Can You Build Your Own Custom Walk-In Cooler or Freezer?

The short answer: YES!

Walk-in coolers are essential for various businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, and florists, due to their ability to store large quantities of perishable goods at a consistent, controlled temperature. Purchasing a walk-in cooler or walk-in freezer can be expensive, building your own might be a cost-effective and rewarding project. In this article, we’ll explore the feasibility of constructing your own walk-in cooler, the materials and tools required, and some key considerations to keep in mind.

Understanding the Basics

American Insulated Panel manufactures a continuous line panel which utilizes tongue-and-groove joints but does not have cam-lock connections. That means it’s closer to a basic building material than it is to a pre-assembled cooler which snaps together in the field. Because of this, AIP recommends that any installer have carpentry skills 

Materials and Tools You’ll Need

Building a walk-in cooler requires careful planning, AIP’s Sales Reps and Engineers will help you plan, design, and provide all of the right materials. 

Here’s a preliminary list of what items you’ll need:

Insulated Panels: American Insulated Panel will provide custom length and thickness panels for you to construct your walls and ceiling based on the application. Our Sales Reps will work with you to determine the exact quantity of what needs to be ordered. Some projects require extra panels for items like column wraps, knee walls, parapets, or vestibules. Also, it’s never a bad idea to order an extra panel or two for anything that might come up during construction.

Ceiling Tee: For spans over 10-12 feet, a hanging system from the existing structure is needed. American Insulated Panel provides an aluminum tee system which supports the ends of the adjacent ceiling panels. 

Angle or Shoe: To mount the wall panels to the existing concrete floor, there are a few options: galvanized angle or track, aluminum angle, or pressure treated shoe. These items can be mounted to the floor using a powder actuated fastener or a concrete anchor. The wall panel is installed on or against the floor mounted and connected via sheet metal tek screws.

Construction Materials / Accessories: With cooler and freezer installations come some specific hardware and consumables. American Insulated Panel will make sure to provide them all. You can see a list of our stocked accessories items here. You’ll need a few different speciality fasteners, silicone sealant, non-skinning butyl sealant, foam-in-place sealant, and vapor tape to name a few. 

Doors: A well-sealed door is essential to maintain the internal temperature. Make sure it’s properly insulated and equipped with a strong gasket to prevent air leaks.At American Insulated Panel, we provide swing and slider doors for both cooler and freezer applications.

Tools: Basic carpentry hand and power tools are needed to complete the installation. A circular saw and a reciprocating saw, both with a metal cutting blade, are necessary for any field cuts. Depending on the box height, a scissor lift may make ceiling panel installation much easier than A frame ladders.

Steps to Build Your Walk-In Cooler

  1. Plan:
    • American Insulated Panel’s dedicated Sales Representatives have decades of experience. They’ll help guide you through all of your available options making sure that you maximize your final product on both space and functionality.
  2. Design:
    • Once a general layout and design is created, in-house engineers will turn that layout into a construction ready cold storage drawing.
    • Final drawing will include a detailed plan of your cooler or freezer, including dimensions and placement of the box within the building, layout of each and every panel, ceiling hangs, if necessary, and thermal construction details at all joints..
  3. Receive the Materials:
    • AIP owns their own flatbed trucks to deliver any materials. This ensures that materials are delivered in good standing and everything is accounted for. It’s important to note if a forklift or telehandler is available on site for offloading. Customer will want to make sure that the area is clear as panels arrive in shrink wrapped bundles.
  4. Layout:
    • Based on your project drawings, layout the walls and any door openings with chalk lines. Then install angle or shoe based on those lines.
  5. Install Insulated Panels:
    • Begin installing the insulated panels, starting with the walls and then going to the ceiling. If ceiling hang materials are required, you’ll want to install those entirely before starting ceiling panels.
  6. Install the Door:
    • Mount the door and ensure it seals tightly when closed. Check for any gaps or leaks and adjust as necessary.
  7. Seal and Trim:
    • Non-skinning butyl is applied to all panel joints during installation. In addition, apply foam-in-place sealant at any gaps and vapor tape in the appropriate places. 26 gauge metal trim will be provide to cover corners.
  8. Ready for Refrigerations:
    • Once construction is complete, your box is ready for its refrigeration equipment and years of high quality service.

Key Considerations

  • Cost: While building your own walk-in cooler can be cost-effective, it’s essential to budget for all materials and tools. Unexpected costs can arise, so having a financial buffer is wise.
  • Time: Constructing a walk-in cooler is a time-consuming project that requires careful attention to detail. Ensure you have enough time to dedicate to this project without rushing. 
  • Skill Level: Basic carpentry and electrical skills are necessary for this project. If you’re not confident in your abilities, consider seeking help from AIP’s professional installers.

Conclusion

Building your own walk-in cooler is a feasible project for those with the right skills, tools, and time. It can be a cost-effective solution for businesses needing a custom refrigeration solution. By following the steps outlined above and considering the key factors, you can successfully construct a walk-in cooler that meets your needs.

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