We’ve previously looked at root cellars to help keep things cool, but what if you don’t have the luxury of digging deep? Without electricity to keep valuable foodstuffs cold you’ll be unable to keep milk and other items from going bad extremely quickly, so let’s see what other options there are for keeping your food cold.
The two keys to keeping food cold without electricity
There are two primary elements that are included in every design for a structure that keeps things cool:
- Something to cool the surrounding air to the proper temperature. In a refrigerator electricity is used to suck the hot air out of the compartments within, but thankfully that is not the only method available!
- Insulation to keep the cold air in and the hot air outside. Your fridge doors and walls are designed to keep the inner air cool by putting a wall of separation between the inside and outside air. This keeps the refrigerator from having to run constantly to keep things cool and it helps maintain a more uniform temperature.
Of course in a world where electricity may not be available to run your fridge you will need other options, but these principles will be applied to any structure electrical or not.
These were actually rather common in many rural areas before the advent of the home refrigerator and used the icy chill of local water to keep their foods and drinks cold. You simply build a stone house with an inner and outer wall, placing some water resistant insulation such as sand in between, over the top of an icy spring. Ideally you set it up so that there is a way for the water to circulate so that you can place jars of milk, canned goods, buckets, and other items in the flow to cool them rapidly and keep them cold. If your spring happens to be in an inconvenient place, simply run the water through a pipe down to a good spot and build your springhouse there.
Alternatively, for those who lack a spring you can do much the same thing with any cold stream or creek. The only issue there is what might be dwelling in it, since some water-borne diseases and parasites might be able to get into your food even through thick containers. Although both types of springhouse should have the water thoroughly tested for safety before they’re used, a stream or creek-based one will need additional caution and more frequent tests to ensure purity.
Building the house with plenty of insulation is vital, since you want both the water and the air above it to stay nice and chilly so that even the exposed tops of your milk/veggie jars stay nice and cool.
If you utterly lack any form of stream, spring, or water on your land you will have to gather the cold and store it. The best way to do this is by harvesting ice from frozen lakes and the like, carving out blocks that can be carefully loaded and shipped back to your specially designed structure for safekeeping. The icehouse itself is built much like a springhouse with very thick walls and insulation to keep the cold air trapped inside. Some were even dug into the sides of hills next to root cellars in some cases where stone wasn’t in abundance. Once you have your snug room, you cart the ice in while it is still freezing outside and store as many blocks as you can in sand or sawdust to provide further insulation. Once the outside air starts to warm up during spring and summer, your ice will melt much more slowly as it works to keep the tiny airspace of the icehouse cold. This means that even in 100 degree weather you could enjoy cold drinks or even a nice chilled watermelon from the garden without needing a single volt of electricity.
A warning about delicate storage
Although these methods are great for milk or food items that can survive at a given range of temperatures (a glass of milk doesn’t much care if it goes from 39 Fahrenheit to 43 and back down again over the course of a day) other chilled items are less forgiving. Insulin, for example, does not do very well when temperatures fluctuate and so a spring or ice house may well be unsuitable. If you have medications or recipes for foods that require cooling but are very delicate I recommend asking a medical/food expert to advise you on using an ice or spring house.
Are these options practical for you? Do you have other ideas for keeping things cool without needing electricity? Let us know in the comments below!
This article first appeared at Prepared For That: Alternative Refrigeration Without Power for Survival