Are You Ready Series: Off Grid Refrigeration

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Top Tier Gear USA

Three ice cubes on white background.

It is a fact that our entire way of  life is dependent upon gadgets of convenience and being tied to the grid.  The grid supplies us with electricity, provides air conditioning to cool our home, the home’s main water supply is pumped by a fuel source, and our food is kept cool and fresh by the refrigerator in your kitchen.  Did you know that your refrigerator consumes on average 8% of your monthly electric bill?  If  a sudden emergency were to occur, all the food in your refrigerator is spoiled.  Some individuals do not see this as a real threat to their well being.  However, the threat is real and entirely possible.

In an article at SHTF Plan, a physicist states that a solar flare is a real possibility and could pose a serious threat to our way of life.  This type of threat is such a concern that in the physicist’s own words believes, “We’d be thrown back 100 years.”

If we do find ourselves in a sudden long term emergency where the use of electricity is non-existent, what are our options as far as keeping food re-refrigerated?  Are you equipped and prepared to live in an environment where there is no electricity?  Many off-grid homesteaders have found a few solutions that could help us out of with this predicament and save us on our monthly electric bill.

Off-Grid Solutions for Refrigerating Food

Battery Powered Refrigerators – Many of the refrigerators that operate on 12v or 24v DC battery were designed for those that live on boats or in smaller living quarters such as an RV.  The DC motor compressor operates on 12 or 24 VDC.  In comparison, the average off-the-shelf refrigerator operates at 250v-300v.   However, a drawback to this type of refrigerator is the insulation walls can be quite thin making it inefficient in terms of preserving it’s fuel source.  Another drawback is these types of refrigerators are expensive and could be maintenance intensive.

Gas/Propane Refrigerators – gas or propane refrigerator has no moving parts and use gas or propane as their main energy source.  Many boats, RV and off-grid homes use this type of refrigeration method.   The average cost for a propane fridge is $800.  Many would argue that these types of refrigerators eat through gas, so plan on lots of trips to fill up on fuel. Of course, if you can afford a little extra, there are models that are “multi-fuel” — propane/AC, propane/DC, and propane/AC/DC (which might be the best way to go for “insurance” against possible shortage of one fuel/power supply).  Ideally it would be advisable for the homestead using this type of refrigerator to have a natural gas well in order to have a continual free source of fuel.

Solar Powered Refrigerator – These innovative types of refrigerators use evaporation to cool the box off.  Another type of solar powered refrigerator works with the help of a solar panel.  By creating electricity with the help of the solar panels, it then uses the electricity like a normal plug in refrigerator.  Battery free refrigerators such as the SunDanzer DDR165 Battery-Free DC can be hooked right into the solar panel.  Many believe that solar refridgerators are expensive, however, old refrigerators can be converted into solar powered refrigerators.  An article on Mother Earth News explains it all.  Layout Plans for a Solar Powered Ice Maker

Prototypes – The prototype zero-emission fridge doesn’t need gas, propane or kerosene and is powered by regular fire.  According to an article on ecogeek, “At that point it begins to grow cold, and it is inserted into an insulated container of some sort of a jug, or even a hole in the ground. It gets colder and colder, bringing the temperature of the container to just above freezing, and keeping it that way for about 24 hours.”  It is also fairly affordable to.  At $40 per unit you can’t get any better than that!

Ice Houses – This is another alternative refrigeration source.  For more information on this refrigeration source, click here.

What  Do I Do With My Current Refrigerator?

If a long term emergency occurs and you no more have use for your electrically operated refrigerator, convert it into a solar dehydrator or a solar cooker.  It could also be used as a bulk storage container for preparations.  This would be a great way to keep bulk preparedness items like wheat out of contact with insects and temperature fluctuations.  Additionally, some feel that due to the zero oxygen inside the refrigerators can be used as an anaerobic digester to create bio-fuel.

Whether a person is planning for a hurricane, EMP or TEOTWAWKI, electricity or lack there of, will pose a problem to those that are not prepared.  There is a lot of great information out there regarding this topic.  Finding which alternative refrigerator source works best for your family, requires some researching on your part.  Here are some additional articles that may be helpful:

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Contributed by Tess Pennington of Ready Nutrition.

The Prepper's Blueprint

Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster. Because a crisis rarely stops with a triggering event the aftermath can spiral, having the capacity to cripple our normal ways of life. The well-rounded, multi-layered approach outlined in the Blueprint helps you make sense of a wide array of preparedness concepts through easily digestible action items and supply lists.

Tess is also the author of the highly rated Prepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. 

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  • RickE.

    Am I ready? Absolutely! I already live off of the grid, and my 16 batteries are almost new. My solar panels are a year old. There’s plenty of life left in my solar array and batteries.
    So…let ‘r rip! I’m ready!


      just end it all , sheez, enough already

  • old guy

    when I grew up we never had electricity until 1962.It simply wasn’t available. We kept the eggs & milk in the spring house. Used a root cellar and cured & canned a lot of things. in the summer Most of our meat was alive until just a short time before it was cooked. We killed it and it went directly into the frying pan. cooked in lard from our own hogs. However I believe 12 volts would be feasible.

    • RickE.

      Hey that’s pretty cool, your family actually communicated and learned how to entertain themselves.
      A lost art in these times! Until I had the solar installed, for a month we had to do the same thing and I enjoyed it.

  • Michael

    This may be a little off-topic but, here goes.
    Is it possible that wind-farms are “there” for other reasons, that they have been constructed in strategic locations throughout America where the power created by these “wind mills” can be used in the underground tunnels that have been built by TPTB??
    One story has a tunnel stretching from Washington, D.C. to Denver, and I’m quite positive that there is, in fact, a massive tunnel complex under the United States, and these tunnels have to have electricity for all of the needs associated with these tunnels. Granted, there are generators in the tunnels, but what if wind farms were created for the purpose of supplying energy to these tunnels? Look at a map of the U.S. where the wind farms are being created. After building these farms, the electricity is sold to the public utilities in order to make “their” investment back, but the TRUE reason for these farms just might involve an ulterior motive.

    • Cnsay

      I highly doubt that they could get a tunnel from DC to Denver, as a couple of large rivers would have to be tunneled under. That kind
      of activity /construction) would be seen.

  • Locus

    I like the idea of obtaining one of those small refrigerators as are used on RVs, a unit with no compressor or moving parts. They use the Peltier effect to transfer heat away from conductive metals inside an insulated box.

    They don’t win any prizes for efficiency, scaling up to a walk-in freezer is unlikely without a massive amount of fabrication and applied metallurgy. BUT they do make ice (slowly) and keep their small volumes cool enough to avoid spoilage with only ONE CANDLEPOWER of heat.

    On the back of the fridge is a metal plate that merely needs to be heated in order to keep the fridge operational. It’s that simple! Getting heat to that plate is your handyman’s task.

    Heating the plate may done with a electric heating element (wasteful and grid-down unsustainable)… or a small propane flame (the preferred method of operation if you have it)… or in a total survival situation ANY possible way, such as concentrating solar reflectors, a small air duct leading from a wood burning stove, or even a sealable metal can in which you drop hot rocks from a campfire.

    The beauty of this is that the fridge is small enough to place in your vehicle when you bug out, but before disaster strikes you can tinker with it on weekends to turn these heat ideas into practical solutions.

    There are VERY FEW examples where a modern consumer product has the simplicity and resilient design to allow us to adapt it and survive with it. The amazing Peltier effect fridge is one.

  • Hammerun

    If you can find one look for a Novel. It’s a 1950s model ammonia system. A friend of mine had one a long time age and that thing worked great. It kept the beer real cold in the middle of the desert. It ran off of propane, a 100# cylinder lasted about a year. I asked him what the electric plug was for? The light. He just left it out in that place running all of the time. I want to think he said he paid like $800 for it ages ago. It wasn’t pretty but it sure worked well considering the closest electricity was 30 miles away.

    • Hammerun

      My apologies, it’s called a Servel. 1940s and 50s

  • Hammerun

    If you can find one look for a Novel. It’s a 1950s model ammonia system. A friend of mine had one a long time age and that thing worked great. It kept the beer real cold in the middle of the desert. It ran off of propane, a 100# cylinder lasted about a year. I asked him what the electric plug was for? The light. He just left it out in that place running all of the time. I want to think he said he paid like $800 for it ages ago. It wasn’t pretty but it sure worked well considering the closest electricity was 30 miles away.

  • PapaFoxtrotZulu

    If anyone is interested in 12v solutions, you should check out the Norcold TekII, Engel MT45/60/80 series of fridges, or even the Waeco versions.

    The Koolatrons are crap and use a lot of power for very little return as far as cooling is concerned. The ones I mention above are great quality units, have ONE moving part(sawafuji on the Engels & Danfoss compressors on the Waeco) and use very little energy. At max draw, they might pull 2.5A.

    A properly sized solar panel, a good 12V battery(or a few 6V) and you have yourself a fridge.

    And, they can be used with 120V with the switch of a cord.

    Good luck out there.

  • PatriotBabe

    The links under the section “solar powered refrigerator” are broken. The Mother Earth one goes to the main page, not the article. The other one goes to a 404 page.

    My plan is to put a small chest freezer on a solar panel. I saw this on youtube when this came up a few years back.

    Chest freezers are idea because they take very little power to keep cool. I already have a small one that I am using as a freezer. They are so lightweight and easy to move around as well.

    Search on Youtube for “convert freezer to refrigerator”

  • Hey Everyone,
    Thanks for the article and the comments with great ideas. My electric fridge is on its’ last breath. I am definitely going to buy something that is sustainable in all situations. Hmmm, lots of choices.

  • M o jo Ni x on Was Here

    What clown wrote this piece??

    “…the average off-the-shelf refrigerator operates at 250v-300v”. Wrong. Ever heard of 120v.

    “…Ideally it would be advisable for the homestead using this type of refrigerator to have a natural gas well in order to have a continual free source of fuel”. What? Since when is natural gas available outside of suburbia?

    I could go on and on….

  • frankie7

    my sister rented a farmstead in sunbright tennessee, and it had a natural gas well on the property. all the appliances were gas, even the air could shoot deer and bears in the backyard, and fish in 3 ponds on the land included.the land was backed up to the big south fork national park, and it was peaceful there/150$ a month.

  • lateToTheParty

    I think Tess was speaking of Watts, not volts. In this case 200W to 300W is not bad. With 6 100W panels running at 50% capacity (never get 100% :)) and possibly a battery bank of 400AH i.e. (4) 100AH batteries in parallel, you could expect to run the 300W fridge for about 4 days. With the 200W fridge you could possibly get down to 300AH battery bank and about 4 days of fridge.

    On a quick search I found a small (but not college sized) fridge that runs on 75W. That would be ABOUT 30AH per day or 120AH for 4 days. (I would use a minimum of 2 100W panels for this, it’d be better with 3.)

    On solar, I’ve never seen anyone get top wattage (100%), and you don’t want to drain batteries down much below 50%. A big battery bank doesn’t necessarily mean more stuff can run. If you drain the batteries faster than the panels can ‘refill’ them, you will end up with no power; that heavy draining freezer, portable AC and margarita maker may run, for a little while. Always get lots of batteries and even more panels; solar is one of those things where “enough is never enough.”

    • RickE.

      I have a setup where I have 10 275 watt panels and 16 of those huge 6v batteries. My house lacks nothing in electrical power.
      I can run an electric refrigerator, TV, stereo, and take a shower simultaneously with no problem.
      My system shows 100% charge today and it’s partly cloudy.
      I am very happy with the system, but it’s less than a year old.

      • lateToTheParty

        Neat! I’ve got just a little 320W system with 4 panels and 250AH in batteries. I only use it as a backup and although I sometimes see “100%” I don’t see it much of the time; if I added a rotational motor I’m sure I’d get much closer to that 100%. I’m just kind of trying to keep people from thinking that (1) 100w panel and a 50AH battery ain’t gonna cut it when SHTF.

        • lateToTheParty

          Whoops. Keep them from thinking it WILL cut it.