Walk-In Cooler Shopping Guide

When shopping for new walk-in coolers or freezers, there are many specifications you’ll need to consider in order to get an accurate estimate on the type of walk-in that will meet your needs and budget. We discuss some of the main specifications in this guide.

Prefabricated vs. Built-In

There are two main categories of walk-ins, prefabricated or built-In. As the names suggest, prefabricated units are built from pre-made panels and are available in set configurations. Built-in units are custom and ‘built’ to your exact needs and space requirements. 

Although they come in set configurations, prefabricated units can be a more flexible options for future expansion since the interlocking pre-made panels can be added later on. Prefabricated units are often more budget-friendly than a custom built cooler for both the unit itself and installation.

Built-in units can be made in practically any shape and size, and because of this, they inherently require more planning and detailed information upfront in order to provide accurate pricing and to specify proper equipment for the project. These units are specified exactly to what your business needs and customized to fit your space.

Indoor vs. Outdoor

You should also consider whether your walk-in unit will be located indoors or outdoors. This decision will depend on your storage space requirements, interior space limitations, condenser location, ambient temperature, and more. 

Indoor units will require at least 6” of space above and 2” all around for proper air flow ventilation and access for cleaning and maintenance. There are many prefabricated configurations that can accommodate MOST space requirements; however, if you’re tight on space inside, you may need to consider a built-in or outdoor option.

Outdoor units are great in situations where the indoor space is too limited. With outdoor units you have the option to do a free-standing walk-in or a ‘butted’ walk-in. You’ll need to consider the outdoor ambient temperatures and make sure the refrigeration system can keep up.

How to Estimate Storage Space & Sizing

As a general guideline to estimate the amount of total cubic feet of food storage space you may need, use the formula below to calculate:

(Total Pounds of Food You Need to Store) / 28 = Total Cubic Feet of Storage

Note: The typical lifespan of a walk-in refrigerator is +/- 10 years, so you should also factor in whether you will need room for growth as your business expands. 

Walk-In Components

Panels & Insulation

Panels are what makes up the walls or the “box” of your walk-in cooler or freezer. They consist of insulation foam between metal sheets. These metal sheets are available in various options including aluminum, stainless steel, galvanized steel, aluminum coated steel, painted steels, and other metals. Aluminum is typically the most budget-friendly, whereas stainless steel will be the highest quality option.

Insulation type is also very important when considering your overall energy consumption / operational efficiency. Although certain insulation may be “cheaper” upfront, it could end up costing you much more in energy bills over the long run if the insulation is inefficient, forcing your refrigeration system to work much harder to maintain temperatures. The most common insulation options are extruded polystyrene and polyurethane. Extruded polystyrene is typically preferred since it is more resistant to moisture, has a higher structural strength, and retains more insulating capacity over its lifespan. 


The type of flooring in your walk-in unit will depend mostly on the type of traffic and weight of the products you will be storing. For an average food-service walk-in that simply needs to withstand employee foot traffic, the standard floors that come with prefabricated units (usually aluminum) would likely be adequate. For heavier loads and rolling traffic from heavy carts, shelving, and pan racks you will need flooring with plywood underlay. And for the most heavy duty usage and weighted goods, you will need a plywood underlay plus metal grid or tubular supports.


The doors often wear down more quickly than most other components of refrigeration since they are used all day, everyday to enter and exit the walk-in. The type of door and the quality of gaskets, hinges, latches, and closing mechanisms will play a big part in the overall performance of your refrigeration unit. Options include hinged doors (most common), glass doors for displaying product, and sliding doors. 

Refrigeration System

A refrigeration system is made up of a condensing unit and an evaporator. The condenser will be located somewhere outside of the walk-in unit while the evaporator is on the inside. The different types of systems often depend on where the condensing unit will be located. 

Remote System –  The condenser can be located in a completely different area of the building, often on rooftops. These are usually the most budget-friendly and space saving. 

Self-Contained – The condenser and evaporator are assembled in one refrigeration system that can either be mounted on top, on the side, or saddle-mounted to the unit. Top mounts will need adequate space above the unit for ventilation, side mounts are installed on one of the wall panels, and saddle mounts are installed over the top of one of the wall panels before the roof has been installed. 

Contact insidesales@coolersinc.com if you would like a quote on walk-in refrigerators or freezers.  If you need assistance with specifying your walk-in cooler options you may need to schedule a site visit – ask us for more info!

Please note we do not stock prefabricated units, so delivery lead times can vary widely.