Are You Ready Series: Off-Grid Refrigeration

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 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 such as this refrigerator, were designed for those that live in smaller living quarters.  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 the fuel source. Another drawback is it 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 $1,000. Many would argue that these types of refrigerators eat through fuel, so plan accordingly. 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 off-grid 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.  Did you know that old refrigerators can be converted into solar powered refrigerators. An article on Mother Earth News explains it all.  Here are some layout plans for a solar ice maker– just in case you were interested.

 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.

If the SHTF, What Do I Do With My Refrigerator?

If a long term emergency occurs and you have consumed your perishable foods and no longer have use for your electrically operated refrigerator, try one of these upcycled solutions:

  1. Convert it into a solar dehydrator or a solar cooker.
  2. Use your old refrigerator as a bulk storage container for preparations. This would be a great way to keep bulk preparedness items such as large 10-gallon containers of  wheat berries, sugar and beans out of contact with your food’s worst enemies.
  3. Additionally, some feel that due to the zero oxygen inside the refrigerators can be used as an anaerobic digester to create biodiesel.

Whether a person is planning for a hurricane, EMP or a full out TEOTWAWKI, electricity and specifically, lack there of, will pose a problem to those that are not prepared. 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:

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. 

Visit her web site at for an extensive compilation of free information on preparedness, homesteading, and healthy living.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published October 26th, 2013
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  • Bazza

    It is a good article but it must be remembered that if there is any problem with energy supplies then refrigeration is one item we can do without.

    We live off grid but maintain both a refrigerator and a freezer running off our solar power system but they are by far our biggest consumers of electricity and because of this we have to run a generator to keep the batteries topped up during inclement weather.

    If push came to shove and we were to practice successional gardening we would not have the same need for refrigeration as we presently do.

    Of all the services or utilities that most people have the one they can do without the most is electricity as it neither feeds us, clothes us or affords us shelter.

    At the best electricity is a convenience. 

  • david

    There are some 12/24V refrigerator’s that are worth looking at, look at the
    Backwoods Solar, website for ones like, sunfrost.  They have both electric and
    gas, that have good efficiency levels.

  • joan

    Thank you for the article.  I need a solar fridge for my insulin.  The prices are a little high but I will start to save up the money.

  • RevAllyson

    Honestly, a lot of the foods that we store in the fridge simply don’t need to be. Eggs, many sauces (soy, for instance), bread, root veggies… It’s *easier* but certainly not necessary. If you have a cool basement you can store root veggies there for 6-9 months without blinking (a pot of sand helps for things like carrots and leeks btw). Eggs can be stored on a shady bit of counter. Meats can be canned or dehydrated, or simply don’t have so much on hand (NOT my favorite way btw… I’d rather can it). Most of what is in our fridge is leftovers. 🙂 If we lost them, it wouldn’t be huge. Our freezers are another story, but I’m quite capable of canning everything in them in the time it would take for them to completely defrost (we have a generator to eke out the freezing time to a few days). I prefer the “fresh” flavor of frozen meats, but in an emergency the canner would be out and used, post haste. We have both propane and wood cookers and I’m practised at using them.

    I love the convenience of my fridge and freezer (and washer and dryer and dishwasher and television and computer, I might add), but I know well how to do without them. We do a yearly “day of no electricity” where hubby shuts it off at the main breaker and we do a day of remembering how it all works. The kids LOVE those days, because it pretty much means they’ll get popcorn after dinner, as we sit by the fire in the wood stove and make music and read books and tell stories. 🙂

  • bensmagginolia

    have you ever heard of a zeer pot? its used in some third world contries for cooling food with no electric. take a large terra cotta pot and put sand in the bottom. add a smaller terra cotta pot and pack sand around it to fill the space between it and the larger pot. soak the sand with water and set it in a shady place with a nice breeze. elevate it a few inches above the ground so the air can circulate underneath. keep the soil moist all the time. put food into the smaller pot and cover it with a wet cloth. it works surprisingly well.

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