What does ‘Ambient Temperature’ mean?
When talking about and researching commercial refrigeration, fridges, freezers and ice makers, often you may see in the descriptions the ambient temperature listed as 32°C, 38°C or 43°C and sometimes even an ambient (relative) humidity rating such as 75% R.H. Ambient temperature means the temperature of the room where the fridge/freezer is kept.
So if the fridge is kept in an air conditioned room, like a bar fridge in an office, the ambient temperature may never get above 25°C. If the fridge is kept inside a busy commercial kitchen, which also has cooking equipment and no air conditioning, the ambient temperature may never get below 35°C.
Ambient humidity is more of a factor to consider if your fridge or freezer has a glass door because the humidity difference between the inside and outside of the fridge may be substantial enough to cause condensation on the outside of the glass. This is hardly ever a notable factor if you live in a cooler part of the country like Melbourne or Tasmania. If however you live in Townsville or Darwin for instance which have tropical climates with consistently high temperatures and humidity, these factors really need to be considered when purchasing a commercial (or domestic fridge, freezer or ice maker.)
Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
If you have read our other article ‘How does a commercial refrigerator work’, you will have a basic understanding of the refrigeration cycle. Even if you haven’t read that article, the point is that the external or ambient temperature of a room where a fridge or freezer is kept can have a large impact on the cooling performance of the unit.
This is because a key part of the cooling process of a refrigerator is to pass highly compressed and heated gas through a condenser coil (also called a radiator) which cools the refrigerant gas down before going onto the next stage of the refrigeration process. So if the ambient temperature is too high, the gas simply cannot cool enough and therefore cannot cool the fridge or freezer’s cabinet all the way down to the desired temperature.
This is mainly an issue with ‘static’ cooling systems, which are typically found on cheaper fridges and freezers. Static cooling systems are quite basic compared to ‘Fan Forced’ cooling systems which are designed to work in much higher temperature environments. Please see our article on ‘What does fan-forced refrigeration mean’ if you would like some additional information.
The main thing you need to remember is that commercial fridges and freezers are designed to work in different environments, which can vary greatly in temperature. Think of the difference in temperatures between the front of house and the kitchen. When buying a commercial fridge, freezer or ice maker, be realistic about the ambient temperature of the room where it will be kept. As a rule of thumb, if the room will be over 30°C (better to be slightly conservative and not run at the maximum ambient all the time) you should opt for a fan-forced unit. If its a fridge or freezer which will be opened more than 6 times per 4 hours, you should opt for fan forced. If the fridge or freezer is going to be in an air conditioned room with lots of ventilation and it won’t be opened very often, like a bar fridge in an office, then there is no need for a fan forced unit.
Some other handy points:
With certain brands of static fridges and freezers, they need at least 20cm gap on all sides to work efficiently.
All fridges and freezers need some space for ventilation. Check the user manual before purchasing to ensure you will be able to place the unit in a spot with enough ventilation (usually 10-15cm on all sides)
Sometimes you will see the term “Tropicalized” for fridges, freezers and ice makers. We have written a separate post about what that means in detail however its main meaning is that those units are designed to work in up to 43°C ambient environments and high humidity.
If you live in a tropical area like northern Queensland or the Northern Territory, it will be a lot cheaper to buy a more expensive fridge or freezer designed to work in your climate rather than having to replace the cheaper unit in 6, 12 or 24 months when it eventually packs up.
Some brands pride themselves on their ambient rating and their ability to be built right into a cabinet space, with no side or rear ventilation requirements, such as Ice-O-Matic ice makers.