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The Science of Preventing Condensation in Cold Stores

In the world of cold storage and freezer facilities, one of the most significant challenges is managing condensation and ice formation, because these issues lead to safety hazards, operational inefficiencies, and increased energy costs. Understanding the science behind these phenomena and knowing how to mitigate these risks is crucial.


Understanding the Key Components

Why does condensation even occur in cold storage environments?

It all boils down to two things: moisture in the air (humidity) and temperature differences. When warm, humid air hits a cold surface which is below the dew point, like the walls or doors in your coldstore, it cools down, and just like a cold drink on a warm day, this cooling causes water vapour in the air to turn into liquid, creating condensation.

What is the dew point?

The dew point is the temperature at which air becomes fully saturated with moisture and starts to condense. It’s the temperature at which the air needs to be cooled to for water in the vapour to condense. If the surface temperature inside your coldstore is below this dew point, voilà, you’ve got condensation. And this isn’t just a minor inconvenience; it can lead to all sorts of problems like mold, product damage, and slip hazards.

Insulation and Its Importance

In cold storage, the goal is to maintain a consistently low surface temperature on the internal sides of these surfaces to ensure the ambient temperature remains stable. This stability is crucial for the preservation of stored goods.
Insulation plays a pivotal role in maintaining these surface temperatures. It works by reducing the heat transfer between the inside of the cold storage and the external environment. In the context of a cold storage door, effective insulation means that the internal surface of the door remains close to the desired storage temperature, even if the external surface is exposed to much higher temperatures.

R-Value: Measuring Insulation Effectiveness
The R-value is a measure of the thermal resistance of an insulating material. The higher the R-value, the better the material is at insulating. In cold storage doors, a high R-value is desirable as it indicates that the door is effective in resisting heat flow. This means less energy is required to maintain the internal temperature of the cold storage, leading to energy efficiency and cost savings.

U-Value: Understanding Overall Heat Transfer
The U-value, on the other hand, measures the overall heat transfer coefficient of a material. It takes into account not only the insulation but also the conductive and convective properties. In simple terms, the U-value indicates how well a building element, like a door, can transfer heat. A low U-value is ideal for cold storage doors as it signifies lower heat transfer, thus better insulation and temperature control.

Mitigation Strategies

Although insulation helps to prevent heat transfer, in areas where there is a high temperature differential it is often insufficient to prevent the external surface temperature of the door from dropping below the dew point. This leads to condensation, which can be problematic for both the integrity of the stored goods and the facility’s structure. In such scenarios, additional measures need to be considered to address this challenge effectively.

Mitigating Cold Surfaces: Using heating, insulation, or thermal breaks to increase surface temperatures.

Insulation Improvement
Enhancing the door’s insulation can help to keep the surface temperature above the dew points.

Thermal Breaks
Thermal breaks are often an essential component in cold storage doors. They’re materials or methods that reduce the transfer of temperature across a surface. By incorporating thermal breaks into your coldstore design, you can keep those cold surfaces from getting too cold and reaching the dew point. Enhancing or adding thermal breaks can improve the door’s overall thermal performance, helping to keep the external surface temperature above the dew point, and eliminating the possibility of condensation forming.

Heated Door Surfaces
In some cases, particularly in very humid environments or where the temperature differential is significant, installing doors with heated surfaces might be necessary. These doors have built-in heating elements that keep the external surface temperature above the dew point, thereby preventing condensation.

Mechanical Dehumidification: Using air conditioning units to remove moisture from the air.
Using dehumidifiers in the vicinity of the cold storage doors can reduce the moisture content in the air, thereby lowering the dew point. This makes it less likely for condensation to occur on the door surface.

Improving Air Circulation: Enhancing airflow to prevent localized humid conditions and re-evaporate any formed condensation.
In scenarios where the external surface temperature of a cold storage door is below the dew point, leading to condensation, incorporating fans or enhancing air movement on the warmer side (outside the cold storage) can be an effective strategy. This approach works by altering the microclimate around the door, dispersing moist air, and increasing evaporation rate, reducing the likelihood of condensation formation.

Calculating for Success

So, how do we determine if a door or wall is going to do its job in preventing condensation? This is where the U-value comes in.
Here’s a simple method we use to gauge the effectiveness of a door or wall in a coldstore. Consider the dew point on the warm side of the door (you can calculate this using a Pyschrometric Chart). Using the U-value of the door, you can calculate the potential reduction in surface temperature on the other side. If the calculated temperature is above the dew point, you’re fine. If not, you might need to consider additional measures like increasing airflow to prevent condensation.

The Example Scenario
Consider a freezer set at -20°C, opening into a chilled environment at 10°C. The relative humidity (RH) inside the freezer is 50%, and on the warm side, it’s 70%.

Step 1: Calculate the U-Value
Given the R-value of the door (4 m²K/W), the U-value is calculated as:
U−value = 1/R−value
1/4 m²K/W=0.25 W/m²K

Step 2: Calculate Surface Temperature of the Door on the Warm Side
We determine how cold the door surface gets using the formula: Surface Temperature=Internal Temperature+(Temperature Difference×U-value)
In our case, this calculates to -12.5°C.

Step 3: Calculate Dew Point on the Warm Side
Similarly, we calculate the dew point for the 10°C environment with 70% RH, which comes to 4.78°C.

Step 4: Compare Surface Temperature with Dew Points
Condensation occurs if the door’s surface temperature falls below the dew point. Here, the surface temperature of -12.5°C is lower than the dew point on the warm side (4.78°C), indicating a risk of condensation and ice formation.

Understanding and managing condensation and ice formation in cold storage environments requires a combination of thermodynamic knowledge, environmental control, and effective facility management. By applying these principles and strategies, we can help you mitigate the risks associated with condensation and ice, ensuring safe, efficient operations and the integrity of stored goods. Regular assessments and proactive measures are essential for maintaining optimal conditions in these critical environments.

Reach out to Ulti Group for support in your cold storage environment.


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