Signing a Lease on a Restaurant: Why You Should Call an Engineer
Restaurants are subject to special requirements that are not present when dealing with other types of commercial buildings. Providing safe and healthy conditions for occupants is important in all indoor spaces, but restaurants are a special case because food is prepared and consumed within their walls. Commercial spaces typically don’t have the required infrastructure for a restaurant and commercial kitchen, unless they were built specifically for that purpose. The following are some common issues:
- No Kitchen Exhaust: All commercial kitchens must be equipped with exhausts that terminate on the roof, or any area deemed acceptable according to NYC codes, and they must be equipped with an oxidizer or precipitator to control particulate matter emissions.
- Insufficient Hot Water Supply:Commercial kitchens and restaurants require hotter water than other commercial occupancies, so they must be equipped with a dedicated hot water system.
- No Grease Traps:In spaces that were not originally built for a commercial kitchen, it is necessary to trench the floor to add the grease traps required by codes.
- Insufficient Electrical CapacityCommercial kitchens use cold storage and other types of equipment with a high consumption of electric power. The electrical installations found in commercial occupancies normally don’t have the capacity for a commercial kitchen and must be upgraded.
- Insufficient Gas Capacity: Cooking appliances consume plenty of gas, and the service entrance found in a typical commercial space normally requires an upgrade.
- Insufficient Cooling Capacity: Commercial kitchens have a higher cooling load than other commercial occupancies, in great part due to the presence of cooking appliances and other heat-emitting equipment. Before a commercial kitchen is installed, it is important to verify that the cooling output of the existing installation is enough.
- Limited Space: A restaurant does not only require space for commercial kitchen equipment, there must also be enough space for hoods, exhaust vents and other ventilation system components.
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NSF International is the industry authority on all matters related with commercial foodservice equipment. The organization was founded in 1944 as the National Sanitation Foundation, but changed its name in 1990 as its reach became global. Kitchen equipment bearing the NSF mark has been rigorously tested and provides the following benefits:
- Compliance with all applicable USA food safety standards: NSF regulations are enforced so strongly in the USA that it is practically impossible for restaurants and commercial kitchens to start operating without addressing them.
- Electrical safety.
- Energy efficiency.
Of course, restaurants must also meet all applicable requirements set forth in the NYC building codes. There are high risks for customers when a restaurant fails to meet sanitation regulations, and the legal consequences following an incident are severe. Therefore, an assessment by a qualified consultant or engineering firm is strongly recommended before signing a lease on a restaurant.
Kitchen Hoods and Ventilation
Chapter 5 of the NYC Mechanical Code sets the requirements for all exhaust systems deployed in the city, and this includes commercial kitchens. Section MC 506 is dedicated exclusively to system ducts and exhaust equipment serving commercial kitchen hoods, and the following are some of the key requirements:
- The hoods and grease ducts must be specified and designed according to the type of cooking appliance served. Any mismatch among these pieces of equipment is against the Code.
- Grease ducts must lead directly outside and must terminate according to the type of hood served: Type I or Type II.
- Corrosion protection is mandatory for all ducts exposed to the building exterior, or to corrosive environments.
- All welds in kitchen exhaust systems must be impeccable to ensure there are no leaks or grease deposits.
- The exhaust fans in grease ducts must be of a type specified for the application.
The requirements for kitchen hoods themselves are covered in section MC 507. These hoods must be either Type I or Type II as required by the application, and must meet the UL 710 standard.
- Type I hoods are for cooking equipment that produces grease or smoke, while Type II hoods are for lighter appliances that only produce heat or moisture.
- Type I hoods are acceptable where Type II is required, but the opposite does not apply; a Type II hood cannot be used if Type I is specified.
Grease filters are mandatory for all Type I hoods, and they must meet the UL 1046 standard. The minimum height above the cooking appliance is 0.5 feet when there is no exposed flame, two feet if there are exposed flames or burners, and four feet for char broilers or charcoal devices.
The make-up air provided for commercial kitchen spaces must be approximately equal to the sum of all exhaust airflows, providing balanced ventilation. Make-up air gets its name from the fact that it replaces the indoor air extracted by the ventilation system.
Specific Requirements for Char Broilers – Emissions Control
In 2015, Title 24 of the NYC Administrative Code was amended with additional requirements for char broilers used to cook more than 875 pounds of meat per week. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection determined that commercial char broilers were releasing around 1,400 tons of particulate matter each year, and 400 deaths per year could be attributed to those emissions according to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
After the Title 24 amendment, all char broilers used to cook more than 875 pounds of meat per year must have an emissions control device such as a flameless catalytic oxidizer or an electrostatic precipitator.
- A catalytic oxidizer burns smoke and gases, turning them into carbon dioxide and water. Although CO2 is a greenhouse gas, it does not pose the health hazards of particulate matter.
- An electrostatic precipitator (ESP) removes fine particles by inducing an electrostatic charge and capturing them.
The Title 24 amendment (Char broiler rule) allows either type to be used in commercial kitchens. ESPs were developed specifically to control particulate matter; on the other hand, catalytic oxidizers were at first better suited for volatile organic compounds and other gaseous pollutants, but as the technology evolved they became suitable for particulate matter as well. For example, an ESP is very effective for capturing particulate matter in a coal power plant, while a catalytic oxidizer is the best choice for an industrial facility that processes paints.
Electrostatic precipitators are generally more expensive and their installation is more complex. However, they cause minimal disruption of the exhaust airflow, reducing fan power and providing long-term energy savings.
Catalytic oxidizers are simpler to install and have a lower upfront cost, but they produce a higher pressure drop than electrostatic precipitators, requiring more fan power as a result.
As previously stated, the NSF mark does not only guarantee food hygiene and safety, but also electrical safety and energy efficiency.
- NSF is accredited by OSHA and is a nationally recognized testing laboratory, which means they can provide electrical safety certification according to UL standards.
- The ENERGY STAR program by the US Environmental Protection Agency requires third-party certification for all labeled products, and NSF is also an ENERGY STAR certifier.
A qualified consultant or engineering firm can check the labeling on your kitchen equipment, ensuring that it complies with electrical safety. The capacity of the existing electrical installation must also be verified, ensuring that it can provide enough power for all the equipment to be installed.
Of course, it is also important to verify that restaurants meet the general requirements for commercial spaces set forth in the NYC Electrical Code and Chapter 27 of the NYC Building Code.
The lighting systems used in food processing areas are exposed to a unique set of operating conditions and requirements not found in other industries. In general, the fixtures used must provide a reliable lighting output, while tolerating the vapors and moisture that are common in foodservice areas, and without being a potential source of contamination themselves. Lighting for commercial kitchens and other food processing areas must have the following characteristics:
- Lighting fixtures for foodservice areas must use materials that resist corrosion and heat, while being non-toxic. Products with glass components are not recommended, since they can shatter upon impact, potentially contaminating the food below.
- Their construction must be free from holes or spaces that can accumulate water or bacteria.
- They must have lens that tolerate frequent cleaning without color changes or distortion of the lighting output.
- Paints and coatings that can peel off and contaminate food should be avoided.
Like with all other types of electrical equipment, NSF certification is highly recommended to meet hygiene and electrical requirements at once.
LED lighting is not required by code, but there are many strong reasons to deploy it in commercial kitchens and restaurants. For example, LED fixtures can be built without glass, eliminating the risk of contaminating food with the shards of broken lamps. Fluorescent tubes, which contain mercury, are also eliminated. In addition, thanks to their service life of over 50,000 hours, LED fixtures are low-maintenance and reduce the frequency of lamp replacements.
Fuel Gas Code Requirements
The NYC Fuel Gas Code covers cooking appliances specifically in Chapter 6, Section FCG 623. This section applies for all combustion-based appliances, and forbids the use of LPG cooking appliances unless exceptions are made by the NYC Fire Code. All commercial cooking appliances must be properly connected to a vent or chimney, and these are subject to the general requirements set forth in Chapter 5 of the NYC Fuel Gas Code.
The foodservice industry is notorious for its stringent regulations, and there can be serious legal consequences for not meeting them, even if no customers were affected in a food-related incident. Therefore, a proper assessment by qualified professionals is highly recommended whenever a commercial space will be occupied by a restaurant.