Commercial Kitchen Ventilation: Clean Air for a Healthy Business


A hot kitchen can result in more than flaring tempers. Too much heat and smoke in the air wastes money and increases the risk for fire and health problems. Keep your cool and breathe easy by understanding the ventilation basics for your commercial kitchen.

Understand Exhaust Basics

Quality ventilation works within a basic equation: air in = air out. This same equation is also used during a typical health inspection. What this means is that for however much air is pushed in for circulation, the same amount of air must be pushed out. This is the same equation fire and health inspectors use when surveying your commercial kitchen’s ventilation system. Smaller kitchens are often able to rely on the building’s existing HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning) system to bring in and expel air to and from the kitchen. This is a common practice for quick-service  kitchens. Although some kitchens can get by without separate ventilation, most commercial food service operations need a separate make-up air unit. This includes any size kitchen with high-volume and heat-intensive equipment.

First-time restaurateurs may cut corners by banking on the building’s existing HVAC unit to provide the proper amount of exhaust. In many cases an existing HVAC system will pass the initial health code inspection by meeting the minimum requirements necessary. This could end up increasing utility bills and reducing productivity in the long run.

Here are some tips to help determine if your commercial kitchen needs a make-up air unit for proper ventilation:

  • Make-up air is the air that is brought in to replace the air that the exhaust system has pumped out.
  • A make-up air unit (also called air tempering units or duct heaters) is an appliance that is designed to maintain an indoor environment’s air quality with make-up air.
  • The kitchen set-up includes more than one piece of heavy-duty equipment including, broilers, ranges, wok ranges and salamanders.
  • The kitchen includes equipment that uses charcoal, wood, mesquite or briquettes to produce heat for cooking.
  • Temperatures in the kitchen reach unbearable highs during busy service.
  • Smoke is slow to leave the air during busy hours of service.

Cleaning Up Your Act

Control healthy levels of air quality in your kitchen by containing as much cooking effluent from the air as you can. Cooking effluent is the mixture of heat, grease and smoke that is released from appliances when they are in use. This is a task that is easier said than done, but with the right measures in place a commercial kitchen can maximize its overall air quality.

Use these simple steps to directly capture the most cooking effluent in your kitchen:

  • Install a make-up air unit for your commercial kitchen’s exhaust system.
  • Add side panels to your exhaust hoods. This will direct cross drafts up into the exhaust system.
  • Push appliances against the wall to close any air gaps between the wall and the appliance.
  • Install heavy-duty appliances together and in the middle of your cooking line.
  • Dedicate a hood with a higher exhaust rate for broilers or other heavy-duty appliances.

Ensure Cost-Effective Operations

To understand how the air circulation in your kitchen affects your utility bill, look no further than the refrigerator and freezer in your professional kitchen. These appliances must maintain internal temperatures at a constant chilled level. With an excessive amount of heat in the air, the unit’s compressor will work overtime to throw off the heat from the appliance. This extra work results in higher energy consumption, thus inflating the overall utility bill. In addition to this, the heat that is thrown off of the compressor will go back into the kitchen’s air and will perpetuate the problem.

Fire Safety, Hazardous Working Conditions and Negative Effects of Improper Ventilation

Cleaning your commercial kitchen’s ventilation system is as important as using it. Create a daily routine at the open and close of each business day to check and clean all exposed hoods and ducts. Schedule an annual cleaning with a professional service to clear all pathways of your ventilation system.

Be aware of the following hazards that can occur from misuse, improper maintenance and neglect of proper ventilation:

  • Grease-laden hoods and ducts are extremely flammable and can result in grease fires from high-flame cooking methods.
  • Humidity from steam formed in the kitchen breeds mildew and can create a toxic environment for kitchen employees.
  • Poor air-quality in the kitchen can spread to the front of the house, creating issues for employees and customers with asthma or other respiratory health concerns.
  • Improper ventilation increases the presence of cooking odors and may deter customer traffic.

Keeping your air quality clean is essential to running a successful restaurant. Invest in the equipment that will secure the safety of your business, employees and customers. Monitor your air quality daily and address issues, such as smoke build-up or rising kitchen temperatures immediately.

Culinair Systems Commercial Kitchen Ventilation Design
Improving Commercial Kitchen Ventilation System Performance: Optimizing Makeup Air
Professional Interior Design: Exhaust Hood & Ventilation System for Restaurants


About Author

Maggie Henderson

Maggie once gained five pounds in pursuit of the perfect Indian dal recipe. When she isn't cooking, she spends her days as a marketer and her nights and weekends blogging, taking pictures and chasing after her son and dog.


  1. Thanks for your post about commercial kitchen ventilation. I know that many states have regulations for the amount of airflow within a business to keep employees healthy, as you mentioned. You also make a great point about how a poorly maintained ventilation units can be a fire hazard because of the grease build up. The majority of home fires originate in the kitchen. I’m sure the same is true for commercial cooking spaces. Thanks for your article.

  2. Wow, I didn’t know that commercial kitchen hoods and vents were such an important part of a restaurant’s business operations. It sounds like they can collect a lot of grease and oils while filtering the kitchen’s air and become a fire hazard. I can’t remember the last time I checked my personal kitchen’s hood. I bet regular hood cleaning is mandatory for commercial kitchens in order to stay safe and sanitary to pass inspections.

    • Nicole Castellano
      Nicole Castellano on

      Yes Adam, we highly recommend cleaning your hoods and ductwork twice a year (per NFPA 96 code). There are many professional companies that specialize in hood cleaning. Best of luck!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this advice on cleaning your kitchen’s ventilation system. I had no idea that ignoring the hood and ventilation for a long time can lead to a fire hazard— that’s pretty crazy! In fact, seeing this really makes me want to look at the hood in my own kitchen. If it’s bad, I’m definitely going to start looking for a professional to fix that for me.

  4. I knew that kitchen vents built of some grime and dirt but had no idea how much grease could be inside. Good reminder to regularly inspect your vents. Thanks for sharing!

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