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Home Forums General Discussion Refrigeration how much?

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    The need for refrigeation keeps popping up in almost every discussion involving living off grid. If you are hunting moose for meat you definitely need something around 18 cubic feet for storage but if you are a vegetarian or live close enough to a town where you can do a shopping trip once per week You probably do not need as much. This leads to the question of “can you in fact live without a conventional refrigerator?”

    What other options have you found that work for you?


    One of our additions in 2011 will be a small propane refridgerator. We have managed the last 15 years without one, but have only been “off grid” on a part time basis. We have made do with with several large “5 day” coolers. This has never really been satisfactory. Food ends up going to waste because try though you may things end up getting wet and soggy. We are also lucky to have a nice stream that runs through our property with very cold water and we have also availed ourselves of this to keep things cold. We are far enough north that we have four to 4-5 months when it is less an issue.

    There are some nice propane fridges available but they are a bit pricey so we have held off but I think next year we are going to take the plunge. I have seen several in use and it seems they work great and will be a big step up from cooler life.

    I also am building a large root cellar that although not refridgeration will certainly provide cool storage.


    We acquired a Dometic brand propane fridge last year but a health inspector told me his experience was these did not stay cold enough on a real hot summer day. He told me they are incapable of maintaining the interior below 4 degrees Centigrade. Thinking I could prove him wrong I placed a thermometer inside and checked it every couple of hours. It worked fine overnight but come middle of the next afternoon it was up to 10 C

    I am studying the system to determine how to improve it. I have dismantled one propane fridge to examine it in detail. I have even taught muself how to rebuild the burner for greater heat output.

    My conclusion is you need to add 4″ of insulation all around which is a real problem at the back.

    This far north we only reach about 95F during the hottest part of summer. If I had sufficient PV panels I think I would prefer to buy something like a Tundra brand all electric refrigerator. They can be run on both DC and AC voltage.

    However the quest is still on to find non refrigeration methods of food storage.

    Smoked sausages and pepperpni sticks are two examples of protein foods that can stand up to non refrigeration. A cool root cellar is also a good idea.

    As a child in post war Europe I remember people had no refrigeration but would use evaporation to cool butter and milk jugs. It’s similar to what is now called swamp coolers. Although not enough to keep ice cream from melting it did keep butter from melting and milk from going sour. Freshly laid eggs have a natural coating that seals the shell so it does not allow permeation of oxygen and thus spoiling the egg. Unfortunately store bought eggs must be washed and that removes the natural film. Cruising sailors used to coat store bought eggs with vaseline to keep them for a couple of months.


    There are many foods that people keep in the fridge that don’t need refrigeration, keeping them cool does allow those foods to last longer, but they don’t NEED refrigeration. We have a small cube (dorm sized) refrigerator but rarely turn it on. We do have access to a neighbor’s refrigerator if we really need it (for milk mainly, and the occasional pound of ground beef), I will say that walking/hiking up and down the mountain side to get a glass of milk makes one not be as interested in having milk.

    Anything that contains vinegar is fairly safe to keep outside the refrigerator, pickles, pickle relish, ketchup… I don’t know about mustard (I don’t eat that very often). I know mayo does require refrigeration. We get fresh eggs from a friend and I request that they not be washed, they can safely stay outside the fridge, We use a lot of powdered and canned milk for cooking.

    One thing I do is I purchase those little individual serving size packets of mayo, mustard, ketchup and pickle relish, these do not need refrigeration, but it does say on the box to keep them in a cool location. I find that the mayo has to be used within a year of purchase or they start tasting “off”, the rest of them seem to last a lot longer, I suspect it’s because they have lots more vinegar. You can find these by the box in Sam’s Club, you can also order them from the internet.

    In the 3 years we have lived off grid, we have learned how to live with very little refrigeration for our food, I just don’t buy very many food items that require it.



    Good info elnav. I guess I better spend the winter months researching this in greater detail before I make a purchase.

    Wretha you make some great points also. Changing buying habits is huge. There are plenty of foods that do not require refridgeration.


    Another thing I forgot to mention, when I did have a full sized refrigerator (in town), most of what I kept in it was leftovers that usually didn’t get eaten before it went bad, so I was paying to store rotten food until I decided to toss it out. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for us, it was a near total waste. We are much better off without the refrigerator, though I will admit that there are times when I wish I had one, not very often, but it does come up from time to time, that’s when I pull out the plug for the small fridge.

    Something I am planning on doing is making a chest freezer into a refrigerator using an external thermostat, it’s supposed to be very efficient, running only a few minutes per hour is what I read, the biggest drawback is placing and removing food from it, it’s not as convenient as an upright refrigerator.



    Wrethas suggestion of converting a freezer into a refrigerator reminds me that a holding plate system is by far the most efficient. Again this was primarily a system developed for sailboats and suitable for custom DIY fabrication.

    The holding plates contain a eutectic solution which could be saline water or antifreeze (food grade). The system is charged once every 24 hours during which the holding plates are chilled to a frozen state. They remain cold for up to 24 hours at which point they needed to be recharged. This was usually done while the boat battereies were recharged as well. for solar application the charging should occur during the period of maximum insolation and thus maximum power. From the descriptions I have heard of the freezer conversion it is convenient but not as efficient and effective from an engineering perspective. If the basic freezer could be modified to contain holding plates it would likely improve in efficiency. Adding additional insulation would also improve things by slowing down heat migration into the interior of the cool fridge compartment.

    BTW the blue gel inside the freezer packs you use in coolers would make a good eutectic solution for those interested in experimenting and building their own.

    Cyndi Jenkins

    I live without a refrigerator. We eat meat, use milk, make butter and such. When I get a deer, I process it right away and can the meat. When we butchered the pig, I canned it. We have all food items, including the root veggies and juices in the root cellar where it stays below 50f year round. We have a fresh water spring on our property, where we put things that need to be kept cold, like milk, butter, leftovers, etc. I can say after 3 years of this, I still miss a refrigerator, simply because ice water is my favorite thing on earth. However, living without one is feasible and we have done it for 3 years now.


    Just a quick note about improving the efficiency of a propane fridge. Some years ago, I worked in Arizona and lived in a RV. The temps were 100F degrees plus,and when I came home after working in the hot sun all day, my ice cream was mush. A fellow worker showed me his set-up. He had installed a low drain 12V computer fan on his refrigerator vent and powered it with a cheap solar panel designed for maintaining batteries. It increased the air flow across the coils of the fridge which, in turn, increased the efficiency of the fridge. I tried it and it worked. My ice dream wasn’t frozen hard but, at least, I couldn’t pour it out of the box which was a definite improvement. I think more air flow would have improved it even more but I did not want to cut a hole in the floor to draw cooler air from under the RV.


    i have seen here old fridges that work on evaporation,they have a double skin and in between is a sponge material,this is kept topped up with water,as it evaporates it cools the inside compartment.


    The most effeicent and cheapest refrigeratant to use is

    hydro carbons, ie propane but not where you burn it. You

    ever see you propane tank with frost on it in July

    It is sold for auto ac and draws about 70% of the electricity

    as compared to those expensive patented refrigerants.

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