In the past when the power went out, you weren’t worried too much unless it lasted for more than a day or two. All that food you have in your fridge and freezer would be in serious jeopardy of spoiling before long. Add in the factor that recent energy consultants are forecasting a shortage of electricity in the coming months with the rates for it jumping by huge percentages making it a precious commodity for you to reconsider how you use the power that comes to your home.

Then, you have to start considering how these Green New Deal comrades are going to push their oppressing agenda in the next few years and you need to have things in place well before they say you can’t have it anymore… economical prices of gas (petrol and natural), electricity, or water going the way of the dodo.

For some of you that are reading this and living off-grid, you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” While others (like myself) that still live very much on the grid are thinking I’ve lost my mind, or I’m a conspiracy theorist nutjob.

Regardless of where you are at or what you may think of my mental stability, it is important to understand that all of our on-grid amenities/luxuries are just that, luxurious amenities. They may not always be available, and we should know what to do if we are forced to live without them.

So here are several ways to live without refrigeration, whether it be by choice or necessity.

Ask Yourself – Does It Even Require Refrigeration?

We refrigerate a lot of things here in America that a lot of other countries don’t. I dare say, we probably could do without refrigerating half the things that we do.

For instance, condiments don’t require refrigeration, for the most part (don’t try it with mayo or your fav pickle relish though).

Fruits and vegetables do not require refrigeration, in fact, sometimes keeping them in the fridge hastens their spoilage demise. You can actually store most vegetables (like lettuce) with their stems attached and placed in water. The rest of the fruits and vegetables can be stored in a cool place where they can be separated out. This will help keep mold at bay.

This is a helpful guide to keep around. Like I said, even if you aren’t interested in going completely off-grid. This might be a good list to keep on hand in case of a power outage.

Evaporative Cooler Fridge

As I have been researching what one could do, I came across this nifty life hack. Now, it is nowhere close to keeping or frozen things frozen, but if you had to keep things cool when it is warm outside this would do.

Essentially, what you do is find a three or four-tier plastic/PVC shelf… here’s all that you would need

Supplies needed:

  • A shelf unit
  • Burlap bags
  • Clamps or clothespins
  • Large pan for water (if needed)

When you are putting the shelf together, invert the top shelf as to allow a way to fasten the clamps or clothespins onto it. After you have it assembled, you need to place it in the coolest part of your home out of direct sunlight, and preferably with some type of breeze or fan nearby. Cut the burlap bags so you can cover the most area over the shelves. You may have to do a quick sewing job on them to best accommodate the shelves without a lot of hassle each time you want to get to your items you are wanting to keep cool. Get the whole of the burlap fully wet before you drape it on the shelves.

Once you are able to cover the totality of the shelves with the burlap, fasten it to the top with the clamps. Leave just enough burlap material to overlap at the top. On that inverted top shelf, place a deep metal sheet (like what you would use to bake sheet cake) with cold water in it and allow the ends of the burlap to be in the water.

As the water wicks down the burlap, it has a cooling effect on what’s inside on the shelves. I suggest burlap for a reason, sure you can take old sheets or towels and soak them in the water and it would do just fine. However the burlap seems to dry more slowly than cotton or silk or any other type of material that you could use for this purpose.

This will help retain moisture and provide coolness to your refrigerated food without taking up a ton of space or causing a ton of fuss.

A Radiant Fridge

Here’s another method I came across. Now, I am not too sold on this one, but in the interest of being thorough, I include it here.

For those who are looking for alternate ways of cooking, you may have come across the idea of a Solar Oven. The idea for keeping things cool has you taking a solar oven and converting it to help you without the sun!

Set everything up like you would a regular solar oven. The same rules apply. Just put the jar or pan of water with a bag around it with the water inside. The air is concentrated into the container just like the sun is during the day. In the morning you have ice, or at the least you can put an item that needs to keep cool inside the pot so that the temperature can be colder during the night.

The Solar Funnel Cooker is set-up just as you would during sun-light hours, with two exceptions:

  1. The funnel is directed at the dark night sky. It should not “see” any buildings or even trees. (The thermal radiation from walls, trees, or even clouds will diminish the cooling effect.)
  2. It helps to place 2 (two) bags around the jar instead of just one, with air spaces between the bags and between the inner bag and the jar. HDPE and ordinary polyethylene bags work well, since polyethylene is nearly transparent to infrared radiation, allowing it to escape into the “heat sink” of the dark sky.

During the day, the sun’s rays can be reflected onto the cooking vessel which becomes hot quickly. At night, heat from the vessel is radiated outward, towards empty space, which is very cold indeed (a “heat sink”).

As a result, the cooking vessel now becomes a small refrigerator. You can routinely achieve cooling of about 20º F (10º C) below ambient air temperature using this remarkably simple scheme. The tricky part is it has to be able to have full shade during the day to help hold in the cool air.

Basically, you open the oven with all of your refrigerated items and allow the cool air to take over at night and in the morning, you just go outside and shut the radiant fridge. That is all there is to keeping your food nice and cool.

Zeer Pots

Out of all these non-refrigerated methods, I think this one has the best long term potential, especially if you need to be somewhat mobile. In fact, I am planning on building my own and doing a video on the build and the results I get once I do. Stay tuned for that exciting experiment! This is a good idea for storing food if you only have small amounts that need to be refrigerated. Zeer Pots were initially created for people in Africa (who rarely have access to electricity, let alone a fridge) so they could store some of their foods for longer periods of time.

The whole idea behind this is that you use two terra cotta pots. These clay pots that are able to nest inside of each other (round pots work best) also need to be clay/earthenware and MUST be unglazed. Hence the terra cotta.

Once you have placed the second pot inside the first, there needs to be a couple of inches of clearance all the way around. Fill the larger terra cotta pot up partial with thoroughly wet sand. This helps serve as an insulator for the food. Securely place the smaller pot in the larger pot with filling the rest of the space with the wet sand. Then place the food inside the small pot and place a lid on it or better yet place a wet burlap sack over the opening.

It uses the basic laws of physics to keep the inner vessel/pot cool. If you begin to notice your food is heating up, just add more cool water to the sand. Even if you have larger quantities of food that needs to be stored you could just use multiple pots.

This is a very economical way of having some form of refrigeration without electricity.

Root Cellar

The last, is the greatest and best way this time. This is what our pioneer ancestors used for decades before the invention of the icebox and the modernity of the electric fridge. It was the mainstay of how people ate, and keeping what was stored inside safe and edible was paramount. I am a huge fan of having a root cellar. It is an excellent way to help preserve foods without electricity. They are great for storing canned foods and freshly harvested foods like root vegetables.

And when you own your own plot of land, in today’s economical climate you need to have one – unfortunately I rent. (sad face emoji)

There are simple options for a root cellar and more in-depth options too. Here’s three of the most common.

Basement Root Cellar

Today, root cellars are often attached to houses for easy access, often found underneath a concrete set of stairs or a poured porch of cement and rebar,

If you don’t have that though it can take some effort to create a cold basement corner.

  • The best method is to use the foundation walls on the northeast corner as two sides of your root cellar.
  • Build the other two walls in the basement with stud and board.
  • Insulate the interior walls, ceiling, and door (and any pipes or ducts) to keep the heat out.
  • Ensure there is a ventilation system that allows cool, fresh air from the outside to be brought into the root cellar and stale air to be exhausted out. This helps to prevent mold and mildew.

Hole-in-the-Ground Cellar

Another option outside the house is to dig down into the ground or horizontally into a hillside.

  • This option requires good drainage; sandier soil works better. An elevated slope helps because the water will run away from your pit as it moves downward.
  • If your winter temperatures drop below 25°F (-4°C), dig your pit deep enough so that all the crops are under the soil’s surface.
  • As you dig your hole in the ground, flare the sides slanting downward so that it does not cave in.
  • Line the hole with straw and dried leaves, cover the hole with a thick wooden lid, and cover the lid with soil.

The Garbage Can

During winter, using a metal garbage can or barrel in your hole-in-the ground cellar helps keep water out.

  • Dig a hole vertically or horizontally in a hillside, slightly larger than the diameter of the garbage can and deep enough so that the can’s lid will sit 4 inches above the soil level.
  • Heap earth around the circumference, add straw inside the can with the crops, and cover the lid with straw or mulch and a sheet of plastic to keep everything dry.
  • Root vegetables will store well, even in the coldest weather.

Need more insight on what you can do to keep a root cellar doing the job?

  • Complete temperature stability is reached at about 10 feet (3 meters) deep. However, 4 to 6 feet deep can be sufficient for our needs.
  • Don’t dig a root cellar near a large tree; the tree’s roots can be difficult to dig through, and they will eventually grow and crack the cellar walls.
  • Inside, wooden shelving, bins, and platforms are the norm, as wood does not conduct heat and cold as rapidly as metal does.
  • Air circulation is critical for minimizing airborne mold, so shelves should stand 1 to 3 inches (3 to 8 cm) away from the walls.
  • For outdoor root cellars, packed earth is the preferred flooring. Concrete works well and is practical for a cellar in a basement.
  • Every root cellar needs a thermometer and a hygrometer (to measure temperature and humidity, respectively), which should be checked daily, if possible.
  • Heat is usually regulated using ventilation to the outside or an exhaust pipe—usually to allow cold air in, often on fall nights to get the temperature down.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am enamored by the thought of a root cellar, I love the idea of a larger in-ground root cellar because not only can you store lots of food in it but it also doubles as a storm shelter if needs be.

Honorable Mentions

Stream/River Storage

This is all depending on where you are living and who or what animals you have wandering around your place of residence. If you have direct access to the running river or stream that is close by, you can utilize the rushing water as a cooler. Key to this one is that you need to make whatever you are storing there as bugger proof and secure to theft from the largest of beasts in your area. Metal cases chained up and anchored at multiple points is what comes to mind

A Spring Water House

I like the idea of  spring water houses. I love the fact that they are not only practical for everyday life but also a great way to store food that needs refrigeration without the use of electricity. All you would need to do is to walk out of your door to get to the refrigerated items.

If you are unfamiliar with a spring house, it is a building that you build right over where a spring comes up out of the ground on your land. The cool water helps keep the building materials cold and creates natural refrigeration.

Obviously, I am partial to spring houses, but they truly are an amazing way of storing food.

Fish Baskets And An Old Well

Back when wells were mostly dug by hand and were wide enough to handle a couple hardy guys digging in it, the depths of which hardly would get deeper than 25 feet. Whether it be outside of enclosed by a building, an old well (usable or dry) can be an option for keeping your food stuffs cold.

If you have an old functioning well and a few fish baskets, then you have refrigeration. You will need some Mason jars that you can pack and seal tightly. Place them in the fish baskets and then submerge them in the well. This will keep your items cold that need refrigeration without a lot of fuss. So if you have an old well that is just sitting there, put it to use.

Here is a great resource to help you figure out how long products can actually last without refrigeration.

Overall TakeAway

Now you know, and can plan accordingly that not having direct access to modern refrigeration methods isn’t a death knell to our foodie palate. You have a few options, some more practical than others, but options nonetheless to keep the food you want on your dinner table a while longer.