Choosing the right kind of refrigerated van for your business is an important task, but there are so many different types that it can seem overwhelming. In this two part series, we’re going to help you avoid making an expensive mistake by outlining the things to consider when shopping for a refrigerated van. In this post, we’ll explain the different types of refrigerated vans that are available on the market or as a conversion. We’ll also explain the different types of defrosting systems.

What are the different types of refrigerated van?

Refrigerated vans primarily differ in the methods they use to keep the interior cool. There are four primary refrigeration types. These are called conversion types because of the materials used to convert a “regular” van into a refrigerated van. The type that you will require depends on how cool you need to keep your products and how long they will need to remain in the van.

Insulation-only van

A van that uses insulation only has its cargo area lined with 50mm thick insulation. The insulation can vary: it may be styrofoam or a polystyrene blend. Styrofoam is generally best. This may be adequate for your needs depending on your type of business (a florist, for example, may prefer an insulation-only van), but since there isn’t an actual refrigerator this type isn’t suitable for transporting chilled food.

Chiller conversion van

This type of refrigerated van is both lined with a layer of 50mm insulation and has a chill refrigerator. This van is suitable if you need to keep products chilled but not frozen (above 0˚C). If you already own a van that you would like to convert into a chiller van, expect to spend between £3000 and £7500.

Semi-freezer conversion van

The next step up in van conversions is the semi-freezer van. This van will have thicker, 75mm thick insulation and refrigeration with either reverse cycle defrost or hot gas defrost (we’ll explain these terms shortly). Semi-freezer vans will let you keep products as low as -10˚C to -15˚C.

Full-freezer conversion van

The full-freezer van has insulation that is at least 75mm thick as well as reinforced side and rear doors. Just as with the semi-freezer conversion, it will also have refrigeration with reverse cycle or hot gas defrost. This conversion type will allow you to keep products at temperatures as low as -20˚C. If you’re converting your own van, you’ll need at least an additional £2000-£3000 over what you would pay for a regular chiller conversion. If you want to go as low as -25˚C, you will need to increase the insulation thickness to 100mm and replace the factory sliding side door with a specially-made slab-type door.

Different defrosting methods

In the descriptions above we mentioned that the semi-freezer and full-freezer conversions have refrigeration systems with either reverse cycle defrost or hot gas defrost (there’s also a third type, called off-cycle defrost). What do these terms mean, and how are they different?

The cheapest defrost method is off-cycle defrost. It defrosts according to a timer, which tells the engine compressor when to turn off. This method is unsuitable to keep products at any temperature below 0˚C.

The other two methods – reverse cycle defrost and hot gas defrost – are both efficient enough to maintain temperatures below 0˚C. Reverse cycle defrost automatically reverses the action of the roof condenser and the evaporator as necessary to defrost in seconds. Hot gas defrost, as the name implies, uses an injection of hot gas into the system to allow rapid defrosting. Both systems are suitable for semi-freezer and full-freezer conversions.