Cold storage construction is a surprisingly complex field, requiring logistical expertise, an advanced understanding of temperature regulation technology, and, of course, the right materials for the job.
Whether you’re building your own or hiring cold storage construction experts to do it for you, knowing precisely what materials make up the construction of your building will help to ensure your products stay regulated at the right temperature.
We’ll provide you with in-depth details on the different materials used in cold storage construction.
What Materials Are Used for Cold Storage Construction?
The idea of using evaporation to cool objects was a novel concept in the mid-1700s, but it was not until the late 1800s that the compression refrigeration system became a reality. From that point on, cold storage has been a complex and ever-evolving process of finding the proper industrial methods and technology.
Today, materials such as polyurethane panels and insulated concrete feature prominently in the construction of cold storage facilities. The materials, welding supplies used, and the refrigeration infrastructure that cools the facility often depends on the product and temperature standards.
Chocolate, for example, is usually stored at a cool 60 F in conditioned temperatures. Pharmaceutical goods may be kept in temperatures of 35-46 F in a cooler, while ice cream needs to be at a chilly -20 F in a freezer.
Insulated Concrete and Metal Panels
The most common materials used for cold storage construction are insulated concrete and metal panels. These provide the most protection from the elements and help to keep the cold inside.
Remember that the construction materials are responsible for keeping the facility cool. At the same time, the refrigeration technology, regulated by the temperature control system, adjusts and distributes the proper amount of cool air.
Both concrete (tilt-up or precast) and metal panels are insulated, and many workers use a combination of these supplies to design a storage facility. In addition, these materials are useful when designating specific cooler spaces for any facility that keeps various products at different temperatures.
It’s also worth noting that, depending on the type of warehouse available, you can convert a preexisting one into a cold storage facility by installing insulated metal panels inside the wall. Again, these materials help the warehouse hold the cool air refrigeration technology produces.
A lack of proper thermal insulation can result in condensation, creating moisture inside the cold storage facility. When that happens, the moisture can form ice, allowing for significant structural damage to occur over time. As such, it is vital to equip the employed materials with vapor barriers.
A vapor barrier is impermeable, meaning it will not allow any moisture through. When installed correctly, a vapor barrier can protect the interior of a cold storage facility so that it remains cool and dry.
Typically, a vapor barrier consists of polyethylene sheeting, which is also often included in building construction. Traditionally, people use polyethylene sheeting because it can prevent moisture from getting inside homes and damaging the fabric. Similarly, airtight and watertight vapor barriers are used in cold storage facilities to prevent even the slightest of leaks that could create ice.
Urethane Concrete Flooring
If you’re new to the concept of cold storage facilities, then it might surprise you to learn that the floor is one of the most significant liabilities. It must be easy to clean since many storage facilities house food products; furthermore, it should be slip-resistant, non-staining, and non-absorbent. A standard epoxy coating simply won’t do the trick.
If the cold storage facility flooring doesn’t cure properly or gets compromised over time, then the extreme cold from a freezer can penetrate through the floor, past the insulation, and affect the soil, causing moisture in the ground to freeze. If frost forms, the floor can start to crack, leading to hefty structural damage.
Urethane concrete flooring is ideal because it cures properly in low temperatures and is resistant to sudden temperature changes— crucial for material used in a cold storage facility. Some facilities use underfloor heating systems to warm the soil underneath the freezer floor. That way, it remains above freezing and reduces the risk of frost forming.
Whether repurposing a warehouse into a cold storage facility or building one from scratch, the roofing methods you use may differ. Some cold storage facility construction companies use sheet metal and insulation, aiming to reduce the roof’s surface area as much as possible to prevent cold air from leaking out and warm air from entering.
Spray polyurethane foam roofing is also a common approach, designed to either ‘build’ or repair a roof. It’s highly rated, seamless, and easily reapplied where necessary.
Polyiso is another common roofing material designed for just about any low-slope roof application. Polyiso is a lightweight roofing solution commonly found in cold storage facilities, easily customizable for different strength needs while being less permeable than traditional insulation boards.
The goal of cold storage roofing is to maximize the R-value, which is a measure of the insulating material’s ability to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the more effective the material is at insulating. The better the material is at insulation, the less cool air you will lose.
When constructed effectively, roofing materials can save cold storage facility owners a significant amount on their energy bill by reducing the workload of the refrigeration system. Some of the most common roofing materials have the following R-values:
- Sheet Metal 0.00 per inch
- Polyurethane Foam 6.6 per inch
- TPO 0.24 per inch
- EPDM 0.33 per inch
- Polyiso 5.5 per inch
The Bottom Line
Cold storage construction is more complex than you might think. A lot of science goes into the structure of cold storage facilities, including how they are insulated and protected from damage. Insulated concrete or metal line the walls to prevent moisture buildup, and specialized floor coating—along with underfloor heating—prevent moisture buildup in the soil. Finally, the materials that make up the roof should feature extremely high R-values, able to resist heat transfer.