Commercial kitchen ventilation (CKV)  is one of the most complicated elements of an overall heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. HVAC makes up about 30 percent of your restaurant’s energy use—and 50 percent of that goes to kitchen ventilation.

Commercial kitchen ventilation: more than just exhaust fans

A typical commercial kitchen ventilation system consists of an exhaust hood, ductwork, a fan system and a source of make-up air. All these elements work together to maintain a delicate balance between exhaust air and make-up air. Exhaust air contains the heat, particulates and grease that are created during cooking, and must be removed from the building. Make-up air is the fresh air that replaces the contaminated air that’s been vented.

Cooking appliances are classified as light, medium, heavy and extra-heavy duty, depending on the strength of the heat they generate (this is called the “thermal plume”) and the amount of grease/smoke produced. Appliances such as gas and electric ovens are considered “light duty,” while gas ranges and underfired broilers are considered “heavy duty.”

A properly designed CKV system not only makes the difference between a smoky, hot kitchen and a work environment that’s actually pleasant, but can save you significant energy and maintenance costs as well.

Tips for choosing a kitchen exhaust hood (and more)

So what do you need to know? Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Make sure your system is the right size for your facility. A too-large system won’t work efficiently (and will cost you unnecessary money) and a too-small system won’t work at all.
  • Look into creating a comprehensive energy-recovery ventilation system, which can use exhaust heat from the kitchen to pre-heat your hot water and/or your incoming make-up air. This kind of integrated system has the potential to save you significant money in the long-term, with a relatively short payback period of about 3.5 years. (For a look at one in action, check out our article about the energy efficient systems at the new Cambridge Mill, and see our post about heat recovery systems.
  • Install demand-control ventilation, which is able to sense elevated heat and carbon dioxide levels and activates your exhaust fan only when needed. This kind of “smart” system ensures that your ventilation system isn’t running unnecessarily, saving you money—up to 40 percent with payback periods ranging from 11 months to 3.2 years, depending on the complexity and size of the system. (For up to $2,000 back on the cost of a demand control ventilation system, take a look at our energy efficiency rebates page.)
  • Remember that installing a CKV system isn’t a do-it-yourself weekend project. You’ll need the help of a professional—an engineer, architect or kitchen designer who has experience with CKV—to determine the appropriate size and functionality of your system.

Have you recently upgraded your kitchen ventilation system? Was it worth it? Share your experience in the comments section.