The first home refrigerator was invented in 1913, though it was another 10 years before Frigidaire invented a self-contained unit. And it wasn’t until 1940 when the fridge/freezer combination we’re used to today was invented. The problem is, a typical American refrigerator isn’t going to work well off-grid. So, here are seven refrigeration options for off-grid living.
1. Zeer Pot
A zeer pot is an evaporative cooler that was invented in the 1990s in Nigeria by Mohammed Bah Abba, though there is evidence of this style of refrigeration going back a couple thousand years to ancient Egypt. The mechanics of it are simple: Take two clay pots and nest them together. Fill the gap between them with wet sand. Place your produce in the smaller pot, and cover with a lid or even a towel. Place it in an area that is both shady, and ideally has a bit of a breeze. As the water evaporates (by the wind, not the sun; this is important.) it chills the pot.
2. Ice Box/Cooler
The one advantage with coolers is they’re easy. There’s nothing to build; just buy it, and you’re ready to go. However, there are a few disadvantages. Depending on your climate, and the quality of cooler you have, you may be getting ice frequently. And this source of ice will not be cheap, and it may not be close. If you go with a high-quality cooler, then you’re ice will last longer, but you’re also going to pay a few hundred dollars for your cooler. Then there’s the issue of soggy food. Because even with your best laid plans, intentions, and organization, water has a way of getting things wet.
3. Ice House
An ice house is simply a building used to store ice. It can be above ground, below ground, or partially-below ground. Keeping your ice below ground will obviously keep it colder, like a root cellar, which will help you maintain your supply through the summer. If you’re storing your ice above ground, you may want to insulate it. Sawdust and straw are both commonly-used insulators.
4. Root Cellar
Root cellars are fantastic options even in conjunction with another main source of refrigeration. There’s nothing like the security of having a backup supply of food on hand, just in case. Historically, root cellars were used to keep root vegetables fresh through the winter. However, besides storing the summer’s harvest in whole-food form, you can also store canned and preserved food that you prepared from that harvest.
5. Propane Powered Refrigerators
Propane works great for heating, as in water heaters, stoves, ovens, and home heaters. And they’re popular in RVs. Though people who have RVs aren’t generally using them in cold climates. The whole point is to move with the good weather. You may be wondering, what does that have to do with anything? Well, most propane refrigerators must be vented,which means busting through the exterior of your home and putting in vents. So when the weather turns nasty, as it tends to do in winter, you’ve got cold air venting into your house.
6. Solar Powered Refrigerators
Any refrigerator will run on solar energy provided you have an inverter – which converts DC battery power to 120 volt AC power – and enough energy to get it running, and keep it running. Or you could just buy a solar powered refrigerator. A solar powered fridge will cost you more upfront. But you’ll eliminate the need for an inverter — though you may need one for other appliances anyway. And it’ll require a lot less energy, which means fewer batteries and solar panels.
7. Chest Freezer Conversion
Once you have the few parts you need – an external thermostat, a temp sensor (thermistor), and a few smaller parts – it takes only about a half hour to convert the chest freezer into a super-efficient refrigerator. A chest freezer has better thermal insulation than refrigerators, which allows for less energy consumption than refrigerators even at much lower temperatures.