Off Grid Living Appliances: We Got a Chest Freezer!

Living off the grid doesn’t mean you need to go without all of your favorite amenities, but it can require a little ingenuity to meet your needs and desires in a sustainable way. For us, we had to live without a large freezer for the first year of our off grid journey but we’re happy to report that we recently made an upgrade to something larger!

Let me start out by saying that I’m sure there are off grid living appliances that are actually designed for off grid use, but that’s not what this post is about necessarily. Off grid appliances (built specifically for such an application) are likely expensive so while that is something we may very well consider in the future, this time around we put on our thinking caps to figure out how to get a normal appliance to work for us.

Take a look at how we made a normal appliance work for us in the video below, or keep reading if you prefer to get similar information in article-format!

Our Old Setup & Challenges Our First Year

When we first arrived on our off grid property last year, we decided to keep things simple and just use the propane-powered refrigerator and freezer in our RV. Our refrigerator / freezer setup was pretty small although it did allow us to stock up on a week or so of food.

However, because we fed our Bengal kitties a raw homemade diet, and we only wanted to make food in large batches at a time, our freezer space was taken up by cat food. I know, this isn’t a problem most people have, but we value feeding our animals as healthy as possible whether or not it’s convenient.

propane fridge and freezer off grid
Normally this is full of cat food, not huckleberry ice cream!

Off Grid Appliance Problem #1: Everything Takes Power

The reason we couldn’t get a second refrigerator or freezer is because everything takes power. We do have a 3000w generator which is great for on-demand power, but it isn’t a good way to power things that require power all of the time. Nor did we have a battery bank, so any sort of appliance was out of the question.

Problem #2: We Had Minimal Ways to Store Food

Luckily, we did learn how to preserve food by canning, so we spent the summer foraging for wild fruit and canning up all sorts of things, but this is just one method of food preservation. We did feel that we would benefit greatly from additional freezer space, particularly for meat.

It is possible (and even more ideal) to can meat and foods when possible because it requires NO power (great if the freezer ever dies!), but it’s not always the most convenient. We do consider a freezer to be more of a luxury and not something to be dependent on, but we really wanted a way to easily store food so that we could take advantage of great deals and go to the store less often.

canning off grid food preservation
We do can… but canning isn’t always the most convenient or best way to store food if you have options.

But Then We Upgraded Our Solar System & Battery Capacity

When we first moved to our land, we had nothing more than a single 12-volt RV battery. This was great to charge up with the generator and then live day-to-day off of (charging laptops & cell phones, having light, having a fan, etc.) but that was about it. We did have to top it off daily with the generator, and there was no additional power for luxuries.

However, we’ve since upgraded to a small solar power system and have a decent source of continuous power, as well as the ability to store power, so we figured we could try a stab at upgrading our freezer capacity.

off grid living solar power
We upgraded our solar power system and now have more power available to us.

Things to Take Into Consideration for an Off Grid Appliance

Pick Something That Doesn’t Let A Lot of Air Escape When Being Opened

We actually had a small refrigerator / freezer unit when we moved up here, but the problem is that when it’s opened, a lot of cold air escapes out the bottom, meaning it will take more power to constantly keep it cooled down.

It takes a lot of energy to cool something down, so be sure that you don’t have an appliance designed to throw away all of your hard work!

Wall & Insulation Thickness

The other problem with our little refrigerator was that the walls were extremely thin. Chest freezers generally have a thicker wall designed to keep cold air in.

I’m sure there are different varieties in insulation thickness when it comes to appliances, so if you’re trying to pick something for an off grid application, definitely be mindful of this one factor alone.

Needless to say, we picked a chest freezer with a decent amount of insulation to keep it as efficient as possible.

off the grid appliances - freezer
Check out the insulation on this baby!

Everything Takes Power – Think About Seasonal Needs

When looking at appliances, you’ll see power specifications somewhere on the unit. This is typically measured in the amount of power something takes per year to run. You can do some math and figure out what the unit will take on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis, and you should, but don’t forget to take into account the different seasons.

For us, we have lots of solar power available in summer because we’re in direct sunlight for about 12 hours per day, although this will vary from property to property. This means when it’s hot outside and the freezer is working extra hard to stay cool, we should have more than enough power to keep up with the demands, as well as our other power demands that are unrelated to the freezer.

In winter, we don’t get much sun at all. That said, during the peak of winter, we have sustained below-freezing temperatures in which case the freezer won’t have to work much at all to stay cold.

That said, we also try to keep our freezer in a cool location which just happens to be in the front of our RV garage. That one spot is the coldest spot on our property!

off grid freezer
We keep our chest freezer where it’s coolest… not necessarily where it’s easiest to get to.

Some people even keep their freezers and appliances outside since generally, temperatures are cooler than inside the home and therefor, the appliance takes less power to do its job.

To give you something more tangible, our 5 cu ft chest freezer will take on average 600 watt hours per day which for us, is about one hour of good sun – something we can easily do in summer and make up for in winter with the generator, especially given the already-cool temperatures.

living off the grid
Winter is coming and that means no sun and no free power… but that also means colder temps so the freezer won’t need much power to stay cold.

Buy From a Reputable Distributor

This isn’t off-grid specific, but even though there were chest freezers available locally and maybe even cheaper online, we chose to buy ours through Sears (we don’t have one in our town) because from personal experience, we now they stand behind their appliances.

With something as sensitive as food storage, we don’t want to make a foolish investment and buy through someone that won’t stand behind their product if we have a problem.

Buy An Appliance With a Power Indicator Light

This isn’t something we really thought about until we lived off the grid, but having an appliance with a power indicator light is a really good idea.

We notice this when our propane was out and our propane-powered refrigerator was no longer able to keep itself cool, because it alerts us with a little light! You may not think you’d notice but somehow we always do because our brain recognizes that there isn’t usually.

Although we don’t have to worry about the power going out unexpectedly while living off the grid, we are still learning how to work with our solar system and wire things up, so it would be really helpful to know if we have a problem somewhere and NOT lose potentially hundreds of dollars in food.

off grid appliances - power indicator light

How Has Our Off Grid Freezer Been Working?

We’re happy to report that we’ve actually had our freezer for a couple of months now, and it’s been working wonderfully! We really do feel that it’s helped us to advance in our food preservation methods such as:

  • Storing ice cream: DUH, this is the #1 most-important priority when it comes to food… having plenty of ice cream on hand! We made our own huckleberry ice cream this summer and now we have a place to store it which makes us extremely happy. WE also have elderberry ice cream that we made… talk about eating your way to health!
  • Storing additional meat: We never liked to buy more than a few pounds of meat at a time because we don’t want to risk it going bad since we didn’t have freezer space. Now, we can buy some additional beef, chicken, sausage or even bacon to have on hand. Now, we don’t need to spend as much time meal planning, we can buy an assortment of things and know that if we don’t eat them right away it’s okay, which actually saves us a little time.
  • Taking advantage of sales: Often when we go into the store, there are some really great deals, but we haven’t been able to take advantage of any of them due to the lack of preserving the food, and it’s not always convenient to can and doesn’t always make sense.
  • Have more cat food on hand: While I fed the kitties a raw, homemade ground food their first five years of life, it’s been my goal to switch over to the Prey Model Raw method, and having a freezer allows me to do that. Cat food meat especially isn’t always available, or for a good price, so now if I see the meat I need for $0.99/lb I can snag it up. I can also snag up leftover meat from the butcher or even organ meats. Right now, I have a year’s supply of the hard-to-find organs (kidney and testicles… yum!) in the freezer in week-long baggies which saves me time and energy on making cat food.
  • Store meat long enough to do something with it: Another challenge we’ve had is that even if we can do something with meat given to us or meat we’ve stumbled across, or if we have bones leftover from cooking meat, we’ve had no place to even store them temporarily. Now, we can pick meat up at night and have a place to keep it until morning. This probably doesn’t sound like a problem until you have no space for even short-term storage.
  • Helps less food go to waste: Even if we could can everything, we don’t like to can in small batches. If we have a veggie that’s going bad, or meat, we can toss it in the freezer to extend its life where before, a lot of food found its way to the trash or compost pile. The other day, I lost my appetite for a bunch of sausage I cooked up, so I put it in a bag and tossed it in the freezer until my sausage appetite returns – problem solved!
Yesterday I was at the right place at the right time and scored this kidney for $1/lb for cat food... turns out, this is enough for an entire year!
Yesterday I was at the right place at the right time and scored this kidney for $1/lb for cat food… turns out, this is enough for an entire year!

Recommended Reading

If you want to learn more about food preservation methods that don’t require power or any type of appliance, take a look at these books.

Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

We have this book and can’t recommend it enough – it is our canning bible! We followed along this book closely when we got started canning and while there is lots of information online on the subject (and we use online recipes from time to time to be honest), it doesn’t get better than hearing the info and getting trusted recipes from the canning industry leader. We have this book out on almost every canning project and cover to cover, it’ll tell you A LOT about how canning works and how to do it safely and easily. I also see this book frequently at the library as well as used book stores or thrift stores.

Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables

This book isn’t one we have yet but it’s on my wish list. Looks like this has excellent reviews and is all about designing a root cellar and preparing and growing foods for storage. We should probably read up on this before we finalize our house plans to make sure what we have planned will work good enough.

Going Forward

Can you make a normal chest freezer work as a food preservation appliance when living off the grid? Find out in this article (hint... it's possible)!We aren’t sure what our long-term food storage system will look like once we build our house, but I think this freezer will be able to be in the picture. We actually have a root cellar designed into the garage of our house, but I still think we’ll want to have the luxury of freezer space. In the house I’m not sure if we’ll try to have a refrigerator or not, or whether we’ll try to find an actual off grid appliance rather than making a normal appliance work, but if you stay tuned then you’ll get to find out!

Get Involved!

What experience do you have with limiting the use of powered appliances? Do you have an appliance designed for off grid use or do you try to make normal appliances work? What tips do you have for reducing your reliance on power appliances all together, since that’s really probably the ideal goal to have? Let us know your thoughts int he comments below!

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

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Comments

  1. Colleen Dunn says

    I think only a month or two needed to pass before the freezer I purchased paid for itself. I use it for berries, veggies, soups, and other food items. It is a terrific way to save money.

  2. says

    What model and size of inverter are you using. That was my biggest headache in trying to get a chest freezer to work. The inverter used more power per day just to run 24/7 than the freezer took to run.

  3. Victor M Kizushi says

    Great post as always! Still thinking about having our place off the grid, but unfortunately, since we won’t be there all the time, we decided to just stay on it. Hopefully, in a few years, once we are there more often, we will be able to convert and put some of your blog to use! Best of luck to you and Jesse and hope your winter isn’t too brutal!

  4. Clarke says

    We added a chest freezer to our home for similar reasons. I have a “kill-a-watt” on it and it just sips energy compared to our full-size fridge/freezer.

    One thing I did add was a wireless temp probe – with alarm! There are wired and wireless versions available. We added both – a wireless that looks at both the chest freezer and the fridge freezer and a wired temp probe as backup.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004QJVU78/

  5. Mike Galloway says

    I wanted to let you know that you can turn a chest freezer into a “refrigerator” by using a device called a temperature controller. This will keep the “cold” in just like the freezer does. Arranging contents inside will take some imagination but you guys are pretty sharp so I’m confident you can make it work.

    The device has a probe you drop into the inside and then you plug the freezer into the control box and set a temperature and the device shuts the freezer off when it gets to the desired temperature. These are quite popular with the home brewing folks as they can set temperatures for fermentation or set up the unit as a kegerator. Units come completely wired or you can wire the unit to the freezer with others.

    I have not personally used these for that application so I am reluctant to give recommendations but a few names that seem to have good reports are Ranco & Bayite. I have used a similar device to control a large window A/C unit with great results. That unit has a timer so I can control the room temp similar to a traditional wall thermostat. Units vary in price but go for about $35-$50 or so. Am*zon has a bunch listed. Once you get the names you can go to the company’s web site and get more info.

    Best of luck!

    Mike

  6. neilm says

    When you need a fridge for your house, use the freezer! Get a beer brewers thermostat off Amazon to set freezer temp to fridge temp! Uses almost no power, compared to standard fridge.

  7. Usexpat says

    “average 600 watt hours per day which for us, is about one hour of good sun”
    Idaho has great winter sun. Perhaps not so much in Spring. You’ll find that power requirements are all about your batteries and not the panels.
    I’ve gone with propane powered everything I could and never regretted it – and my solar system looks to be about 230% of yours.
    Do get a battery readout that you can monitor from your kitchen. Midnight makes a good one. It makes all the difference on how long your batteries will last. IE: keep them above 50%

  8. says

    So glad you can now store necessities like ICE CREAM! Ya’ll have your priorities in line, well done! 😉 And great score on the meat for kitty food!

  9. Jim Forbes says

    Great video. One question. I know the inverter uses power too. Is power draw of the inverter calculated into your estimate for the freezer power. Ok. Two questions, Why did you choose not to buy a 12 volt freezer?

  10. Mary says

    I love my little deep freezer. One thing I do is make soups and other meals that I can stick in the freezer in individual portions. So, when summer rolls around and I’m up to my eyeballs in canning and have no spare time (but am starving), I can grab a frozen container of soup or a meal out of the freezer, pop into the microwave and I’ve saved the cost of eating out. This is also good for those days when maybe I’ve fixed a one serving dinner (like breakfast for dinner, or quesadillas) and don’t have leftovers for lunch the following day. Frozen soup or meals to the rescue!

    Another thing I use my deep freezer for is to store produce that I’ve gotten a good deal on, but don’t have the time right then to can, as well as excess produce that I’ve grown in my garden. Too many poblano peppers? Cut the tops off, clean the insides, throw into a zip top plastic bag and into the freezer. Pull them out when you’re ready to use. Green bean plants went crazy this year, so I washed them, cut off the tops and into the zip top plastic bag and freezer they went. (I didn’t blanch them, and haven’t noticed a difference.)

  11. Harry Brown says

    I had a couple comments for you. In the picture Jesse was holding the freezer on its side. If you ever do that again (you shouldn’t) remember to leave the freezer level for several hours before you turn it on. The oil inside is very thick and needs time to settle properly or you can and will damage the compressor.
    Next, a full freezer uses less energy than an empty one. So if you do not have a lot of food in there, using some sort of “filler” to take up air space will lower your energy consumption. I am sure that you have a meter to prove this out.
    Also, they make very inexpensive kits that make those chest freezers operate as a refrigerator. It is a very efficient design for a refrigerator and will probably be a far better choice during the summer for you than propane. It is super efficient for all the reasons that you mentioned for the freezer.
    Just wanted to share that with you.
    Keep up the good work!

  12. Michael Neill says

    About 15 years ago I visited an off power group. Aside from the obvious such as very thick insulation on the fridge/freezer, the most useful information was the way they used the appliance. They would wait until they knew what they needed, where it was and quickly open and grab what was needed and close the door.

  13. Gerard says

    I would suggest freezing half a bottle of water and putting it upside down in the freezer. Than if ever the water is on the bottom of the bottle you know that the freezer has been out long enough to get warm and even if it has refrozen your food has to be inspected very very carefully.

  14. says

    I’m sorry to hear, that you (as many people) mix up kW and kWh.
    kW is power (how much energy do you use per second) and kWh=amount of energy.
    You do talk about Wh, but then again you talk about kW where you mean kWh.
    Please be sure to tell the right stuff.
    This is confusing.

  15. dan rapson says

    I hope you have seen the quarter in a bowl trick to monitor your freezer. Google it and see. It helps with maintaining a healthy environment for the humans in your life..

    You two are doing well prepping for another winter. Good on you both….enjoy the winter hot tub!

    bee well;peace….
    dan

  16. dan rapson says

    BTW, have you two checked out ‘root cellars’?

    They are an old fashioned way to store lots and lots of food stuffs…also good for storm protection…

    dan

  17. Northern Ed says

    From the pics, seems like a good freezer, lots of insulation. To me, a good freezer is one of the most important things, mind you, we get (and eat) a lot of wild game. Even if you get a smallish mule deer, you’d be surprised with just how much meat is on the carcass. And without a smoker or a pressure canner, a freezer is essential so no food goes to waste.

    If you haven’t already, I’d check out sun-mar’s website. They make a line of fridges and freezers that can be ordered in 12, 24, 48 vdc and 110 vac and various sizes. I’ll warn you, the sticker shock is pretty bad, but they last forever, are extremely energy efficient and can be customized for any ‘decor’. A good friend of mine has had a 24vdc ‘bar sized’ version running in his cabin for the last 5 years and the thing uses almost no power at all. We hooked up a tester one weekend and based upon our calcs, I’d have to say that the consumption figures listed on sun-mar’s website are a tad on the conservative side.

  18. Curtis says

    RE Power light on the baby freezer. That’s a nice feature for when you’re at home. Try this for if/when you have to travel for a period of time.

    Fill a small container (I use spray can caps) 2/3 full of water. Place container in freezer until frozen. Put a coin, washer, marble, pebble on top of the ice.

    Check the container upon your return home. If the object is frozen in the ice then power was off long enough for the freezer to completely thaw and then refroze when power was restored. Time for new ice cream….

    Note: uncovered ice will sublimate over time so you may have top of the container every now and then….

    This may not be a factor for you as it appears you are in residence full time; This has saved my bacon (sorry couldn’t help my self) once and is worth doing.

  19. Luke says

    It’s probably coming up soon, but I’m curious. Will we see content on how homesteaders take advantage of the cold months? Is it time to hibernate and recover from summer? Do you put the freezer outside instead of plugging it in? What happens in the winter to get ready for spring?

    • says

      That’s a great suggestion! Last year we did a video / post on things we did to survive winter, but taking advantage of winter could be an interesting video. We’ll keep it in mind!

  20. Elliott says

    Thanks for your info. Just replaced my old second hand freezer from years ago (had sawdust for insulation!) with a Magic Chef 5.2cf chest freezer from Home Depot. Has everything yours has plus a green run light and five year compresser warranty. Don’t know why I waited so many years to buy a replacement freezer, I think the new freezer cost about the same as the old secondhand one…

  21. Gman says

    You can help your freeze stay colder by putting 2 inch insulation around the outside. Use some silicone seal or if you don’t want to do that try double sided tape.Be sure and have a sheet to cover the top,then put a canvas tarp over the top so it will be easy to open your freezer. I would use blue board as it has better insulating value. Try to think out of the box. Gman from Alaska P.S.be sure and use adhesive that won’t eat up your insulation board when you glue it on.

  22. Nelrea Southwell says

    I keep our freezers (fridge and deep freezers) FULL of drink bottles, etc. of all sizes. When we need room just take out the number of bottles necessary to make the space needed. Keep a 5-gallon bucket nearby to store bottles…..helped save our food once when electricity was out due to storm. Love your “exciting” life….admire your efforts to be debt free. Wish more young people were like you two. Hang in there!!!

  23. says

    Hi Alyssa;

    Always enjoy reading your posts and seeing how your site is progressing. We live off grid and use traditional appliances bought at Sears; dependable and no issues. Specialty off grid appliances are very costly. Our freezer sits outside on the porch protected from the elements but otherwise just sitting there on the north west side of the house. The location is close to the kitchen so retrieving items when needed is easy. We have a large refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen, propane stove ans use a blender, electric counter toaster, electric kettle ans an Instant pot (best appliance for off-gridders) every day. Our solar system is 2.8 kw and we ran our generator a total of 30 hours last month. Our batteries are into their 5th winter and we expect another 3-5 from them. You will be fine with whatever system you design because by then you will know exactly what your needs are. If you have any questions just send an e-mail and I will be glad to reply. Thanks for sharing your adventure. All the best.

    • Ted says

      Art K., what brand and type of batteries do you use? My neighbor said he saved money by buying golf cart batteries for his 8-panel solar electric system, but what I’ve seen is that they require a lot of maintenance, such as adding water every couple of weeks. Is that “normal?”
      What sort of battery maintenance do you have to do? Thanks.

  24. Tom says

    You wrote, “Chest freezers generally have a thicker wall designed to keep cold air in.”
    It should read, “Chest freezers generally have a thicker wall designed to keep warm air out.”

    2nd law of thermodynamics, heat moves to cold, not the other way. A refrigerator/freezer is cold because it is mechanically removing heat from the cavity, not adding cold air. Hot air is attempting to equalize and enter the cooler space, insulation slows this process. :)

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