“I’m looking at a used Borgen case… How cold does it get?”

We often get questions like this from a potential customer who are looking at buying a used Borgen merchandising case. In this case, a question came in via the Contact Us form on this website, but we also receive these through social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Most people buying a case like this would benefit from a quick tutorial on commercial refrigeration systems. This person sent photos of a nice 2-Door Wine case, glass ends. The case in question was built in 1999 (and still looked great from these photos). People assume that because it’s a refrigerated merchandise case, it must already be refrigerated, right?

Wrong: around 85% of the cases we’ve built in our history are Remote Refrigeration, which means the case depends on an external or centralized refrigeration system, also known as a store-wide “rack” system, typically located in a back room or basement. The rack controls temperature and defrost cycles, etc. Two refrigeration lines (intake and discharge) connect to each case, which supplies a steady stream of refrigerated coolant at a specific temperature.

The opposite of Remote Refrigeration is Self-Contained Refrigeration, or what some manufacturers call OCU for Optional Condensing Unit. Your refrigerator at home is self-contained and has a small condensing unit that turns on an off, creates a small amount of noise. Larger condensing units, like the ones we use, tend to create a bit more noise. It’s common for restaurants, flower shops and small-to-medium retailers to need self-contained refrigeration.

Most of our Self-Contained models will locate the condensing unit directly on top of the case. That typically involves a modesty box, which stands another 11 inches tall, covers the front and both sides, but remains open on the back side. Inside that modesty box is the condensing unit, or the “motor” which will run from 1/3-HP up to 2- or even 4-HP in size, depending on the size and capacity of the case or walk-in cooler. These systems can add significant cost to each case, from nearly $2,000 on the low end, on up. For that, you’re getting more than just the condensing unit and modesty box enclosure: it also includes a condensate evaporation system, temperature probe and case controller with a remote digital display.

In some instances, the used cases you’re looking at will be self-contained already. The good news — it already has a condensing unit. The bad news: that condensing unit is usually the first thing to go bad, so it’s probably the reason the case is for sale. Have a qualified commercial refrigeration contractor check it over — they may recommend replacing that condensing unit. Then you’re fine, it should run another 10-20 years without issue.

An older self-contained unit may still be cooling fine, but you’ll notice it get much louder when it runs. I’m no doctor, but I can tell you that patient is going downhill. Before it goes flatline, call your certified commercial refrigeration contractor. Most likely you’ll need a new condensing unit, perhaps a few more components. And the newer condensing units tend to run smaller, more efficiently and quieter than the old ones. The contractor may say the noise level is fine, or they may recommend adding some sound-dampening materials around the inside of the modesty box and back wall (often a dense foam or acoustic tile). Be sure this does not cover the top of the modesty box and allows for proper air circulation.

Electrical is another surprise to newer buyers. We don’t install a simple 3-prong plug on these cases that you plug into a normal wall outlet. No, these are almost always hard-wired by an electrician. Yes, someone else you’ll need to hire. But at least you know it now and it’s not a surprise when the case arrives for install and you can’t start it up without additional work.

Whether you buy a case that employs remote or self-contained refrigeration, Borgen Systems always recommends that you have a certified commercial refrigeration contractor on-site when your case arrives to assist with installation and setup. Then regular check-ups will help extend the life of your Borgen case for many years, maybe even decades to come.