Walk-in Cooler Parts: What are Walk-in Coolers Made Of?

Walk-in coolers play a critical role in keeping perishable goods, such as food, beverages, and flowers, fresh and profitable.

But what exactly is a walk-in cooler made of?

In this post,  I'll highlight the core components making up this cool insulated box, so you'll know more about walk-in coolers than approximately 97.4% of the world's population in less than 3 minutes. Guaranteed.

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Whether buying a new or used walk-in cooler,  all walk-in coolers share three core components:

1. Walk-in Cooler Panels
2. Walk-in Cooler Door
3. Walk-in Cooler Refrigeration Unit

Together with ancillary parts like shelves, door closers, and other accessories, these core components are tasked with keeping perishables (food, beverages, flowers, pharmaceuticals, etc.) fresh and profitable.

Walk-in Cooler Panels

Walk-in cooler panels are responsible for maintaining efficient temperature control against warmer temperatures outside the cooler.

They consist of an insulation core with a protective finish and a locking mechanism.

Insulation Core

Panels consist of a four to six inch insulation core made of polystyrene or polyurethane.

Polystyrene is a tightly-packed, closed-cell foam with a high resistance to moisture and a strong ability to retain R-value over its life.

Polyurethane is a porous plastic foam that permanently adheres to its protective finishes. While not as strong at resisting moisture and retaining R-value as polystyrene, polyurethane offers a higher initial R-value while serving as a fire-retardant.

Protective Finishes

The panel's insulation core is protected from the elements by a sheet of protective finish on each side known as a metal skin. The most common types of metal skins used are Galvalume®, aluminum, and stainless steel.

Galvalume® is a carbon steel base sheet coated with an aluminum, zinc, and silicone alloy that is highly resistant to corrosion. It is offered in 26-gauge thickness and stucco embossed to add strength. Galvalume® is the protective finish of choice for walk-in cooler walls and ceilings.

Aluminum is commonly used for walk-in cooler floors due to its ability to withstand loads of up to 500 lbs per square foot. Like Galvalume®, aluminum is highly resistant to corrosion.

Stainless steel, the strongest, least corrosive, and most expensive of the protective finishes, is mostly used in high traffic areas where strength and durability are paramount or in settings where sterility is a must.

Locking Mechanism

Most walk-in coolers use a cam-action locking mechanism to fasten panels.

Cam locks, short for cam-action locks, are cylindrical fasteners used to hold everything from metal desks to kitchen cabinets together. They allow for walk-in cooler panels to fasten without affecting the aesthetics of the panels.

Walk-in Cooler Door

Besides the obvious - providing access to the interior of a cooler - a walk-in cooler door is responsible for sealing tightly to avoid energy loss and overconsumption. It is often the component that sustains the most damage due to wear and tear.

The right walk-in cooler door type and size depend on the size of the space allotted for the cooler and the desired location of the door.

Walk-in Cooler Door Types

Swing doors are hinged doors that can be pushed or pulled open from either side. Hydraulic pumps and magnetic gaskets help with self-closing and ensuring the door seals properly. They are suitable for locations with plentiful space.

The width of a standard swing door ranges between 34 and 60 inches. However, swing doors can be customized up to 72 inches wide. Heights range from 76 inches all the way up to 90 inches.

Swing doors can be located on any wall or side of a walk-in cooler.

Sliding doors open horizontally by sliding parallel to the wall. They are suitable for tighter spaces and operations that require large openings for pallets and forklifts.

Sliding doors are available in many different sizes and typically located on the center of the front wall of a cooler.

Plug doors, or replacement walk-in cooler doors, are used to retrofit existing openings and replace old, worn out doors.

Walk-in Cooler Refrigeration Unit

The walk-in cooler refrigeration unit is responsible for removing heat and maintaining the temperature inside a cooler between 28°F and 55°F. It consists of a condensing unit, evaporator coil, and their assembly parts.

Walk-in Cooler Condensing Unit

The condensing unit is the exterior portion of the refrigeration unit tasked with removing heat. It is the heart of the entire system, responsible for compressing refrigerant and pumping it to the evaporator coil in the form of a cold gas. 

Walk-in Cooler Evaporator Coil

The evaporator coil is the interior portion of the refrigeration unit tasked with collecting the heat and transferring it into the gas. The evaporator coil is typically installed on the ceiling towards the rear wall of the cooler.

Walk-in Cooler Refrigeration Unit Assembly Parts

Assembly parts connect the condensing unit and the evaporator coil. They are the unsung heroes that make the magic happen.

The thermostat is a regulating device that senses the temperature inside a walk-in cooler and "tells" the refrigeration unit when and for how long to run so the cooler's temperature is maintained at or near the desired setpoint.

The thermal expansion valve is a control unit that regulates the flow of refrigerant released by the condensing unit into the evaporator.

The solenoid valve is a control unit responsible for turning the flow of refrigerant on and off. 

The sight glass is a level sensor used to observe the amount of refrigerant contained within the unit.

The filter drier prevents moisture and solid particles from contaminating the thermal expansion valve.

The defrost timer manages the defrost system in the refrigeration unit by activating the cooling cycle and defrost heater to maintain the set thermostat temperature.


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