyurethane & extruded polystyrene. Polyurethane is the most commonly used, it’s been used for many years & works great. It’s less expensive than extruded polystyrene and equally effective when new. Polyurethane and Polystyrene panels may both be rated R-32 when new (R-value indicates the effectiveness of the insultation). However, insulation materials do degrade over time and lose effectiveness. Extruded polystyrene will retain a higher R-value for longer. Polyurethane retains up to 19% of it’s R-value over it’s lifetime, and extruded Polystyrene retains up to 47% of it’s R-value. Extruded polystyrene is a more effective and expensive type of insulation, but polyurethane is the most common.

Types of Sheet Metal: 

Aluminum – least expensive & dents the easiest but very good resistance to corrosion
Galvanized steel – more dent resistant than aluminum though less resistent to corrosion, much more expensive than aluminum, presently not as common due to high price increase
Galvalume / aluminum coated steel – same dent resistance as galvanized steel & much more resistant to corrosion, costs less than aluminum & galvanized steel , best choice when compared to aluminum and galvanized steel
Painted galvanized steel – even more corrosive resistant than galvalume though more expensive. Paint should be approved by Public Health and safety Organization (NSF) 
Stainless steel – Best of all types, is the most resistant to dents & corrosion & also the most expensive

walk in cooler floor

more about master-bilt 5K lb load floor

Floor Or No Floor

When planning for your walk in cooler or freezer you will need to decide on whether you want it with or without a floor. The box can made either with or without floor panels. Floor panels are made like wall panels, usually from aluminum or stainless steel. If the floor will be bearing alot of weight with carts and shelves then it is recommended to have a floorless box installed on a concrete slab. This will be alot more durable. Some manufacturers like master-bilt claim to offer a very durable floor capable of withstanding heavy loads.

You will want to consult with your walk-in box supplier for their recommendations when deciding on the floor. A Floorless model will likely require an architect to design the floor pad. Floorless models require a ground contact concrete slab of adequate thickness which is approved by the department of health. Freezers need to be on an insulated floor built on top of the concrete slab with thermal breaks under the wall panels. Coolers can be installed directly on a concrete slab though an insulated floor and thermal breakers are recommended. 

walk in refrigerator strip door

Strip Door / Strip Curtain

The Door

There are several options available to improve the function of a walk-in box door. Items like an automatic door closer, a strip curtain & quality gaskets help maximize efficiency by keeping the cold air in. Look for quality hinges and latches to have a long lasting durable door. Windows and locks are another good feature.

Choosing a manufacturer or supplier

There are several major manufacturers of walk in refrigeration systems. Kolpak, Master-Bilt, NorLake and SRC are some prominent manufacturers offering premanufactured units as well as custom made walk-ins and refrigerated warehouses. And there’s numerous suppliers to purchase from online which offer a wide range of commercial walk in coolers, freezers and combos from different manufacturers. You may want to price compare manufacturers and suppliers online with any local companies you may be considering to see which best meets your needs.

The process of planning a walk-in involves alot of details to carefully consider. Be sure to be fully informed before finalizing an order. Work with a company that offers the following: 

  • well established business
  • informative website
  • personal support to answer all your questions and building assistance for custom units
  • clear itemized quotes incuding shipping costs
  • delivery and installation details
  • clear specs including types of materials
  • warranty details

walk in cooler doorDelivery and Installation

Find out from the company you order from on details regarding delivery and installation. There are several scenarios. Generally when ordering from a company outside your local area you will need to find a local hvac technician for installation. If you’re working with a local manufacturer they normally will handle everything from manufacturing to delivery and installation. Units which are prefabricated or with preassembled refrigeration systems require less assembly but an hvac tech will still be needed. Some manufacturers and suppliers offer delivery with unpacking of the parts so that they are more ready for assembly. And some outdoor units can be delivered completely assembled. 

Take into account how your business will be effected during the delivery and installation process if you have an already running business. It may be best to try scheduling delivery after hours or during slow times so as not to interfere with business. Be informed by the manufacturer or supplier about the installation process and expected time required for installation. Confirm time of delivery and expected installation time with your hvac technician. Make sure the electrical connection is ready for installation. Be sure the floor is prepared for installation. You will want to consult with your manufacturer or supplier about their recommendations for the floor. Keep in mind that the refrigeration system will need to be connected to a drain for the condensate.

Shoppers Walk In Cooler Checklist

The process of finalizing an order for a walk in cooler requires alot of detailed planning and careful consideration. You will be committing to a large expense and want to make sure the plan will best serve your business. To recap here is a final checklist with everything you want to consider when planning for your walk in cooler, freezer or combo box.

  • do you need a walk in refrigerator, walk in freezer or combo unit ?
  • do you need an indoor or outdoor unit
  • any permits required by local building of health departments ?
  • size of unit (consider space for refrigeration system & ventilation)
  • size of refrigeration system
  • type of refrigeration system
  • do you want a prefab or custom made unit ?
  • how will the electrical connection be made ? how will condensate drain line be connected ?
  • energy efficiencieny of the unit  (size of box & refrigeration system, motor, energy consumption, R-value, gaskets, lighting system)
  • do you need an architect, hvac technician & electrician ?
  • type of panels & insulation, R-value (insulation effectiveness)
  • floor or no floor (if no floor make sure floor is prepared for installation)
  • door features : automatic closer, window, locks, latches, strip door 
  • which manufacturer or supplier (Ex: masterbilt, kolpac, nor-lake)
  • details on delivery & installation
  • final cost : does it include installation ?
  • quality of the build & materials : type of metal, insulation, etc.
  • warranty : major manufacturers offer 10-15 years warranty on panels
  • what features are included : such as convenient entry, easy to use light & temperature switches
  • additional options and accessories : shelving, ramps, refrigerant pressure valves (required in some cities), thermometers, strip doors (plastic strips keep in cold when door is open)

Maintenance, Longevity & Walk In Cooler Repair

For maximum life and efficiency from your walk in cooler consider planning for routine maintenance from an hvac professional. Walk in coolers and walk in freezers can store a large value of inventory which can be lost if a walk in cooler ever breaks down. To avoid an unexpected walk in cooler repair or walk in freezer repair, at minimum follow these DIY maintenenace tips:

  • keep dirt out of door seals & replace when worn
  • clean & sanitize interior surfaces regularly to avoid corrosion, avoid using harsh chemicals
  • keep condenser coils clean & unclogged, use coil cleaner at least once a year

Take good care and you can expect your walk in cooler to last a good 15 years. As mentioned the insulation does degrade over time and lose it’s effectiveness. Older walk in refrigeration systems becomes less efficient over the years and it is generally recommended to consider replacing a unit about every 15 years. However newer systems (from around 2020 & later) are becoming more efficient & built to last longer so it is possible to last beyond 15 years.




hvac master

Dyal Ramna

HVAC expert for over 25 years, serving in the NYC area.

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