Letter: Post-TEOTWAWKI Refigeration

Dear SurvivalBlog Readers:

Consider the impact on your diet after a major societal disruption if you still had the ability to refrigerate food.

Work with me here. Open the door to your refrigerator and figure out which foods you could do without.

Then figure out how many bottles, jars, and other containers have labels that say, “Refrigerate after opening.” Could you live without most of them. Sure. Would you prefer not to give them up. Sure.

Then consider how in a crisis the ability to save food from one meal to the next would extend the life of your food storage. Not having to worry about spoilage and food poisoning would mean that you would not need to toss uneaten food at the end of meals.

If you bought the 100 watt Harbor Freight solar panel kit or a similar item, and a deep-cycle battery to use with it, you could use a 12v cooler like this one. While it certainly won’t replace the fridge in your kitchen, you would likely consider its 40 quart capacity to be a Godsend in a crisis.

Long after the fuel for your generator is depleted, a 12v cooler such as this one could be doing yeoman work for you. And, before a serious crisis ever happens, you can use this cooler (either with ice or by using its 12v capability) at tailgate parties, on fishing trips, and for family outings.

In fact, you might be able to justify buying two of them. Look around. There are other models on the market that might work even better for you. – SurvivorMan


  1. We save many of the very thick foam coolers in several sizes that our organic meats are packed in that we order from Wisconsin organic farm. Also save the freezer packs. Have needed them during power outages so that we do not have to keep opening refrigerators, and to keep insulin for Diabetic Cat cool. Why waste perfectly good coolers, when already paid for in the price of the meats and shipping! (we have a propane generator for some heat, run the well, and basics, but in prolonged grid down, propane delivery might not occur. We ration the usage.) After living alone high on a hill with many rescued animals in West Virginia during the infamous 1993 blizzard, and being unprepared in an ALL ELECTRIC HOUSE, I learned! Always have Plan B and even Plan C if something does not work. Being a pack rat can be a good thing. Some of my younger relatives scoff, but that is ok. I can sleep at night! As my Dad would say, “You cannot put an old head on young shoulders.”)

  2. Hello hl Nice to see another WV prepper Not many of us on this blog but many WV people are preppers and don’t even know the prepper word That’s just how they were raised and how they live Wild and Wonderful

  3. In Europe, eggs and milk are generally NOT refrigerated, though in the former case the capsule is left on. Both come out sterile and if handled properly don’t go bad. Butter doesn’t grow bacteria, and cream on top of the (raw) milk may have something to do with it not going bad.

    Way back when, we had icehouses and ice boxes. You cut and save large chunks of ice in underground storage, and they can last through the summer. You need mountains nearby in warmer climates.

    The rest which only works in the country is to eat fresh – Chickens, Pigs, Cows – from yard to table. Even things like squash and other vegetables just need a cool, dry place – like a root cellar.

  4. Gathering materials to build a spring house at the outlet of our 455′ deep artesian well. An artesian well flows all the time, no electricity needed. Spring houses were once common in areas that have springs or flows. Usually a building (often stone or concrete) over the flow or spring, with some sort of trench that holds a few inches or so of water. You set your most perishable foods right in the water-filled trench in crocks, jars or other waterproof vessels. Your less perishable foods, like eggs and produce, go in containers along the edge of the trench – but don’t need to be in the water.
    When my grandfather was a young man, most folks also had an ice house. Everyone spent the winter cutting large blocks of ice from area lakes and ponds, stacking them in a building and insulating between layers and on top with sawdust or straw. He said they had a small structure built of sturdy logs, near the center of the ice storage area, that they piled the ice blocks over and around. They would leave a narrow walkway open to this structure for easy access. This is where the most perishable items, mainly meat from fall butchering and hunting, was kept. He said they never ran out of ice.
    History can be our best teacher – these methods worked well for generations of our ancestors!

    1. I was fixing to make a comment about spring houses. This would be my solution. I prefer low tech every time, because technology will fail you, even though my husband and me are both pretty good at fixing things and making do with nothing.

    2. I love reading these stories about how folks managed in the old days before all the modern conveniences came on the scene. Early history fascinates me, it is remarkable how these people made life work with what they had and they survived quite well. Imagine spending the winter months cutting ice and then figuring out how to make it last into summer so that food could be preserved. These were some very tough and hard working people, they had to depend on their own ingenuity and work ethic just to survive! Heaven forbid I am ever put to the test and forced to function as they did, would I be up to the task? Thank you, PlantLady.

  5. Two types of cooling with these units – convection or condenser – with convection cooling unit only gets you about 25-35F below ambient (outside air) temperature – so if it’s 85F outside then you may get convection cooling to 60-70 at best, may get cooler if outside temps are lower. Condenser cooling gets you to freezing but requires more power.

    Put a meter on the cooler/refrigerator to see what is the real current draw and match it to your solar/inverter/battery system. Have a small 120v refrigator (only about 8 cubic feet) with a dedicated 500W inverter (peaks at 1000W) tied to a 100 Amp Hour AGM battery, and recharged with two 100 watt Renogy PV’s. Works well until we get 2-3 days of constant cloud cover.

    Have found the a full refrigerator works best for efficiency – my unit is housed in the garage cabinet and full of a few types of beverages, my coffee reserves with some of my long term OTC vitamins and remedies to prolong expiration dates.

  6. you can convert a chest freezer into a refrigerator by adding an external thermostat, this will run on a solar/battery/inverter system easily and give you real refrigeration of medium to large capacity.

    the key to the whole system is a thermostat like the home beer brewers use to keep the freezer at about 38 degrees. plug in the thermostat, place the probe inside the freezer and plug the freezer into the thermostat adjust the thermostat to temperature needed with a refrigerator thermometer placed inside the freezer. a freezer is pretty power efficient not much engineering involved . these thermostats are easily found on amazon or at places that sell home brewing supplies. size of freezer is up to you. i have seen several articles on this alternate use of a chest freezer and a simple search of the internet will show up several articles written.

  7. for those who cannot afford complicated refrigeration, keep dill pickles, jam, and small packets of ketchup mayo and mustard-they will last indefinitely. Yoou’d be surprised at how much better your beans and rabbit will taste if you can spice up the taste a little. Personally the two things I would miss the most in a grid down, would be hot water at a touch, and dairy products (butter, milk, cheese, yogurt).

    1. You don’t have to miss hot water on demand…Look up the Kitchen Queen wood cookstove. It has a 27-gallon stainless hot water reservoir – the main selling point for me. The next largest reservoir on any stove I could find was only 7 gallons. You can also plumb it in to your current household system. The larger model will heat 2,500+ sq. ft. and the oven is large enough to bake 8 loaves of bread at once.
      And for dairy – think Nubian goats. They have the highest butterfat content and their long “bunny” ears are adorable. Get a good book cheesemaking and have at it.
      Forget those little packets of condiments – make your own from what you grow yourself! So vastly superior to anything you can buy at any price!

  8. Low tech solutions: I live in a Northern State with cold winters. The solution that was used in the past was to cut blocks of ice from the lakes and ponds in the winter and to stack them inside the walls of a root cellar/Ice House. Insulate with straw, and use it through the warmer months for refrigeration/ice.

    Also, you can submerge items in cool running streams to keep material significantly cooler than ambient temperature at certain times of the year.

  9. Peas porridge hot, Peas porridge cold…

    Perhaps you know the rest of the rhyme.

    Harvesting ice is HARD work. Very labor intensive.

    Check this out. After eating a meal, store the leftovers on the stove. Cook them again (thoroughly) the next day. Eat and repeat. The cooking kills what would kill you. I’ve been experimenting with this for ten years over wood and gas fires. Different food and pots. Same results. Safe food. Not gourmet, just safe.

    Am I missing something here?

    Carry on.

    1. The French peasants used to do something similar, called pot au feu (pot on the fire). It was always simmering with leftover whatevers, there was always soup, and nothing went bad.

  10. I live off grid, and I think you’re right on track. Add another jar of beans/meat/etc each night along with different spices, and the meal changes…. We have been ridiculously healthy employing this practice.

  11. I have been running small off-grid solar systems for many years now, and this article seriously underestimates the size of system that will be required to run the cooler mentioned. The cooler draws 60 watts of power 24 hours a day. That means 1,440 watt/hr of electricity is required each and every day. A 100 watt solar panel only delivers 100 watts of power with bright sun in a cloudless sky, with no snow or dust on the panel, and the panel aimed optimally at the sun. In the winter with less sunlight, you will get far less power per day from the panel. I have found that a good estimate is no more than 4 times the stated power rating as the actual average power obtained during a winter on the CO plains. (4 equivalent hours of bright sun.) That means a minimum panel wattage would be 360 watts to run this cooler. This does not count reduced panel output with age, battery losses, and battery age. You would probably want a 20% margin to account for those bringing the minimum panel wattage to 432 watts. You will need a charge controller to prevent battery overcharge when there is a lot a sun.

    As for the battery size, consider that while you may get an average 4 hours (equivalent) of sun in the winter, some days will be a lot less than that. This means you need enough battery to power the cooler for at least 48 hours without discharging the battery below 50% charge (lower than 50% charge damages the battery). According to the website linked by “Mike in GA” above with a inexpensive flooded type battery you should have at least 360 A/hr of battery. For example 4 deep cycle “golf cart” batteries in series/parallel will be around 420 A/hr of storage at 12 Volts.

  12. Those root cellars so many are fond of may not be the answer for everyone. Our 100 year old, deep “storm shelter,” made of rocks and lined with rocks is hot and humid. The frogs love it.

    When building our house, we opted for a small under-the-counter refrigerator that has no freezer. Many Europeans live with small size fridges, we figured we could, too. After reading that the biggest energy draw in a home was the huge American refrigerator, we opted to change our lifestyle. Our daily grocery shopping will be from the herb gardens, large security fenced garden, chicken coop, and rabbit hutch. Eating fresh daily.

    The small fridge can be run on solar we had built into the house. Just a few select areas of the house can have limited solar access.

    Hot water does not need to be an issue, except for winter. We live in the southwest and have lots of sunshine. Our camp shower bag is ready. I love the idea I once read about using a CLEAN, NEVER USED garden sprayer with a hand wand to “shower.”

    Thanks everyone for the useful ideas and comments.

  13. A 5.0 cubic foot energy star rated chest freezer will pull around 200kWh per year. That roughly equates to 600 watt-hours a day nominal use, more in the summer, less in the winter. Running a 160 watt solar panel into a 110Ah AGM battery, feeding a 2000 watt inverter will provide enough juice to run the chest freezer year round. I can keep a 120 quart cooler at or below refrigerator temps 24/7 with 4-6 2 liter soda bottles full of ice, which I can maintain with the chest freezer. In this way, I can keep quite a bit of fresh meat in the chest freezer and still have plenty of refrigeration for as long as the battery will last. If I upgrade the AGM to an equivalent salt water cell (the current rage on the battery market), that will at least double the life of the power source (from 2 years to 4 years, if I am diligent).

    The solar generator I built currently cost me about $1000 (it’s a prototype, so production costs will be less). The freezer is about $250 at the local big box store. The cooler is $70 on Amazon.

    Being able to freeze a butchered deer or equivalent, and hold a couple bushels of produce until I have time to process them in the canner or dehydrator, priceless.

    1. I have a bugout trailer that we regularly use to go camping with. A couple of years ago, we spent a month camping in Oklahoma in September. We had been using a large Yeti cooler, but with the heat I still burned through more than $150 worth of ice. I decided to install solar power in the trailer along with a refrigerator. The end product is a 12 foot box trailer with a 9 cubic foot refrigerator/freezer mounted in it. I did my usual overkill on the build, but I wanted power to spare to run other things. I have two 8DL AGM batteries that provide 500 AH @ 12 volts and four 200W panels. I’m using a Xantrax Prowatt SW 1000 for 110V power to run the refrigerator and other stuff. I also have an outback 60A charger.
      I already had the batteries so the charger was purchased to fit the optimum charge rate of the batteries and then the solar panels were selected to be close to the maximum AH capability of the charger. The panels are stored by sliding into a box in the trailer that holds them secure and protected. I chose not to mount them permanently on the trailer because I didn’t want a dead giveaway on what was in the box trailer. (There is also a 110V 60A charger to charge the batteries when standard power is available.) The panels can be configured on stands that break down to run anywhere from one to all four panels depending on what I need.
      If the refrigerator is the only thing I’m running on and I start with the batteries full, one panel will keep them fully charged 85% of the time. On a sunny day, Everything is fully charged by noon and the fridge is running only on the panel by that time. If I travel with the trailer, the fridge is running on battery because I haven’t yet wired the vehicle 12V to charge the batteries yet. The batteries will hold the fridge up for better than three to four days before they are in trouble. If this is the case, I need at least two panels to get the system charged when it’s finally set up.
      Last year, I took a trip that resulted in three days running on batteries. When we arrived, I set up the full system and it was fully charged by noon on the second day.
      When it’s cloudy, two panels may be required if the clouds persist over multiple days. I usually just run two panels all the time since the stands hold two panels. With all four panels, I can get the system to a fully charged state even when the sun hasn’t shown it’s face for weeks.
      The fridge was just an apartment fridge purchased at the orange big box store. When it’s running, it pulls 60W to cool. When it’s built in defrost kicks in, it pulls just over 100W. I gotta tell you, having a real fridge is sure nice when camping.

  14. Nice set up. I want to keep my system modular, so I plan to construct units in this range and just multiply to meet my needs. Currently, the prototype is used to power lighting, some ventilation, and small battery charging. I have a powerpole bank that feeds half a dozen various charger leads for laptops, phones, flashlights, and gp battery chargers for 18650s, AAAs, AAs, Cs, and D cells for a multitude of different equipment.

    Eventually, I’d like to have one dedicated to comms equipment (ham, cb, SW, network, etc), one for power tools, and maybe one or two more for appliances (like microwave, dehydrator, etc). Maybe try and rig one up for transport (batt powered bike???) I figure production should put my costs around $750 per unit, and maintenance around $500 per year thereafter. The nice thing about modular is if one fails, I have backups. I also would need to consider being able to gang them together somehow. Not difficult.

    It’s not too difficult to come up with back up electricity if you are frugal, invest in it over time, and are a bit smart about what you are doing. There’s plenty of resources out there to show you how it’s done, and 100% of my prototype was built supplied from Amazon. Not the cheapest source for these products, but certainly easy enough to acquire. Now that I’ve prototyped the first one, I can source components for better pricing.

  15. Have used these coolers for years in trucking(before they were built-in) . They work well are reliable,easy to repair/maintain,survive harsh environments(vibration,constant use) and hold up to a weeks worth of prepared meal(properly sized containers are key).

  16. Strange nobody has mentioned zeer pots or charcoal coolers. Granted their efficiency is not ubiquitous across all climate zones, but some readers will benefit. Just do a search on the web or browse appropedia

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