Sooo…we started off the long Memorial Day weekend with a bang – but not the good kind.
I reached into the fridge on Friday and noticed it felt warmer than usual. Checked the little thermometer in it and, sure enough, the temp was in the 60s! A little investigation led us to the access panel on the side of the RV, which looked like a refrigeration crime scene. Something had exploded in there, or a hose popped loose that shouldn’t have; either way, it wasn’t hard to figure out the cause of the dead fridge.
Eco House, courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
Being already deeply on the broke side of things, it was time to figure out an interim plan until we could afford a visit from an RV refrigeration specialist (yes, they exist). We started by getting a cooler and ice, as well as storing some items at my daughter’s, while we sorted out what we could cook right away, what could safely refreeze and what could weather warmer temps (basically condiments and fresh veggies). By day 3, we ended up bringing most of the food back from my daughter’s (since a full fridge stays cooler), having dispensed with the things that needed cooking immediately, as well as having figured out the necessary ice system to use our fridge corpse as a big icebox (like Great-Grandma would have?).
I’ve heard it said that the Chinese character for crisis actually means danger + opportunity. Turns out that isn’t exactly true, but the concept certainly seems to apply to this situation. After the initial shock of trying to operate without this appliance that we generally assume is a necessary given in today’s culture, I began to contemplate whether this might be a chance to lower our environmental impact AND learn some off-grid survival skills, all in one fell swoop. It’s pretty common knowledge that refrigerators are generally energy guzzlers.I did a little research on the Net to see what other off-griders do for refrigeration, and my preliminary findings indicate that most use some sort of electrical or propane based solution. Evidently, the 12-volt versions (like the RV fridge we just lost) work well with a solar system, particularly if you get one of the really energy-efficient ones. Since i’m assuming the one that died was as old as our RV, I’m willing to bet it wasn’t in that category. So at the very least, if it can’t be reasonably repaired and we can get a newer used one, it should improve our energy usage. We’re hoping the RV fridge specialist either sells ones he rescued and refurbished, or can lead us to someone who has such items.
Barring that, we have a decision to make: Do we blow a huge hole in our budget and replace the fridge with a new model, to the tune of $1300+? Not a totally bad idea, since we could likely run it off the solar grid we fully intend to install. Or, do we go the cheap but non-nomadic-friendly route of scouring our local ReStore, Craigslist and Freecycle for a giveaway fridge, and putting it in our new shed on an extension cord? The latter would likely get us by for now, but means we’d have to revisit this dilemma if (when?) we decide to pull up stakes again. Plus, that solution wouldn’t likely buy us any lifestyle improvements, except exercise in the form of extra steps back and forth to the shed. Another possibility, though admittedly less enticing, is to maintain the old-fashioned icebox approach – maybe finding/buying a chest freezer to keep the ice packs in that we’d rotate out of the dead fridge, and using that freezer to keep the frozen goods as well. Not ideal, but feasible – and something we might actually be able to transition to our next destination; perhaps even employ off-grid.
My search for other possibilities will continue, the first word on the matter coming from the repair person when i’m able to get them out here next week. Meanwhile, i’m kind of excited at the prospect of what life without traditional refrigeration could look like. My partner suggests that if we had the right piece of land, we could dig a root cellar that we could likely maintain at around 45 degrees. While I love that idea, land of our own seems a pipe dream at this juncture.
Whatever happens, I want us to adopt more eco-friendly food management alternatives, like buying fresh fruit and veg as much as possible (until we get the garden going), and eating it in a timely manner; we recently found a great local farm-to-table produce and meat store. Also, rely more on dry goods, canning, dehydrating, and other preservative methods for our primary food sources (my partner also proposed that we build a small smokehouse on our rental lot, but i’m skeptical that the management will approve of that). Adopting such habits would not only give us some extra sustainability skills for the tool box, but also take us a long way toward our goals of eating more healthily and living more naturally.
Ah well – time to get back to researching…and eating down the mound of leftovers. 🙂