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Monday, October 11, 2010

Are You Ready Series: Off Grid Refrigeration

General Electric brand refrigerator of "M...Image via Wikipedia
Many would not argue that our entire way of  life is dependent upon gadgets of convenience.  The air conditioner cools off the 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 rerefrigerated?  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 – A 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:
http://eveningrainfarm.com/2005/08/refrigeration-off-the-grid/
http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/yago102.html
http://www.backwoodssolar.com/catalog/refrigerators.htm#SUNFROST