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The 10 Best Off Grid Refrigerator Options and How to Run Them

If you’ve decided to live off-grid, just below a solar power system on your list of essentials will be finding the best off grid refrigerator!

Living off grid might be challenging, but that doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of modern amenities, like a refrigerator or a chest freezer.

An efficient off grid refrigeration setup will form an integral part of your off grid infrastructure, enabling you to eat better while optimizing your food supply costs and your food security. 

An off grid refrigerator is any cooling device or structure not powered by public service electricity or gas. Off grid refrigerators keep food and beverage products below 40°F.

An off grid deep freeze refrigerator keeps products below 0°F. Off-grid fridges can be powered by propane and renewable energy systems.

New refrigeration products are being released every month. Improvements in refrigeration technology and fridge design are making off grid fridges more energy-efficient and more portable.

These new fridges join other models in various refrigeration categories, each with distinct pros and cons for off-grid living. Read on to find your best off grid refrigerator.

10 Types of Refrigerators for Off Grid Living

Technical Note

* AC stands for Alternating Current, the grid power that comes out of a wall socket in the city. In the US, grid AC power is 120 volts (240 volts in Europe and other parts of the world).

* Power from solar panels and batteries is DC or Direct Current. Typically, DC is measured in outputs of 12v, 24v, and 48v for off grid electric power systems.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these fridge and freezer types to discover what each has to offer the off-grid homesteader or mobile off-gridder.

Then we’ll move to the exciting part – cool ideas to make select off-grid refrigerators extra-efficient.

Our favorite options for off grid refrigeration are ICECO’s range and GoSun’s range of off grid refrigerators. This is one of ICECO’s best:

Top Pick
ICECO VL90 ProD Upgraded 90L Portable Car Refrigerator
$1,311.34

With SECOP compressor, multi-directional opening lid, 0℉ to 50℉, 2 USB chargers & DC 12/24V, AC 110-240V.

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11/29/2022 08:31 pm GMT

GoSun is well worth checking out. They have a variety of off grid fridges, as well as whole solar kitchen setups (including water purification and solar cooking!). This is one of their bestsellers:

Our Pick
GOSUN Chill Solar Cooler & Solar Panel 30+
$949.00

The Chill can keep food cold, frozen, dry, and organized - no ice required. The included 30 Watt Solar Panel & PowerBank+ lets you charge devices and power your Chill day and night. The best time to go solar is now! It is not just a cooler; it is your off-grid refrigerator without the need for a plug!

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1. AC Refrigerators (Solar-Powered)

These are your regular home fridges we all grew up with. They run off 120v power and are generally plugged into the grid. They invariably include a freezer unit.

When plugged into a solar power system (including solar panels, batteries, a charge controller, and an inverter), these AC refrigerators can be effectively used as off-grid fridges running off DC power generated by the solar system.

2. AC Chest Freezers (Solar-Powered)

As with the AC refrigerator, an AC chest freezer is designed to run off 120v grid power. When plugged into a solar system with an inverter, a chest freezer becomes a genuine off-grid super-tool.

With their lift-top door and extra-thick insulation, chest freezers are more energy-efficient than conventional front-opening fridges.

3. Solar-Powered DC Refrigerators

These modern fridge innovations are designed for easy hook-up to a solar system. They run off DC power and bypass the inverter, plugging directly into the solar system battery bank.

Some models of solar-powered DC refrigerators include a solar panel that plugs directly into the fridge, powering a battery inside the fridge, which in turn powers the compressor.

4. 12v Refrigerators

The RV and camping communities swear by the 12v (DC) refrigerator because of its portability and ability to chill and freeze their food and drink.

Power for this type of off-grid refrigerator comes either from the vehicle’s battery or a solar system installed on the vehicle. Many models also include an AC adapter to get the unit “chilled by the grid” before leaving the city.

Top Pick
ICECO VL45 Portable Refrigerator with SECOP Compressor
$609.00 $559.00

Cooling range from 0°F to 50°F. Independent 12V/24V DC and 110-240V AC output port. 45 Liter. 5-year warranty on the compressor and 1-year warranty on all other parts.

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11/30/2022 02:21 am GMT

Select models of 12v solar fridges have inbuilt batteries and come with a solar panel. See here:

Our Pick
GOSUN Chill Solar Cooler & Solar Panel 30+
$949.00

The Chill can keep food cold, frozen, dry, and organized - no ice required. The included 30 Watt Solar Panel & PowerBank+ lets you charge devices and power your Chill day and night. The best time to go solar is now! It is not just a cooler; it is your off-grid refrigerator without the need for a plug!

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5. Propane Refrigerators

Propane (liquefied petroleum gas) has been a provider of energy for RV fridges for several decades. Propane refrigerators are also available as chest freezers and vertical fridge/freezer units.

A 3-way version of the propane fridge can also run on 12v and 120v power, making it a handy emergency refrigerator.

Propane refrigerators do require more maintenance than electric fridges. The cost of propane and the fact that it needs to be transported to the homestead make propane refrigerators a less attractive option than renewable energy fridges.

Our Pick
Smad Gas Propane Electric Refrigerator 2 Door Refrigerator with Freezer

This fridge can be powered by 110V and LPG - 6.1 Cu.ft.

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6. Thermoelectric Refrigerators

Thermoelectric fridges are portable 12v coolers (and heaters) of food and drink, making them handy travel companions. They are energy efficient, but their cooling range is limited to around 4°F (you won’t be making ice in them).

Portable thermoelectric refrigerators do take a while to get the cooling done so at best, they’re a lightweight, compact substitute for a cooler box.   

Our Pick
Igloo 28 Quart Iceless Thermoelectric 12 Volt Portable Cooler
$117.59

Made in the USA. Molded handles for easy carrying. 8' Power cord plugs into any 12V DC receptacle.

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11/30/2022 08:06 am GMT

7. Chest Coolers

The good old icebox or cooler box still has a place in outdoor life.

Chest coolers have become increasingly capable of sustaining freezing temperature for longer, thanks to better insulation material and design. 

8. Evaporative Coolers

You won’t find these on Amazon, but you can make one. It’s an ancient refrigeration technique called evaporative cooling, where water within a medium, wrapped around a food-storage vessel, is cooled by moving air.

Evaporative coolers are used outdoors and are generally hung from a branch of a shady tree.

The design is really simple – a rack of lightweight shelves is covered with a burlap skin. A vessel with tiny puncture holes slowly releases water onto the burlap, keeping it moist for many hours.

The air blowing onto the soaked burlap cools the water molecules, which in turn lowers the temperature of the entire construction as well as the food inside the evaporative cooler.

9. Pot Coolers (Zeer Pot Coolers)

pot cooler homemade off grid refrigerator ss
Pot coolers are an ancient method of keeping food cool and fresh for longer. It’s a simple design you can make yourself by placing a small clay pot inside a bigger clay pot, and filling the gap with sand.

Working on the evaporative cooling principle, pot coolers are another ancient method of keeping food fresher for longer.

Take a big clay pot and a slightly smaller one, and nest them. Pour sand into the gap between their walls and floors. Place a lid on the inner pot. Trickle water by hand onto the sand.

The pot cooler is often sunk into the ground or surrounded by a mound of earth to help keep it cool, along with a damp cloth placed over the top of the cooler to create a cool seal on the gadget.

Watch this:

10. Root Cellars

A root cellar is an underground room in which root vegetables and beverages like wine, cider, and beer are stored.

The cellar is well insulated using soil and a sealed doorway to ensure a constant, cool temperature.

By preventing the interior of the cellar from being exposed to both hot and cold environmental/ambient temperatures, food and drink can be stored and kept fresh for several months.

Top Pick
Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables
$16.99 $13.79

This informative and inspiring guide shows you not only how to construct your own root cellar, but how to best use the earth’s naturally cool, stable temperature as an energy-saving way to store nearly 100 varieties of perishable fruits and vegetables.

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11/29/2022 11:50 am GMT

How to Make Off Grid Refrigerators More Efficient

There is a school of thought in the world of industrial design that holds to the notion, ‘it was made by professionals, so don’t tinker with it.’ Generally, this is good advice, especially when the product is under warranty.

However, no two off-grid situations are exactly the same.

When it comes to providing an off-grid kitchen with the ideal refrigeration solution, there’s a lot of room for DIY fridge modification.

Let’s pick a few examples of off-grid refrigerators from our list above and see how a dash of added ingenuity can help boost fridge efficiency and lower energy consumption.

AC Refrigerator to Off-Grid DC Conversion

They’re the most common type of refrigerator, and therefore, there are more models to choose from. As far as storage capacity is concerned, you can always get an AC refrigerator to suit your needs.

The trick is converting it to a DC off-grid fridge to allow it to run off your solar power system (or wind or hydropower system). This is a very simple procedure.

Your solar system will no doubt have an inverter already installed to power other appliances and gadgets. Your AC fridge simply needs to be plugged into the inverter to be fully functional.   

This isn’t the most efficient method of powering an off-grid refrigerator. The inverter also draws power from the battery bank to convert the DC power to AC to power the fridge.

To reduce the AC off-grid refrigerator’s power demand on the batteries, turn down the thermostat as much as possible without running the risk of food spoilage.

Position the fridge in a cool area away from stoves, direct sunlight, and other heat sources.

You can also clad the fridge door, top and sides with insulation material like foam or polystyrene to improve resistance to fluctuations in ambient temperature and thereby limit compressor activation.

AC Chest Freezer to Off-Grid DC Refrigerator

Chest freezers are generally a must-have for most homesteaders. The ability to freeze food for long periods has several benefits: eating a healthier and more varied diet, prolonged food security, and lower transport costs.

By running an AC chest freezer off an inverter (as described above with the AC refrigerator), off-grid homesteaders can reduce the load on their upright refrigerator and enjoy all the benefits of having a stockpile of frozen foods in the house.

Chest freezers are way more energy efficient than upright fridges due to their superior insulation properties and flip-top doors.

Cold air literally falls out of an upright fridge/freezer every time the door is opened, while a chest freezer, for obvious reasons, has no such problem.

Now, here’s the hack!

Convert a chest freezer into a regular fridge! Simply by wiring a thermostat to the refrigerator power cable, you can lower the temperature setting to around 40°F, effectively turning the ‘off-grid chest freezer’ into a regular off-grid DC refrigerator.

It’s that simple!

Watch this AC chest freezer conversion to off-grid DC fridge:

Tip: If an upright refrigerator is an essential requirement of your off-grid kitchen, you can achieve the same results with an upright deep freeze refrigerator.

Orchestrate an Off-Grid Refrigeration Ensemble

With the right mix of off-grid refrigerators in your off-grid setup, you’ll improve your energy and cost efficiencies.

  • In static off-grid situations (homesteads, cabins, etc.), floor space is generally not a problem. Chest freezers are a must-have. Freeze blocks of ice and use them in cooler boxes for in-field excursions and day trips.
  • For mobile off-grid situations (RVs, camping, etc.), invest in a portable and versatile solar generator with movable solar panels that can run your off-grid fridge/freezer and other gadgets. Leave home with a high-quality cooler box packed with ice cubes and frozen foods.
  • Freeze potable water in plastic bottles at home and take them on the road with you.
  • Experiment with DIY fridges like evaporative coolers.  They make excellent education tools for adults and kids. They also provide a last resort fridge option.
  • If you’re a homesteader growing your own produce, build a root cellar. You’ll provide food security, save money and free up fridge space for foods more temperature-sensitive such as meats and dairy products.
  • To calculate how much solar power you will need to power your refrigerators and other appliances, use this online calculator.

Off Grid Refrigeration FAQs

Final Thoughts

Getting the best off grid refrigeration solution does require a lot of research and quantification of your food cooling requirements and how much renewable energy you’ll need to power your fridges.

With these 10 off grid refrigeration ideas and energy-savvy fridge hacks, you have a solid platform on which to build an off-grid refrigeration infrastructure that will become your partner in creating the perfect off-grid kitchen, at the homestead and on the road!

 

Author

  • Dan Meager

    Dan is our qualified diesel fitter and automotive mechanic. He's been fixing machinery for over 30 years and has a real passion for the old stuff - he loves reviving things that others have given up on. He'll fix anything with a cable tie and fencing wire and has had his hands on everything from log skidders, trucks, agricultural implements, tractors, and huge mining gear to outboard motors. He's plagued by OCD - but that makes him a helluva mechanic!

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