Saturday, March 16, 2013

Are you 'playing with fire' when it comes to your Kitchen Hood Exhaust System?

By Karl Riekstins
Partner & Co-Founder
Grexen Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning®

 'Across the nation, firefighters responded to 8,520 fires in bars and restaurants between 2000 and 2004, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The fires killed three firefighters, injured 113 civilians, and caused $190 million in damage.
The kitchen was the most common place the fires started, accounting for 54% of the blazes.' 
-Boston Globe 

In order to guarantee that your system is not at risk for a grease flash fire you have to make sure that your contractor is cleaning your kitchen hood exhaust system to fire code standards. 
This begs another question:

What does cleaning to Fire Code mean?

To be in compliance with your insurance company, fire inspectors, health departments, and all federal, state and local laws, your exhaust system must be routinely inspected and cleaned to the industry standard as laid out by the National Fire Protection Association Code 96 (Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of commercial Cooking Operations).

Essentially all areas of your entire exhaust system need to be cleaned down to bare metal to the following schedule as determined by NFPA #96 11.3:

Systems serving solid fuel cooking operations                              - Monthly

 High Volume cooking operations such as 24 hour cooking,        - Quarterly
 charbroiling or wok cooking - 

Systems serving moderate volume cooking operations                  - Semiannually

Systems serving low volume cooking such as churches,               - Annually
day camps, seasonal businesses, or senior centers

Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning should always include:

  • Fan/s (bowl and blades)
  • Grease containment System which is mounted to the fan beneath the spout catches grease washed out of the fan preventing it from falling onto the roof
  • Ductwork and any access panels all the way down to the hood
  • Hood (plenum area behind filters, filer racks, globes and the outside of the hood

If your present company does not completely remove the fuel (grease) from your ductwork, then there is still fuel to feed the fire. 

The more grease and oil buildup present in a duct system the hotter the exhaust, which in turn, can result in a flash fire. In most cases if a flash fire occurs past the fire suppression system and reaches the roof. Fire suppression systems only have enough powder to last for approximately 20 seconds. If the fire gets into the duct and the ducts have not been cleaned correctly, the grease will fuel the fire, gain in strength and blow back in to the restaurant. 

You get what you pay for!

If you pay a low price for your hood cleaning and your hood cleaner is getting in and out in a couple of hours, there is probably a reason!

Are your contractors cleaning the entire kitchen exhaust system or just what you can see in the kitchen like the hood? In this industry, the old saying 'You get what you pay', is more telling than ever.
The unfortunate truth here is:

  • Restaurants outnumber hood cleaners 2000 to 1 in most markets. 
  • Most hood cleaners only service 100 - 200 clients a year.
  • Most hood cleaners service 3 customers per night to maximize their revenues.
  • Restauranteurs that are enticed by low bids are their ideal customer. 3 quick cleanings @ $250 each = $750 per night, whereas a proper cleaning taking 4-5 hours would only bring in $400

This is a recipe for disaster because they leave themselves little to no time to clean the systems completely or to fire code. They know that if they are caught out and lose an account that there are plenty of restaurants out there. Unfortunately this leaves the restaurant owner at serious risk for fire.
Most restaurant fires originate in the kitchen. Probably the worst kitchen fire at the Tai Ho Mandarin in boston claimed the lives of two fire fighters and caused millions in damages.

'Across the nation, firefighters responded to 8,520 fires in bars and restaurants between 2000 and 2004, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The fires killed three firefighters, injured 113 civilians, and caused $190 million in damage.
The kitchen was the most common place the fires started, accounting for 54% of the blazes.' 
-Boston Globe 

Are your contractors properly insured?

If you are the victim of kitchen fire and the fire department determines that it was caused by an inadequately cleaned hood exhaust system, your insurance will likely repudiate the claim. This leaves you suing the hood cleaner responsible to pay for the damages. Assuming they have liability insurance is not enough to protect you. Due to the liability of this service many hood cleaners are not insured for Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning itself. Instead they are insured for Power washing insurance which is significantly cheaper but does not cover Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning. It is expensive and hard to obtain without credentials. A certificate stating liability coverage will not protect you if it is not for KEC.
Are you protected?

Picture Proof - the ultimate verification tool

The best way to ensure that your system has been cleaned completely and to fire code is to inspect it. Unfortunately it is rather difficult to climb on the roof, open the fan, check the ducts, climb into the ceiling above the hood and inspect the access panels even if you know where they are and what to look for. A reputable hood cleaner will offer you before and after photographs. Why? 
The quality of their work with you shows their value, but more importantly it gives you the proof that your system has been cleaned correctly. At Grexen® we take this a step further with:

GEO-Tagged Photo's (more info)

How do you know that the pictures are of your system and where taken the day of the cleaning?
Our digital camera's record geographical coordinates, the date and the time. This information is digitally imprinted in the file and can be easily found by right-clicking on the image and clicking properties (windows) or more info (Mac)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Your Hoods just got cleaned, BUT are you fire safe?

By Karl Riekstins
Partner & Co-Founder
Grexen Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning®

So you've just had your restaurant hoods cleaned. They look pretty good! All shined up with the baffle filters looking better than usual, floor was washed and all the pilot lights have been re-lit. Question is: has the hood 'system' been cleaned to the point that there is no risk for a grease fire and to the satisfaction of the fire department, or to yourself?

This is something I encounter almost every time I visit a potential customer's establishment. The first question I ask prior to conducting the hood cleaning inspection is: " Are you happy with the quality of the work you are receiving from your current cleaner?"

The response is usually some thing like this: "They're pretty good. They show up on time, and the hood always looks good! 
Then I pose the bigger question:" Do you think they clean the entire system?" They go on the roof, so they must be cleaning the fan too. Ive been through 5 hood cleaners in the last 9 years. They are the best of the bunch"

I've heard this hundreds of times before. This was a recent conversation I had with a GM of a prominent bar & grill franchise last week and it helps illustrate my point.

picture of newly cleaned hood
The hood does look good! Then I removed a shiny filter and took one picture and showed it to him.

hood opening - vertical
example of hood opening - horizontal

This is the opening to the duct system. The hardest to reach area, the toughest to clean and the area that poses the greatest risk for a grease fire. It also happens to be invisible from the kitchen.

This bodes quite well for the irresponsible and greedy hood cleaner that would like to shave off half the cleaning time. The Owner/GM/kitchen manager wont know and there will be enough time to clean at least two more locations that night.
The surprising thing to me is that it doesn't matter how long I keep doing inspections, I see the same thing every day. 
With every passing cleaning, the grease buildup in the duct network thickens and risk for fire increase exponentially.

So, the obvious question is: How do you make sure that your hood cleaner is cleaning your entire system to fire code standards, vis-a-vis to bare metal?

1) Pop open a filter in the hood, locate the opening to the duct.

2) Look straight up the hole, if you see the fan blades then the duct is vertical. If you don't, it likely has a horizontal duct run that connects the vertical duct that leads to the fan.

3) Stick a digital camera or smart phone, preferably one with a flash into the opening. Take a pic and find out how good your hood cleaner really is.If you see more than a thin film of grease, then it's reasonable to believe that the duct network has been missed.

My recommendation would be to hire a company that provides before & after pictures after every cleaning. I would also advise that you or a staff member check the duct opening in the hood periodically just to make sure that you and your business are fire safe.

This is a photo of a properly cleaned duct opening with its horizontal duct run in the proceeding photograph.

'Hood Cleaning' or what we prefer to call 'Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning' is a serious business with serious consequences. It is our duty to protect our customers from the risk of fire. Even if it means that the crew spends the whole night getting it done.
It's the right thing to do.