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Living without Electricity: How to do without a Refrigerator Off the Grid!

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Outside of air conditioning in warmer climates your refrigerator uses up more electricity than any other appliance in your home. It is my opinion to be truly independent when going off-grid one should be able to survive without using any electricity at all if needs be. Civilization has survived for thousands of years without refrigerators and without electricity at all but due to dependence on the grid and corporations for every whim and need we have lost the knowledge of how to live without electricity or refrigerators. Here is how it's done!

First of all, let me say right here that it is a lot easier to go without electricity or a refrigerator in cooler climates. For that reason alone I think the northern states are more conducive to off-grid living. However, people have gone without electricity and without refrigerators in warm climates for..well forever. It just takes more of an effort in warmer climates IMHO.

Windmills, Hydroelectric Systems and Solar Panels

Secondly, I'm all for setting up windmills, hydroelectric systems and solar panels. However, not everyone can afford these systems. Moreover, you cannot depend on these systems 100%. The sun goes down, the wind stops blowing and water systems can dry up or freeze. To be truly independent one needs to know how to get by without any electricity at all. Then should you be able to have some electricity it will be a boon instead of a necessity.

So..how does one go without a refrigerator? At first glance it might seem preposterous to even consider the thought. I know it did to me. However, when boiled down it's really not as difficult as it might first appear.

Cellars

The very first thing you should consider is buying or building a home with a cellar. Cellars also known as root cellars have temperatures much lower than main floors and considerably lower than outside temperatures. Just having a workable root cellar can preserve many food items for a very long time at a cost of...well nothing after it's built!

Additionally, many people with Cob homes have built within the walls a “cooler”. Items wrapped in water and towels and put in the cooler will last for days as well because the cob walls will stay cool even though the temperature outside is high. These are located where a typical energy guzzling refrigerator might be in the kitchen.


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Utilizing Fresh Foods

One of the advantages to living off the grid is having fresh food. In order to do without a refrigerator it is important to pick crops at the height of their nutritional value. So if you have more than you need you can either dry them, can them, sell them or feed them to your pigs! The same goes for meat. Meat that is not eaten right away can also be dried, canned, smoked or sold. Canning food is key when going without a refrigerator. Canned food can last for years without refrigeration if they are canned properly. In addition, drying food can also prolong food. Having a solar dehydrator is key and these can be bought or made without too much trouble.

Now, if you do live in a cold climate you actually have your own freezer in the winter as you can set food items out to freeze (weather permitting) just be sure that they are in a place where wild animals don't have access to them! Items such as milk should be used within hours after coming out of the cow, however you can make butter, cheese and other milk products for the left over milk (as well as feed your livestock) and those products can stay at room temperature for days or in the cellar for weeks. One person I know of uses clarified ghee instead of butter. Apparently clarified ghee doesn't require any refrigeration. However, I have no idea what clarified ghee is so I cannot vouch for the taste of it. Additionally, firmer cheeses like Parmesan and Romano can stay fresh for weeks without refrigeration. Eggs will last for about a week at room temperature, however if you DON'T wash them and keep them cool in a cellar they can last for a month. After that..bake a cake!

Fresh fruit and vegetables will stay fresh longer if set them in water as well. Food should be kept with roots left on (they will keep longer), wrapped in paper towels or newspaper, changing them each day. Many items like lettuce or cilantro will last for 3 days this way. You will have to do some experimentation. However, the best thing to do with green leafy vegetables is to just not pick them until you want to eat them. Some items, like grapes, will keep very well in wet sand. If they do start to disintegrate you can make jam, raisins or stews and/or can them.


Preserving Food without Refrigeration

Items can also be preserved by leaving them on your wood stove until the next morning. Keeping them warm to hot can provide a meal for the very next day. However you might not want to use this method for more than one day.

Sprouting items like beans, seeds, grains and nuts, not only prolongs the food item but is a very nutritious thing to eat. After sprouting, one can grind them and then dehydrate them, making crackers for later or use them in salads or stir-fry’s. The whole process can take days, thereby forestalling the degenerating process.

Items like mayonnaise and salad dressing should just be made in small quantities and used fresh.

In the past our great grandmothers knew recipes that could use stale bread, bit's of cooked meat and turnip tops as well as other items. I would encourage you to buy one of the depression era cookbooks or a cookbook that shows how to use these products rather than waste them. I have included some from amazon.com on this page.

There are instances when you absolutely must have refrigeration. For example if you have a dairy farm you must refrigerate your milk and milk products. In these instances if you still wish to remain "off-the-grid" you can buy a propane refrigerator. There are also refrigerators that run off of wood. The other alternative is to add more solar panels to carry the additional load required by a refrigerator. It goes without saying (but I'll say it now :) that the newer refrigerators are much more efficient than older models, so pay attention to energy efficiency when purchasing a fridge if you can't live without one.

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Much of the Off Grid lifestyle comes by thinking outside the box. Most of us grew up never having to do without electricity except for the occasional camping trips and power outages. We have never even thought to turn off the fridge permanently! However, when you really sit down to think about doing without electricity or something like a refrigerator it is not as difficult as it first sounds. Knowledge is key and freedom is the goal!

Happy Homesteading!

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Comments

Brie Hoffman (author) from Manhattan on May 24, 2017:

Thank you, I knew that..not sure I mentioned it though.

Rebecca Long from somewhere in the appalachian foothills on April 28, 2017:

Great article. Don't know if you mentioned it here, but did you know you don't have to refrigerate eggs if you get them fresh from the chicken?

Brie Hoffman (author) from Manhattan on July 14, 2015:

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us Maddy.

maddy on July 14, 2015:

Good article. I have lived off grid last seven yes on a paid off place....built house from scratch, have solar etc....have lived without a refrigerator for last three years......in winter, I use mother nature to keep things cold outside, but summer has been a challenge.....I have used ice in a camping ice chest...I rotate food items and have to replenish every three days....I have a propane fridge but have resisted using it....yes, one can live without a fridge, but it really takes a bit of effort. Root cellars, eating fresh, and sometimes just eating more vegetarian and less meat in summer are solutions..... Thanks for writing.

Brie Hoffman (author) from Manhattan on July 26, 2012:

I do, but I don't pay for it..so as long as that is the case I'll keep it :)

monicamelendez from Salt Lake City on July 26, 2012:

Very interesting stuff Brie. Do you not have a fridge then?

Brie Hoffman (author) from Manhattan on July 25, 2012:

LOL, I have a lot of time on my hands to research these things. I hope I'm not hurt by them either but I think it's all a matter of time. My articles are geared toward giving us all more time. None of us get out of this life alive anyway :) Thanks for commenting "Attila".

Attila on July 25, 2012:

I'm amazed.

How could you be a survival expert as you are?

And a woman so I'm really surprised.

You presentation is brief and contentful, (matterful, I have checked the dictionary:-))

You are better than Grill Bears

I hope that you wont be hurt by agents of NWO.

Brie Hoffman (author) from Manhattan on July 02, 2012:

That's great, thanks for the link "jhenderson".

jhenderson on July 01, 2012:

We design into our off-grid systems an 8 cu foot freezer or it can be a fridge that runs on solar and with it's battery backup can go 3 days without seeing any sun. Affordable and reliable.

need more info universalenergy.john@yahoo.com

Brie Hoffman (author) from Manhattan on June 24, 2012:

Thanks LouisAlbert.

LouisAlbert from Taipei on June 24, 2012:

Great ideas for fresh produce. Thanks a lot.

Brie Hoffman (author) from Manhattan on June 23, 2012:

Interesting Steemjammer, I'll have to look into it.

Steemjammer on June 23, 2012:

We made a steamboat! Found an instructable for a putt putt boat using coiled copper tubing (3mm dia) and a disposable mini-loaf "tin" or "pan." It worked!

We made a foil "lamp" to hold a teaspoon or two of parafin oil (lantern oil from the hardware store), made a wick from a rag, and lit it under the coil. The tube ends stick in the water.

I *think* it works like this: water in the coil flashes into steam and drives water out the pipes, pushing the boat forward. The vacuum this makes sucks water back into the coil, which flashes and again pushes water out. Though water rushing in might seem to dampen the momentum or energy to go forward, it doesn't. It works!

Have you Googled people who've made steam powered generators? One guy's making enough electricity to power a modern house - i.e. to run modern appliances.

I don't know if he uses a battery system (I bet that's what I would do, if I had the resources and smarts to pull it off). My generator (whatever powers it) would make DC power and fill batteries. If the grid is nearby, excess would be sold to the power company.

My house and shop would run off the batteries. I would probably have to convert to AC to do that (unless I make a DC house, which is possible - just use appliances made for campers). The advantage of a DC house is no loss of power converting to AC. The disadvantages are: fewer appliance options - and you can't use many power tools (made to run on AC). I guess converting toAC is the way to go.

My main hitch with steam is boiler safety - they can blow up! Wish I had more experience with them. Obviously they can be run safely, but only with the right knowledge, discipline and equipment (and respect for the forces involved).

Brie Hoffman (author) from Manhattan on June 13, 2012:

It's more than I can understand!

Steemjammer on June 13, 2012:

Finally found a site that explains the amonia absorption cycle in refrigeration: http://www.dr-fix-it.com/absorption.html

You heat a water/amonia solution. Amonia evaporates out (like distilation process), is cooled to further remove water vapor, then is cooled to liquid form. Liquid amonia flows to a spot where you have gaseous hydrogen under pressure. The amonia evaporates there and, because its molecules need to move around more to be gaseous - they pull heat from the environment there - causing COOLING.

Next the amonia hydrogen mix is pumped to the absorber, which is relatively cool. Amonia is easily absorbed back into the water. The hydrogen is piped back to its chamber, and the cycle starts all over (it runs continually).

What's cool about this is that it seems to require no powered pumps. You just heat it. Therefore, in principle, any heat applied to it should produce cooling.

Also, it just uses amonia, water and hydrogen in a sealed and closed system. No ozone-eating chemicals (though amonia is nasty - I doubt it's anywhere near as bad as Freon and so on).

It seems to me refrigeration, freezing (food storage) and even A/C could be achieved very easily with solar, wood fire, or other forms of heat. This would apply to the world now, without a "collapse" - we could achieve comfort brought from being cool without using so much energy. Of course, if it were that easy, it'd be done. Still, I bet a clever person could crack this nut.

Brie Hoffman (author) from Manhattan on June 09, 2012:

Glad you liked it.

Steemjammer on June 09, 2012:

Was going to say yes, cuz I saw the vids w/ the wood water wheel and the pipe spinning the wheel at least - but went back to check - and the Alternatives Ltd (or is it Energy Alternatives LTD) - the Canadian company's site - I'd missed that. Thanks, Brie! THAT is one of the most useful micro hydro sites I've seen yet!

They said two really useful things for me: (1) that there are brush-free generators that last years w/out breaking (needing brush replacement) and (2) they have a whole breakdown on how to guestimate what various water flow types will do for you (like this situation would run lights and a freezer - this would power a small house, appliances and maybe lite power tools - this would power a small village and so on).

I know someone who owns land w/ a spring fed creek, but they don't own the spring - and the drop is very gradual. I get the idea that if they ran some of that creek through a pvc pipe, they'd get enough electricity to run lights and a small appliance. BUT this creek swells to insane flows when it rains hard - the challenge would be how to place the pipes so as not to get ruined in floods.

Finding a water source w/ a big drop in feet - and running a pipe down - that's what you want.

Found another site that said to run a "normal house" (i.e. lights and appliances - maybe heating), you'd need either 10' drop and 100 gal per minute or 200' drop and 5 gal per minute. This means either a decent little stream or a big drop in elevation (like you had a spring way up a valley's side). Depending on where you are in the country, these aren't impossible to find.

I'm intrigued by making my own generator. I've read you can make a good windmill w/ pvc pipe and an old Chevy alternator. You'd have to stockpile brushes and know how to replace (cont. use = brush wears out in 6 mo to 2 yrs). The same might work in micro hydro (but a professionally made generator would be a heckuva lot better).

I'm also still trying to get my head around: do I want dc or ac? DC is easier, maybe. AC is what we're used to. Some micro hydro systems have the generator fill batteries with dc power. You sell excess to the power co. if you're on a grid. If not you need a plan for the excess power (I'll have to look that up, forgot what it is). Then, to get power in your cabin, you convert battery power to ac and just use it.

Why fool with a battery system? An appliance will draw more power than your waterwheel is making at the moment. But you were using almost no power the night before, so your batteries stored it. It gives you the flexibility of being hooked to the grid. But it's all more stuff to maintain/buy/worry about breaking.

Micro hydro is clearly the best if you want comfort and the ability to do awesome stuff off grid. As you've said, I'd look for steam connected property. I'd learn to eyeball good micro hydro creeks - there's tons of variables - but this is doable. If you've picked a really well made micro hydro device, if you can fix it when it wears out, if you've thought out engineering/flood/freeze issues in your stream - you might have a really good deal here.

In the "civ breaks down" scenario, if you owned a decent micro hydro - i.e. one that could drive power tools - you'd have insane bargaining power. You could attract skilled people to live near or with you, mechanics and so on - who can keep machinery going. That'd make you a local power player and would make your survival much more likely. It also might make you a target, except that talented people and resources often get spared.

In 1300 or 1400 Tamerlane the Great (Great? He was a psychotic mass killer) killed countless thousands of people in Central Asia - wiped out city after city. The only people he spared were ARTISANS, whom he sent to his capitol. Enslaved but alive.

In a Mad Max world, if you could convince a war lord that he needed you, because you'd stay on the proptery and keep the micro hydro going - and he and his men could use power tools to fix their stuff when they came by - you'd survive. If he wanted comfort - heat and refrigeration - he'd kick you out of your cabin when he wasn't off raiding - but you'd live. He'd need you to keep it all going. That's better than nothing.

That said, you can't count on such people being sensible. In Africa, when "soldiers" (gangs) take over farms with irrigation - they often rip out the pipes to sell for scrap - so they can buy beer or drugs. Vikings were very destructive at first - only after generations did they come to settle. Guns and brave, allied neighbors - and knowing when to fight - all nec. in such a situation. Men in "beserker mode" = insanity.

Brie Hoffman (author) from Manhattan on June 09, 2012:

Steemjammer, did you look at the links and vids I have with my articles..one of them talks about a hydro-electric-generator. I think it's on the originals "How much does it cost to go Off-the-Grid" article. In any case, if you haven't looked at all of them I suggest you do..lots of good info in them.

Steemjammer on June 08, 2012:

I'm having trouble figuring out how much electricity a micro hydro really produces. So many variables. Are you damming a creek and going old school? Or are you using the filtered-intake hose down to in-creek generator device? Those are easier to install but don't make much electricity unless head is really good, from what I've read. You'd need several to many of these, possibly - and that'd be pricey (plus a lot of other stuff). That said, it is doable - and this in-creek design does NOT block water flow off your property and should not break any laws (not that this matters in a true survival situation, when laws fall apart - unless downstream neighbors are armed - always something - still it is doable).

Head (drop) and flow (gallons per minute) combine to produce power. But low head & high flow is hard to harness. You want big head (a lot of drop in feet or meters), especially using the easy hose-in-creek type, or so it seems. With sufficient drop on your property, you can possibly run some lights and a few small, high efficiency appliances. You'd be surprised though: many micro hydro situations seem to only power some lights - not even one major appliance.

Well, that's what people said - others say they can run appliances. So much depends on the quality of the micro hydro device, the numbers of them - the head and so on. Again, I've found it hard to find really good info, but I'll keep looking. But it's kind of an apples and oranges - and apples and pineapples comparison sometimes. People on the different sights tend to give general information, too general to be useful (or maybe I need to learn to find better key search words).

What do these people mean by "major appliance?" A/C, dishwasher, TV? All not necessary. They're not really clear, and it gets even more complicated because some set-ups go generator to dc batteries to ac converter to house. If your freezer compressor runs only, say six hours a day (or four - I don't know how often they run) - it's conceivable that batteries could actually run a freezer with a wimpy micro hydro - because the freezer only runs x hours a day!

Micro hydro has another issue - if batteries fill and there's no grid to spill over to - problems could happen. I've read this part over a year ago - fuzzy in my memory - but when I was studying this, I was impressed that micro hydro wasn't so "easy." There were tactics for dealing with excess current generation - so it's not a dead end for micro hydro - but you can't drop the ball on it. This is something to be researched and understood. Sorry my memory is bad.