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Whole Foods Could Benefit From Better HVAC Controls

July 20, 2016

Located on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco, this Whole Foods is a high-volume store with significant foot traffic. The 25,633-square-foot building is open through 10 p.m. but has a continuously operating back kitchen. The property recently passed the 9% energy reduction mark, which puts it ahead of the 2020 schedule, explains Aaron Daly, Global Energy Coordinator for Whole Foods.


The Hilton team started in the kitchen, which is a significant energy consumer for grocery stores. This space is fully equipped with ovens, gas cooktops, fryers, dishwashing machines and refrigeration.

Whole Foods was praised for the upkeep of its kitchen equipment. Without regular cleaning, grease traps and hood vents will run inefficiently. The Hilton team was also impressed with sink faucets that use knee pedals for operation. “It’s a great way to engage employees with water usage here in California. We definitely need to take that back,” says Gaines.

The Hilton team flagged a gap of several inches between a refrigerator door and its frame. They noted that the local utility offers rebates for seals on the gaskets for walk-in or reach-in coolers that could result in a nearly free upgrade for Whole Foods.

Moving on to the refrigeration racks and control system, Whole Foods demonstrated that it uses an interface that shows which units are on, off, in defrost mode or have a malfunction alert. Mork wondered how performance is monitored if someone isn’t physically present at the computer station. The data would be more useful if automatic notifications are sent to facility personnel on mobile devices. Gaines also questioned whether the equipment was continuously commissioned. “They have the right equipment in there, but is it running as well as it should be?” Mork asks.

Mork also noticed an opportunity with self-serving stations like salad bars. These refrigerated units are powered by compressors and draw power for lights. Rather than leave them on continuously, Whole Foods could put food below when it’s not needed and turn off the top of the case.

The store could also add plastic curtains or glass panels to chilled shelves that hold fruits and vegetables, points out Gaines. Customers will still be able to easily see and reach the items but cold air won’t be pouring out.


Out on the store floor, Hilton complimented Whole Foods on its use of LEDs for freezer cases and shelf displays. “We recognize that their display cases are their jewelry box for selling to the customers and they should be proud of using state-of-the art fixtures,” praises Gaines.

It was noted, however, that some high bays are using CFLs and not all of the linears might be using the latest T8 generation. Max Verstraete, Hilton VP of Sustainability and ADA Compliance, also observed that the light fixtures closest to the store’s glass front were on despite it being a sunny day. With daylight harvesting, the store could shut off several rows of lighting without affecting cashiers and customers.


A big opportunity was discovered on the rooftop as all of the air conditioning and ventilation is directly exhausted. Depending on the season, the exhaust heat could be recaptured for preheating the air, or the exhaust that’s already conditioned could be directed back through the supply side, Gaines notes. The right charcoal filters can remove grease-laden air to preserve IAQ.

The building’s cooling tower drives were also running at 100% even though it was a cold day. Another simple opportunity to save energy would be to add VFDs, which are often a one-year payback, recommends Mork.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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