If you have been thinking about installing an air curtain at your business, there are probably a few things you want to know first. What are air curtains exactly? How do they work? What are their benefits? And where are air curtains typically used? This guide will seek to answer those questions and more. So, if you want to learn a thing or two about air doors or air curtains, keep reading!
Air curtains, also known as air doors, are devices that produce a controlled stream of air and blast it across an opening in a wall. What this technology does is create a barrier or seal of air that protects an environment from specific issues while still allowing quick and unimpeded passage for people, animals, equipment, or the like.
For instance, say you run a restaurant and want to keep the door open during business hours in the summertime. Having the door open invites passerby inside, increases the amount of natural light making it to your space, opens views and sightlines, and can make people eating outdoors feel like they are still a part of your establishment. If you do have outdoor diners, then leaving your door open can also help your wait staff enjoy easy passage to those tables— vital if they have their hands full with plates, drinks, or heavy trays.
There are clear benefits to leaving the door of your restaurant open during business hours, and some of these benefits carry over to other types of businesses as well. However, there are also drawbacks to having an open-door policy. For instance, on hot days, you risk losing most of your cool, air-conditioned air through the open door. You also risk letting flying pests, such as flies or gnats, into your restaurant. Dust and debris, especially if the entrance to your business is close to a busy street, is another problem.
Air curtains help to solve all these issues. The controlled stream of air creates an invisible barrier where your closed door would be. People can pass through this barrier just fine, which means you enjoy the benefits that an open-door policy can bring to your restaurant. At the same time, the curtain of air helps contain hot or chilly air, stop the infiltration of flying insects, and knock debris out of the air before it crosses your threshold. All these benefits explain why air curtains are becoming more popular—not just in the food service industry, but in every corner of the commercial world.
Now we know what air curtains do, but how do they work?
There are two answers to this question, thanks to the fact that there are two distinct types of air curtain. The first type is called a non-recirculating air curtain. These air curtains tend to be the most popular among many businesses because they are less expensive to install and cost less to maintain. The second type is called a recirculating air curtain. These air curtains cost more money to install and maintain but are also more powerful and effective as air barriers. These air curtains tend to be ideal for entrances with unusually high levels of foot traffic.
Both types of air curtains bring air into the system through an intake grille and then use a fan to propel or accelerate the air. The air passes through what is called a plenum, which helps evenly distribute it and ensure a consistent stream of air along the entire length of the air curtain. Since most air curtains are installed at the top of a door opening, the air then shoots down, covering the opening with what is, in fact, a waterfall of air.
Non-recirculating air curtains only consist of a top unit, which sits above a door or opening and discharges air downward. Recirculating units, meanwhile, look like high-tech doorframes or metal detectors. They have a full square or rectangular design that spans all sides of the door opening. This design allows the air discharged at the top of the air curtain to be collected at the bottom of the curtain and recirculated back to the top.
Because they repeatedly reuse the same air to create an accelerated stream of air, recirculating air curtains are more energy efficient than non-recirculating units. However, because of their more complex design, it is more difficult to install them retroactively. Most recirculating air curtains, therefore, are mounted at a building entrance at the time of construction. Otherwise, these units can be expensive to install and can require more extensive renovation work than business owners are prepared to approve.
We have already touched upon the primary uses of air curtains, but for a refresher, they typically fall into three main categories:
Climate control is likely the top application for air curtains among most commercial enterprises. In businesses where people are continually going in and out, or where leaving a door open just makes sense for business purposes, there is always the risk of heat transfer. During winter, warm air will be lost through the open door while the opposite is true in summer. Both occurrences will cause your HVAC system to work that much harder to reach the temperature you have set on your thermostat. You will see the effect of this extra operational effort in the form of higher energy bills. Air curtains provide an effective way of preventing temperature transfer, preserving a comfortable temperature inside your business while still letting you have an open door.
Flying insect and debris control are notable as well. In the summertime, winged insects such as flies, gnats, bees, and mosquitos can fly through open doors and windows and terrorize your employees or customers. Air curtains let you enjoy a nice open-air feel in your establishment while still knowing that those flying insects are going to be blasted out of the air if they try going through the air curtain.
Air curtains work similarly for debris control. If your business is in a sandy or dusty area, you might fear that every time the door opens, it’s going to let another plume of debris into your business. Similar issues exist in areas where there is a lot of pollen in the air during the springtime, or if your business is near a construction site and you want to prevent all that debris from getting indoors. Air curtains are powerful enough to knock those grains of dust out of the air before they enter your business.
The last reason that many businesses install air curtains is for pure comfort. Patrons enjoy an environment that is heated or cooled to a comfortable temperature. However, they do not enjoy drafts of hot or frigid air hitting them every time the front door opens. Air curtains can prevent drafts and preserve consistent temperature, for maximum comfort.
Virtually any business can benefit from an air curtain in one way or another. Issues such as heat transfer, flies that won’t go away, dust or pollen, and drafty air are not sequestered to any one industry. Instead, these issues can affect any company in any field, making the potential applications for air curtains nearly unlimited.
With all that said, here are some of the business types that tend to benefit the most from an air curtain installation:
The list goes on forever, but the bottom line is clear: the benefits of air curtains are universal and can be applied to virtually any commercial business.
At this point, the main benefits of air curtains should be reasonably clear. However, we’ve provided a rundown below, just for quick reference.
These four benefits are the cornerstones of virtually any argument in favor of air curtain adoption.
There are several types of air curtains currently available on the market. These varieties include (but are not limited to) ambient air curtains, electrically heated air curtains, steam coil air curtains, and gas-fired air curtains. Read below for additional details on these types of curtains.
The biggest brand names in the air curtain industry right now are Berner and Mars.
Berner (known more technically as Berner International) is a company that dates all the way back to 1956. Berner was the first business to manufacture air curtains in the United States. It was also the company that, in the 1970s, did the legwork to create a certified system for rating the performance of different air curtain devices. Today, Berner’s influence is felt on the air curtain market. The company itself, meanwhile, continues to develop air curtains for a range of commercial entities, including restaurants, manufacturing companies, warehouses, retail stores, hospitals, airports, hotels, and more.
Mars is also a long-running air curtain brand, having been around for more than 55 years. While not the industry pioneer that Berner was, Mars has nonetheless become a fierce competitor for the leading position in the market today. Mars manufactures several of the most well-known and well-regarded air curtain products available, including series such as the LoPro and the Phantom. Like Berner, Mars serves a range of different business industries, including restaurants, cold storage, transportation, healthcare, education, and more.
Probably the next most well-known air curtain manufacturer is Williams. Unlike Berner and Mars, Williams is not exclusively dedicated to air curtains. The company also manufactures heating solutions, air handlers, and dehumidifiers.
As mentioned previously, how extensive the air curtain installation process is will depend on whether you choose a recirculating model or a non-recirculating model. Non-recirculating models cost next to nothing to install because the process involves little more than mounting the curtains above a door. With recirculating models, you can expect to pay a lot more for installation, as you will need to execute a fundamental redesign of your entryway. The installation process will also take longer and will be more invasive to the rest of your space.