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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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 PreservingWe 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 & VegetablesThis 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.
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!
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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