Choosing the Right Refrigeration for Your Off-Grid Home


Hello there!

In my last post, I talked a little about how much solar and wind power it would take to power my wasteful energy habits. Most off-grid families cut down on their energy use drastically anyway, but to help that switch to conservative usage, I suggested installing appliances in your home that use an alternative source of power.

My first example was replacing an electric stove with a wood-burning stove for winter, and a propane powered stove for warmer months. Now, I want to propose a few more ideas about some really great off-grid refrigeration methods!

There are a lot of options out there to choose from. Propane powered refrigerators are pretty common and a great solution, however, I’m not planning on going too crazy with the propane. It might be great to have one as a back up, but as far as year-round use, I’d like to have a more reliable way to store food. You never know when something like propane might not always be so readily available. 

My first stop was to check out “clay pot” refrigeration.  Also called a zeer, this method dates back to around 2,500 B.C. in Egypt and the Indus Valley. The basic idea is that one clay pot is placed inside a larger one, and the gaps in between the two are filled with moist sand. The food is placed inside the smaller pot, and the top covered with a cloth. The evaporation of the water in the sand through the outer pot draws heat from the inside and keeps the food much cooler than the outside temperature.


To me, this seems like a great method for modern day off-grid families to use for storing vegetables and grains, etc.

I really got to thinking hard about ways I could use a natural source of running water for keeping more perishable things like meat and dairy. After a while, it suddenly popped into my head. Almost ten years ago, I visited a place called Exchange Place in Kingsport, Tennessee.  It’s an 1850’s living history farm, and used to be an entirely self-supporting farm (the off-grid mindset has been around quite a while!).

There I remembered the spring house!  This is where it gets exciting. I remember it being pretty cold in there.  In July.  The spring house is where they kept their milk and perishables.  Apparently, these were pretty common back in the day, both on Southern plantations and Northern farms, and homesteads all over the country.


The idea is this: a structure (well insulated, and preferably stone or brick, though wood is acceptable), is built either over the source of a natural spring, or beside a natural flowing creek or river.  The cold water is diverted through the spring house in trenches. Ceramic ware filled with milk was set into the water to preserve it,  and vegetables and meat were placed in containers in the spring house. The cold water kept the temperature in the building plenty cool enough to be considered a giant walk-in refrigerator!

Place some zeers inside your spring house and you have a double whammy! This idea just really appeals to me. I love the thought of going into the spring house on a hot summer day to cool off and get some milk that has been chilled naturally in a clay pot. So charming!

It’s a great idea to build your homestead close to running water, not only for refrigeration, but for many other reasons. For those of us who aren’t so lucky, a root cellar seems like a great option.


Root cellars are most often dug fairly deep into the ground, with a home or structure built on top, and a trap door leads to the root cellar. The natural temperature of the earth at that depth keeps food cool during the summer but keeps it from freezing in the winter.  Other root cellars are built into the side of a hill, and some (in rockier areas that are tough to dig) are built on top of the earth, with natural materials piled on.

These are all great methods and I think ideally, I would love to use a combination of all three. What do you think? I’m very interested in learning more about other methods of refrigeration that don’t depend on the grid. 

Next, we can talk about toilets that don’t require plumbing! (Yikes?!)


2 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Refrigeration for Your Off-Grid Home

  1. Our neighbor gave us an old propane fridge as a temporary measure, but as a long-term solution, we don’t want to be reliant on all that propane. I’ve read about zeers and have been thinking about trying it out, but the concept of the spring house is awesome. In permaculture, this would be a great example of catching and storing energy, as well as doing the least amount of work for the most yield.

    We have a creek running on our off-grid homestead, so I’m sure we can make this work. We’ve often used the creek to store our drinks when we go there for a picnic or a swim. And we’ve noted how the creek always is about 10 degrees cooler. Funny that we never thought about this as a bigger solution. I guess we need to spend a little more time on that first principle of permaculture: Observation. Thanks for the photo and the idea.

    • How great that you already have a running creek! I love that the spring house concept is simple enough that anyone can do it themselves with enough research. After being built, it pretty much runs itself! 🙂 If you go through with the zeers, let me know how they turn out for you. I’m planning on testing it myself.

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