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How To Live Off-Grid Without A Refrigerator

How to live off-grid without a refrigeratorMaybe it’s an emergency situation, like a hurricane or thunder storm causing a long-term power outage. Or maybe it’s just personal preference – more and more people find themselves wanting to truly live the off-the-grid lifestyle. Whatever the reason, more people are making the choice to live without modern-day refrigerators. Some do it to cut down on hefty utility bills. Others do it just to see if they could live without refrigeration.

Could your family live without a refrigerator? For a few days? A month? A Year? Permanently?

You might be surprised at the answer. Here are some tips on living refrigerator-free:

Use alternative cooling sources.

Most people who go without a modern-day refrigerator still use some sort of cooling method to preserve food when needed. Simply put, cooling preserves certain foods so they last longer. Most folks who unplug their refrigerators have a backup system or plan in place, such as a zeer pot. Many use a small cooler, or perhaps a mini-fridge or a small freezer to store very small quantities of items like milk or meat. And some people use their climate to their advantage – storing food items outside on the porch on a cold day. (It’s actually a very viable option for many colder climates!)

Change how you buy food.

There’s no way around it. If you’re going to live “fridge-free” you will have to change the way you buy food. Many fridge-free families grow or raise a good percentage of their own food. They are also usually very good at canning, drying and preserving their food so that they can save it without the need of refrigeration.

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If you’re going to live without a modern day refrigerator, there’s probably not going to be any more trips to big-box warehouse clubs to stock up on meat … unless you plan on preparing it and preserving it in other ways, like making jerky, right away. Instead, you’ll want to focus on purchasing exactly how much meat (and other perishables) you can prepare and eat in a short period of time, because you don’t want to deal with storing leftovers.

Here’s what us country folk do: We buy a little meat when we go in to town, and then go home and cook it and eat it immediately. This means we don’t eat meat every single day of our life. It’s healthier, more frugal, and yes, it can be done.

If we want to cook something bigger, like a pot roast, we can keep it for 2-4 days without ever refrigerating it. This is done by cooking it on day one and then reheating it when we need it; keeping it tightly covered and carefully simmered in the between-time, being very careful to NEVER open the pot until we’re ready to reheat. Yes, this process is a bit unnerving to a modern day cook. It’s often referred to as the same procedure scientists use when sterilizing a Petri dish. And yes, this way of cooking does have its risks, to be sure. I’m not advocating that you try it. I’m simply pointing out what many country folks do in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation. There are many good old-fashioned cooking books that can teach you the safest ways to do this, step-by-step, if you’re interested in learning more.

Saving a few dollars by unplugging your fridge can quickly be cancelled out if you waste money by letting good food go bad, or by making multiple trips to the grocery store. Count the cost and make sure it’s adding up financially, if that’s your goal. The best way to live fridge-free, not waste food, and save money? Raise as much of your own fresh food as possible.

What do our modern refrigerators hold, anyway?

Take a peek inside your fridge. Odds are you’ll find ice cream, soda, beer, and maybe some lunch meat or cheese … perhaps some condiments, butter, eggs, milk and so on. How many of these items do you absolutely have to have, and how many of them must be refrigerated?

  • Butter can sit on the counter for up to two weeks … just ask the Europeans.
  • The same goes for many types of cheese. Many people will tell you certain cheeses taste better never being refrigerated!
  • Fresh eggs can last for more than a week in the cupboard or on the counter. Another great reason to raise your own hens … you’ll always have a food source!
  • Milk can be bought in smaller quantities and kept in a small cooler, or you can use powdered milk. Yes, the taste and texture of powdered milk is different but it will do and most people get used to it. You can hardly tell the difference in your cooking.
  • Many condiments do not need to be refrigerated; it’s simply something that’s become a habit to us as Americans. An unnecessary habit, with zero science behind it.

The truth is, many of the items occupying real estate in our fridge are simply unnecessary luxuries we can learn to live without, should the need arise. And we might just find ourselves a little healthier if these luxuries weren’t so handy and readily available to us 24/7! We might enjoy our ice cream, soda, and beer more if it is a special treat we get to enjoy and really savor … once in a while.

Could you live without your refrigerator? The answer is a resounding yes. People did without them for hundreds and thousands of years. You can do without one, too, if you put your mind to it.

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  1. I did it. I lived for 3 years off grid both in a motorhome and in a house I built by myself in the woods. Before unplugging you might want to consider checking out just how much does a refridgerator cost to run a month… Here’s a site that let’s you figure out what YOUR refridgerator’s operating costs are…

    Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator

    At this site we learn “The main way to save money with your fridge is to use an efficient model. New fridges aren’t just a little more efficient, they’re incredibly more efficient. A 1986-era 18 c.f. fridge uses 1400 kWh a year, while a modern energy-efficient model uses only 350 kWh — a whopping 75% reduction. ”

    and also we find out “When the icemaker is on then usage could be as much as double. (Consumer Reports, 2008) If you trade in an old fridge without an icemaker for an icemaker-equipped fridge, and you run the icemaker, you might not see any savings.”

    But look, as I’ve said, I’ve done it. I’ve lived without a fridge and I can honestly say… it’s better living with than without! I had no choice so I had to learn to adapt and it can be done. I had to carry water too… plumbing is a wonderful invention. If you are faced living without refrigeration… then don’t be afraid of it but in all reality… choose to keep the fridge.

    And then there’s that old trick of filling all the empty space inside the fridge with newspapers or something that retains the cold… so when you open the door not all of the cold escapes.

  2. One thing this article does not address; what about those of us who’s lives depend on medicine that must be refrigerated? I’m an insulin dependent diabetic. Is there anything I could do? What is the highest temp the insulin will not go bad? How long will it last at higher temps?

  3. Bonnie – that is a very good question. Medically I do not know much about diabetes and cannot advise you on that. However, I do have a child with special needs who requires refrigerated medication. We use a cooler for that when needed (when fridge isn’t available) and there are travel/plug-in coolers that are like small refrigerators that might be an option.

    Thanks for your feedback.

    And John R – I agree. Even though I *can* go fridge-free, I’m not sure I want to. But it is good to know I have the skills if it is ever a necessity.

  4. I. too. lived off-grid for four years in a log cabin with a full cellar that stayed cool. Now we enjoy a mountain get away with creek frontage. My future idea is creating a water frig.using a chest freezer and placing it in the creek. We used one to keep milk cool and it worked just fine. I tried an experiment the last time we were on our property using a small chest freezer. This is what I did, I froze gallon jugs of water and lined the bottom of the freezer with them. Then I filled it with already frozen meat. The freezer was new so came with a box. I cut out the air panel and left the box over the rest, including the lid. The plan was to plug in the generator periodically, but discovered that it was broken. After one week the freezer was still very cold and the meat still frozen! At the end of two weeks the freezer acted as a refrigerator, keeping the remaining meat cold, but thawed. At the end of that week, I pulled out a gallon jug of once frozen water desiring a cold drink and discovered a huge chunk of ice! What a nice surprise, to have a cold drink on a hot day! We have purchased a new generator and plan to use this “trick” for our next outing.

  5. See US Patent 4624113, University of Chicago, representing Argonne National Laboratory, on behalf of USDOE. I am working on a prototype with refinements of the invention for common refrigeration:

  6. Hello all, I am very new to the no fridge lifestyle. in fact I just moved and the fridge is broken has been for a week and I am still trying to adapt to this change. I was wondering if anyone has some pointers for me. on how to store things like spinach and broccoli? can any store bought butter be left out? what about eggs? I know that unwashed fresh eggs can keep for a few weeks without being refrigerated. but everything is washed and refrigerated in my area, can I leave out store bought eggs and not get sick?

    • For spinach and broccoli, cut off the bottom quarter inch of stem and place them in a glass with some water. The plants will continue to grow, thus not spoiling. Butter can be left out if you cover it with water (google “french butter dish”) This stops air bacteria from turning it rancid. If you dip eggs in mineral oil it gives them back their protective coat and they can be kept for 2 months unrefrigerated.

    • In Europe, all the milk was in UHT packaging and did not need refrigeration until opened. We stocked up for a sailing trip and had “fresh” liters of milk even a month after leaving the continent.
      In the USA, you can find that kind of product, but not in a normal grocery store. Look at your local dollar store. 1 liter of milk, 1%, 2% and Whole for a dollar.

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