General Contracting

One-third of the food produced on the Earth goes to waste every year and the USDA estimates that figure to be 30-40% in the US. Some of this waste is caused by normal issues that cold storage facility operators struggle with: energy is escaping their building and causing temperature fluctuations or a component fails. Anyone managing a cold storage facility has nightmares about catastrophic failures, but what about the dollars leaking from your building every day?

As spring and summer progress and ambient temperatures rise these issues become more expensive to ignore. Proper building maintenance can keep your facility moving products along the cold chain, but some facilities are hundreds of thousands of square feet. Where do you even start looking

A few critical components tend to fail most often. A cold storage expert can point you in the right direction, and a roof inspection and/or replacement is always a great place to start. In over 60 years of cold storage construction work, however, we’ve begun using thermal imaging for our inspections and can point out our top 3 areas building owners should check for cold storage issues:

  1. Condensation
  2. Vapor Barriers
  3. Door Seals


Condensation is one of the biggest enemies of any cold storage operation. First, condensation creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and other dangerous microbes to grow and flourish. Though a tremendous concern for food safety, non-food handling cold storage facilities should still avoid condensation not just to decrease energy usage and costs. Issues like black mold can affect you and your employees and can be caused by a single unresolved condensation issue.

Next, temperature fluctuations during the cold chain cause millions of pounds of food to be wasted and millions of dollars in revenue lost from building damage. Condensation can cause water to pool, leading to rotting walls and floors and huge renovation costs.

Avoiding and combating condensation can take a few forms. Proper ventilation and insulation will help keep a cold storage facility at the ideal temperature. Thorough inspections by knowledgeable professionals identify current or possible issues. Using their consultations, installing, or revamping, ventilation systems and installing and upgrading insulation can correct some issues created from an older facility, or a less-than-ideal initial construction. Sometimes, if the problem is too severe, construction will be required.

The EPA notes, that most “moisture problems can be traced to poor decisions in design, construction or maintenance,” so a proactive approach to construction and building maintenance is the first step in avoiding all building repair issues. Building inspections and quick attention to condensation spots avoid costly repairs.

At GALBRAITH, during our building inspections, we utilize thermal imaging to seek out problem areas. This image shows a pipe exiting the roof above a freezer. In these photos, blue represents the colder areas and yellow to pink for warmer areas.

In this case, the cold is exiting the freezer due to incorrect insulation and energy is being lost outside. This is the beginning of a dangerous cycle, as it causes condensation on the pipe which then turns to frost. Ambient heat from the environment is causing the pipe to warm as well, and this area of condensation/frost and incorrect insulation was a critically weak point in this freezer unit.

Vapor Barriers

Condensation is the biggest issue that should be monitored during cold storage building maintenance, and your building’s vapor barrier is a logical next step. Issues with a vapor barrier tend to be the second most common problems we see in cold storage facilities, and this unsung hero of insulated roofing and wall systems often does not get the attention it needs to operate at maximum efficiency.

A vapor barrier is any material that is installed in roofing and walls to prevent moisture diffusion. Used in all types of construction, they must be carefully monitored to assure that they not only prevent moisture diffusion, but they allow correct drying to avoid any of the other issues caused by excessive moisture.

This thermal image shows an area of a recent project where a freezer wall met a normal building wall without a proper vapor barrier. The massive fluctuation in temperature, up to 109°F, creates an area of massive energy loss. Such a simple-to-install component will solve this cold storage owner’s problem perfectly.

This image from a 2017 project shows the vapor barrier installation during a roof replacement. At GALBRAITH, we select the perfect material for each application and our accurate and correct installation procedures limit the areas failures can occur. Inspecting this area is also best done by a professional that understands where moisture can collect, how the building was constructed, and what to look for when leaks are suspected.

Door Seals

Doorways exist for the same reason they are the weakest point in a cold storage operation: they are meant to be opened. Just like every mother, yelling to her kids on a hot summer day to “shut the door and stop letting all the cool air out,” keeping doorways properly closed and sealed is key to keeping energy usage and costs low. This is especially true for a cold storage facility.

The frost collecting around this doorway was a tell-tale sign of a failing door seal. A freezer operating correctly creates negative pressure inside, pulling vapor from anywhere it can. In this case, it’s pulling it through a failing door seal and creating the frost built up around the edge of the doorway.

Wrapping Up

Condensation and failing vapor barriers and doorways present the largest problems for cold storage facility owners. Keeping in accordance with increasingly strict energy requirements also keeps your cold storage facility operating at the most efficient level. Costly fixes now save even more costly fixes later, and, as the EPA noted, many issues are caused by a lack of proper building maintenance.

Knowing where to look is key to deciding your next course of action and contacting a professional for a consultation will assure that you avoid these simple and common cold storage facility issues.

GALBRAITH’s extensive cold storage facility knowledge lets us quickly identify and correct our clients’ issues. If you need a partner for your next project or an expert consultation about your current facility, contact GALBRAITH today.