A Cold Storage Unit’s Worst Nightmare

A Cold Storage Unit’s Worst Nightmare

The Embarrassing Secret that No Cold Storage Unit Wants You to Hear

Cold storage units are by far the largest piece of equipment regularly found inside a kitchen.  While that might be a “well… yeah” moment for some, when you’re designing a space, you have no choice but to actively keep that fact in mind.  You can’t exactly wheel your cold storage to a different part of the kitchen if something goes sideways, after all.

As a result, there’s an ever-present threat hanging like a cold fog around designing a space that includes cold storage.  A nightmare of a situation that is often overlooked, but has the very real potential to ruin both budget and banquet:  Ground water.

Fortunately, a bit of forethought and planning can go a long way towards preventing what might otherwise be a.. (wait for it)… titanic problem.

Freezer assemblies can freeze ground water

When simply looking at outlines in Revit, it’s easy to forget that a cold storage unit is a giant metal box that sucks so much thermal energy from food items that they completely change physical states. As such, the material directly surrounding the unit (concrete, earth, etc.) can easily be affected by these nearby temperature changes.

It’s also easy to forget that water expands when it freezes.  This can be a problem.

In the past, floor buckling was prevented by running a series of perferated piping underneath the unit.  The piping was connected to outside air, which would keep the ground from freezing when outside air is warmer than ground temperature. If it was installed correctly, that is.  If not installed correctly, a pipe to the outside could sometimes contribute an unfortunate amount of moisture to the surrounding area.  No bueno.

More recently, however, the problem of ground water is more effectively addressed with electrical heating strips strategically placed beneath the slab, which keeps the ground nice and unbuckled.

This solution isn’t available in every case, however.  There are some considerations to be made that are more foundational.

What type of foundation do you have?

There are many, many factors that help to determine what type of foundation will be laid for various building projects.  Area history (are earthquakes common?), geography (how high is the water table?), and paranormal activity (are there any native peoples buried nearby?) are just a few of the more common considerations.

While some types of foundations are sufficient in protecting nearby ground water from a cold storage unit’s icy sphere of influence, not all are sufficient.  The concrete slab might not be thick enough, the ground water penetration might be higher than normal, or the unit itself might be recessed too deeply for the concrete to adequately compensate.

The location of the unit is another important piece of information to consider.  For instance, a unit on the second floor is probably fine.

Climate Considerations

Another consideration comes in the form of the climate zone in which the cold storage is being installed.  Climates that have low amounts of existing ground water or lower levels of precipitation (such as a desert climate zone) generally can be excluded from requiring such an option. The available ground water underneath the cold storage will be low enough to be excluded from consideration.

Size matters

Keep in mind, only larger units are in danger of freezing the ground.  The small ones just don’t have it in them, no matter how hard they may try. Most manufactureres recommend making modifications at around 225 square feet.  Which isn’t really all that large, all things considered.


Ground water underneath cold storage assemblies is a problem that tends to be overlooked.  Conditions rarely align in such a way as to cause these kinds of problems, but it does happen.  And it costs a pretty penny to fix.

So now you know.

No, no, don’t thanks us.  It’s our job at Foodesign to think about these kinds of things.