Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A New Freezerator In Our Future?

One of the main things we will have to deal with in Oklahoma from the day we get there is we will have no electric service. Now I myself don't see that as a negative and at this point neither does the wife. Of course we can't go without power at all which leaves us with solar, wind, and propane. The main topic of this post however is food and refrigeration.

Old Abandoned Root Cellar
Our main source of food storage will be in the form of a root cellar. I figure if storing food underground worked before electricity was around it should still work just fine.

What we plan on doing is digging what can be considered a combination root cellar / storm shelter as our first major project when we get there. It's tornado country so a storm shelter is an absolute must, especially since we'll be living in a tornado magnet travel trailer until the house is built. Of course now that it's also earthquake country it'll need a little more reinforcement than I originally planned, but that's okay.

The layout of our property being on the hill means it'll be easier to dig into the side of the hill for the cellar/shelter so it'll be a bit bigger than the standard root cellar. My goal would be for us to be able to have hammocks up that we could sleep in in the event of a bad stormy night.

Inefficiency On Display
Of course you're probably still wondering what the heck is a freezerator? Before I answer that, let's cover why the need for a freezerator exists.

Basic thermodynamics is that hot air rises and cold air falls. By design then the standard front door refrigerator is inefficient. When you open the door, all the cold air you've spent money on creating has now been instantly turned into a foot chiller. It may be really convenient, but in a time where we all need to conserve a little more and save some of those hard earned slave wages, we could do better.  Have you ever wondered why they can keep food in the store in refrigeration units with no lids? It's because the cold air stays inside and they're actually cheaper to run than those with the glass doors. The real question though is how inefficient are standard upright units?

How much did you use this month
Electric rates are normally charged in pennies per kWh or Kilowatt Hour. That means for every 1000 watts of electricity you use, they charge you that amount. Where we're at right now they try and break it down into generation and delivery charges so it seems like you're not paying much. Then to muddle it even further the rates change depending on what your total usage is for that month. On average ours comes out to 23 cents per kilowatt. Seems pretty cheap until you start seeing how much you use every day. If you bought your refrigerator within the last 5 years or so, it's already sold as an "energy efficient" model with a yellow sticker showing how many kilowatts it uses in a year and the estimated annual cost to run it. What they don't tell you is the energy cost value they use is from 2005. Six years ago things were a lot less expensive than they are now. Using numbers from models available on Sears website you'll find that the yearly kWh usage of a modern "energy efficient" refrigerator ranges from 450 to 650 depending on the size. One without a freezer uses about 490 so we'll use that as a low average.

480 kWh per year equals 40 kWh per month. At a rate of 0.23 that means a modern day "energy efficient" refrigerator costs $9.20 a month to run. Not horrible but that's still $110.40 a year just to keep your food cold. By the way, that old clunker in your garage you use for extra food uses about 2.5 times as much energy so that's another $23 a month or $276 a year.

Also to make them hold as much as they can yet still fit in your kitchen using the same footprint, the insulation  in the modern units is a lot thinner. It's basically a thin layer of styrofoam.

 Photo by Tom Chalko
So, what's the alternative? I give you the Freezerator!! Wait, isn't that a chest freezer? Why yes it is with one important addition. That thing on the wall above it is a thermostat that controls the power to the freezer. You set it to the temperature that a refrigerator runs at (typically between 35 and 40 degrees F) and it turns the unit on and off to maintain it at that temperature. Now you have a refrigerator with the insulation of a freezer and it's the more efficient design with a top lid as well. The average power used for a unit of this design with ~15 cubic feet of space (the same amount in an average refrigerator freezer combo) is about 40 kWh per year. That calculates out to $9.20 per year, or $0.77 per month! (or two and a half cents per day)

Even better for us is the fact that using those calculations, you could run the Freezerator on a 600 watt pure sine wave inverter and a 12v battery. Doing the math a battery with 120Ah of reserve means I could run it for about 5 days and still have the battery above 50%. A 50 watt solar panel in Oklahoma would keep the battery charged and other than replacing the battery every 5 years or so we'd have ourselves a solar powered refrigerator for much less than one that is designed for solar power yet still uses the inefficient front door design. I'm speculating that keeping it down in the root cellar would also mean it would run less often. The only possible issue I can think of is ventilating the heat it generates while running outside the cellar.

This is one of those things that I'm going to buy now and we'll take it with us when we go. No mater how you look at it, it's an investment in our future. I've found the best prices I can and have come up with a cost of $885.00 for everything including the solar power. That's only about $200.00 above a basic no frills refrigerator/freezer combo that we wouldn't be able to run anyway.

I'll write another post whan I get things here and running and let you know if the numbers all work out right.


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