Three Letters Re: Post-TEOTWAWKI Refrigeration Alternatives

Hi Jim,
On the subject of refrigerators: I have used a basic model 12 volt DC Adler Barbour Cold Machine marine fridge for 15 years. This is already a 12 volt [DC] machine, so it does away with the need for an [AC] inverter; it is run straight from solar panels via a deep cycle battery bank. When I was building my boat (a.k.a. The Escape Pod) I contracted out the two part polyurethane spray foam insulation job for its steel hull. On that day, I already had my fridge box prepared, and the foam guys sprayed the exterior of my ice box to my specs, which amounted to a foot of poly foam all around the box. This is just about an R value of infinity.

Additionally, like most boat refrigerators, it is top-opening, so very little cold pours out each time the box is opened. (The top-opening lid has about 4″ of sheet foam glued in place.) This fridge makes ice, and has a frozen side and a refrigerated side. Adler Barbour only provides the compressor and the evaporator, the part that surrounds the ice trays which actually gets freezing cold. (Jim, correct me if my terminology is off.) With the basic model I purchased, the owner has to build or provide the actual ice chest to install this inside. Since I had to build it, I built it with the foot of foam insulation surrounding it as described.

This system has worked beautifully for 15 years, but it takes two 120 watt solar panels plus a small wind generator to run the entire show (fridge, interior lights, navigation lights, fans, electronics, fresh water pump, radios, stereo, etc). If there is a lack of wind and/or sun, I just turn off the fridge, and the icebox can “coast” on its stored cold for several days with no harm to milk etc. The fridge is still the biggest single power draw, so turning it off allows all of the other systems to operate as usual on the lower power input from wind and sun. This setup would work just as well at a remote cabin as on the water.

To my thinking, building a cabin electrical system that mainly uses 12 volt DC RV components makes a lot of sense. They can all be operated directly from sun and wind via 12 volt storage batteries. Ocean sailors have been living a “first world” lifestyle this way for decades. My self-built Escape Pod is also wired for 110 AC, for time spent at the dock, but the 110 just goes into the battery bank via a converter. Even dockside, we mostly live a 12 volt life, with the exception of other electrical stuff I can plug into my 110 AC outlets, such as big household box fans, large power tools etc. But when unplugged from the dock we can live a classy “first world” life, 100% off of the sun and wind. – Matt Bracken


This is pertaining to the 4/14 thread that reads: “Refrigeration is only a big problem for survival when one makes poor choices and is dependent on obtaining fuel for a generator to power a typically inefficient refrigerator. Refrigeration is relatively easy if one has planned ahead and made the right investments in both refrigeration and power generation before a crisis when one can still get the required system components.”

Having lived off grid now for 7 years, using storage food and homegrown food for slightly more than 80% of our total food needs, I would say that we now value refrigeration much more than we used to. And no, we do not use it to keep beer cold, make ice cubes or anything silly like that.

We have a “Conserv” model fridge and with that running constantly, plus the ever present “ghost loads” from DVD/VCR, microwave, answering machine, portable phone, etc. the inverter will show just 1 amp being used. I call that efficient enough.

We are in a hot, humid environment, which also has helped us to appreciate the refrigeration.

Could we do without it? Yes. Are we basing all of our plans on having refrigeration? No. Will we use it as long as possible? Yes.

One thing to think of also is the trade off’s. For example- say your cooking for a dozen people with storage food. Just the prep work involved ties up more than a few people that could be tending animals, raising crops, standing guard, etc. Instead of 3 time consuming and labor intensive (most true food storage meals are somewhat labor intensive), you make two or even just one large meal and use the leftovers for several other meals that day.

In a hot, humid environment food spoils quickly. To me it’s a trade off in using less fuel (cooking once instead of three times) and having more manpower available for other tasks.

Despite the common thought that folks “have” to store board games, fiction books, etc. because there will be so much free time if TSHTF, actual practice runs will show you that there is usually much to do, even in the wintertime. Hope this helps. – Mr. Lima

Dear Editor:
Regarding photovoltaic (PV)-powered refrigerators, wouldn’t it be easier to get a propane fridge and just keep a small fire going to power it? – T.G. in Hawaii

JWR Replies: Converting a propane refrigerator or freezer to use another fuel is possible, but the heat generated must be kept fairly constant. Their designs do lend themselves to conversion by a clever (and cautious) tinkerer to other gasses (such as natural gas), or perhaps fluids (such as kerosene or alcohol) , but conversion to solid fuels such as wood or coal is problematic. Propane itself is a viable option, but it does not have the long term post-collapse survival potential of PV solar. Consider where you live, in Hawaii. Where does your propane come from? Not from Hawaii! It is shipped in, in the form of crude oil which is then fractioned. Propane is one of the refinery fractions that is then distributed. (And, BTW, liquefied natural gas LNG importation is presently being considered, for conversion of Hawaii’s oil-fired utility power plants.) But solar power comes to you direct from Old Sol. I’m not saying that PV power is an absolute panacea. Monocrystaline panels can last a lifetime, although a freak hail storm could shatter them. And granted, battery banks are problematic, since lead acid batteries eventually sulfate, even if they are kept fully charged. (You have to swap out your batteries every eight or nine years–a recurring expense–but this is still cheaper than propane in the long run, and offers far greater self-sufficiency for disaster situations, especially for you in Hawaii, where so many essential commodities have to be imported.