A Solar Powered Freezer

Living in our travel trailer, off-grid, has presented quite a few challenges.

First, there isn’t enough storage space.  We have had to be quite ingenious in finding ways to store things we need for our everyday living.  But one thing we just didn’t have enough space for was food.  Sure, we have a closet for our canned and boxed goods, but the little refrigerator/freezer in our travel trailer just wasn’t going to cut it!  Especially if we didn’t want to have to run to town every week!

We decided to see if we could find a very energy efficient freezer to store our food. After a few google searches we found an Igloo 5.1 cubic foot chest freezer for sale at Best Buy.  Sure, there were a couple freezers that were more energy efficient, but they cost lots more – one of them almost eighteen hundred dollars more!  So, we had a choice:  do we spend money on a beefy solar system to run an energy efficient freezer, or spend more money on a more efficient freezer and less on the panels.  We opted to spend the money on solar panels.

Why didn’t we use a propane freezer?  Well, what if there came a time when we couldn’t get into town for more propane?  What would we do then?  What if the SHTF and no propane was available…  at all? Besides, propane is a petroleum product and we are trying to use the least amount of fossil fuels as possible here on our homestead.

So, back to the electric Igloo freezer.  Here is the Energy Star Guide for this freezer:A freezer run on solar power

Do you see that it only costs twenty-one dollars a year to run this appliance?  Holy Cow, that’s less than two dollars a month!  At just 172 kilowatt hours per year to run this freezer, we figured it couldn’t be too hard to set up a solar system to run the freezer.

With that in mind, we bought the freezer.  Ray did some more on-line research and found a company called “Windy Nation” that sells solar panels, charge controllers, inverters – just about anything you would need to set up an efficiently run solar system.  They put together entire “kits” – all you have to do is tell them what appliance you want to run and how many watts would be required to run the appliance (or appliances). Their customer service department is excellent and they have guys that will give you installation advice over the phone.  With a smile!  It’s rare to find good customer service these days.

When we got the panels (in just a few days) and unpacked them, we were very pleased!  They were just what we needed.

The first thing Ray had to do was to build the tower that the panels would rest upon.  Fortunately, we just had some very tall oak trees removed so that our fruit orchard would receive more sunlight, and sunlight (of course) is good for solar panels!   Ray built the tower next to our tool shed with redwood treated 4” x 4” posts set in concrete for stability and 2” x 4” lumber for tie-ins and support.

How to run a freezer with solar panels

Here Ray has two of the panels up. The tree to the right was rotting, so Ray put the dish and the smaller solar panel on the new tower also.  The smaller solar panel runs the lights in the tool shed.

Once the panels were mounted on the solar tower, they had to be kept covered so that they would not receive any sunlight.  Why?  So Ray wouldn’t get shocked when he was setting up the rest of the system!

how to run a freezer off grid

Here are the charge controller, inverter, batteries and the freezer.

Do you remember our laundry shed?  Well, there was some room left in there, so we put the freezer, the charge controller, inverter and the batteries in there.  Ray built a shelf for all the components right next to the freezer, with the batteries at the very bottom.

The specifics:

We bought four – 100 watt polycrystalline solar panels,  100 feet of 12 gauge wire (made for solar), a 1500 Watt inverter and a 40 Amp charge controller.  The batteries are deep cycle marine “Die Hards” from Sears. The batteries were wired in parallel for 12 volt, which was then inverted to 110 volts for the freezer.  We also have a 50 Amp auto-reset circuit breaker on the wires coming from the solar panels before they go into the charge controller, for safety’s sake.  And for just in case, Ray put 3 feet of a copper pipe into the ground with grounding wire, so the charge controller and inverter won’t blow up if the line gets a surge.

How to electrify a freezer off-grid

Here is a better picture of the charge controller and the inverter. Good stuff, Maynard!

How does it work?  Beautifully!

We have been using it for about three months now and have had no problems!  I recently bought 36 pounds of bacon and 40 pounds of chicken breasts from Zaycon Foods.  (If you have never heard of Zaycon Foods, you’re missing out!)  After just a day in the freezer they were frozen solid!

I mean  S.  O.  L.  I.  D.

how to power a freezer off-grid

The freezer is almost full already! Of course, a full freezer uses less energy than one half-full.

“So”, you may ask, “what happens in the winter when the sun doesn’t shine as much?”

Good question.

You see, during the summer we get plenty of sun, which I suppose you already know.  Lots of sunlight = lots of solar power to run the freezer, right?  Right!  But it is also warmer and so the freezer has to run more to keep the food frozen.

However, in the winter the outside temperature is much colder, so the freezer doesn’t have to run as much, which is great because there isn’t as much sunlight to charge the batteries!

It’s a beautiful system, isn’t it?

We are learning a lot about solar systems.  Well,  Ray is.  I still get volts and amps and all that mumbo-jumbo jargon confused!  When we build our new home, we plan to run almost everything with solar power.  All the lights in the house will be LED, we will use an energy efficient refrigerator (no icemakers, digital displays, etc.), and a whole house fan and ceiling fans instead of air conditioners.  Also, we have put our name on the long list for one of those new Tesla batteries!

How to run a freezer with solar power

The solar power tower! The four big panels run the freezer. The two small batteries on the bottom are for the motion detector lights on the outhouse. The panel on the very top runs lights in the tool shed. Of course, the Dish is for our TV!

Our goal is to be completely independent of any need for outside energy – eventually.  At this time, the oven/range in the house will be run on propane. With no vampire lights.

“What are vampire lights?” you ask.  Those are the little digital read-outs (time, timer, temperature, etc.) that can be found on your range/oven, refrigerator, microwave, etc.  You would be amazed at how much energy these little lights use over the course of a year!   The range we have decided to buy is made by Premier.  You can see it by clicking HERE.  We will also be installing a hybrid solar/propane tankless hot water system.  But that’s just about it in terms of using fossil fuels for our new home.  Of course, if we can’t get our hands on propane, or if the price skyrockets out of our reach, we can always cook on our outside barbeque grill, bake in our future pizza/bread oven or even cook/bake during the winter in our masonry heater.  These are all future projects and we can’t wait to tackle them!

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We’re Finally Here!

Our homestead is no longer our “future homestead” – it is now home!

You see; dear hubby retired on December 31 (♫♫ wahoo ♫♫), which meant we could finally move up to our future homestead in the mountains.  Since it was mid-winter and we had plenty of time (I did not want to live in our travel trailer during the winter), I decided to put our valley home on the market myself – just to test the waters – using Zillow.  Well, lo and behold, a couple toured the house, loved it and put in a offer.  A full price offer!  We couldn’t say no, but we really didn’t expect to sell so soon!

A picture of the ship we took our Mexican Riviera Cruise upon.

A picture of the ship we took our Mexican Riviera Cruise upon.  We had a wonderful time!

In the meantimem we just HAD to go on a Mexican Riviera cruise that our sons bought us as a gift for my husband’s retirement!  Yes…  they are awesome sons!  It was our first cruise and we had the time of our lives.

Meanwhile, back at the house, after all the inspections the sale of our home was “full speed ahead” and when we got back from our cruise we had only ten days to vacate our home.

Ten days!  Ugh.  We had lived in that home for 25 years.  Do you know how much “stuff” gets accumulated in 25 years?  Oh my goodness, I was finding stuff stashed away that I thought I had lost years ago.  I also found a lot of things that I couldn’t remember why I was saving! 😉

The family room where I raised my three boys.  We spent a lot of time there - 25 years!  I miss my home, but I am sure our new home will be just as loved!

The family room where I raised my three boys. We spent a lot of time there – 25 years! I miss my home, but I am sure our new home will be just as loved!  This was one of the pictures I put on Zillow to sell the house.

So, we packed boxes, gave away some of the “good” stuff, took a few truckloads to Goodwill, a few more truckloads to the local landfill, had a “garage sale” and sold a lot of our furniture to a local used furniture dealer.  The rest of our possessions were stuffed into the cargo container on our future  homestead.

Our new laundry room.  It also houses our freezer and quite a few boxes of household "stuff".

Our new laundry room. It also houses our freezer and quite a few boxes of household “stuff”.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough room even in the cargo container!  So, we went to the local “box store” and bought an 8 x 10 metal shed.  It took us four days to get the shed built (a few swear words may or may not have been involved), and in the meantime a lot of boxes and pieces of furniture were stored under tarps.  Good thing we used lots of tarps, because before we could secure all the stuff that was under tarps into the new shed, this happened…..

A beautiful snowy day - full of potential disaster! This is a picture of the lane leading into our property.

A beautiful snowy day – full of potential disaster! This is a picture of the lane leading into our property.

Yes, the snow was absolutely gorgeous!  Unfortunately, just two days before this snow we had erected our screened gazebo – our temporary “family room” of sorts – and the snow was so heavy that the gazebo collapsed.  We got the gazebo propped up with old fence boards and 2 x 4’s, cleared the snow from the roof of the travel trailer (our temporary home) and the new metal shed, made sure water wasn’t getting in under the tarps, and fretted about our poor mandarin and lemon trees, along with the baby fruit on our cherry, almond, plum and peach trees!  The snow finally stopped at about 2:30 in the afternoon, and it looked like the worst was over.  We went inside the trailer to get warm, and just as soon as my fingers and toes were no longer tingling, we looked back outside only to see that it was snowing again!  I cried.  By dusk the snowfall had mercifully stopped.  We were not expecting this snow – at all!  We live in California, are in the middle of a severe drought, and this snowstorm dumped more snow in the mountains than had fallen in all of January and February!

When the snow melted (it took a couple of days) we were pleasantly surprised to see that the fruit on our trees still looked viable and the gazebo was fixable!

Inside our screened gazebo - the new "family room".

Inside our screened gazebo – the new “family room”.

So, it was time to get back to the business of setting up our temporary living quarters while we build our new home.  Once the new metal shed was completed, we stuffed the back with boxes and then put our new freezer in, along with the electric washing machine from our home in the valley.  I am happy to let the sun dry my clothes because they smell so good and fresh when line dried, however this next winter that won’t be an option.  Of note – line dried jeans literally stand by themselves!  So, dear hubby found an almost new propane dryer on Craigslist for $100. I will still hang most everything out to dry on our solar dryer, but knowing we have an alternative when we really need it is reassuring. This shed is now called our utility room.

By this time weeks had flown by.  We finally had all of our possessions under one roof or another and we were getting settled into our new surroundsings.  We were happy but absolutely exhausted!

It was time to get back to our most important task, and that is to get our house plans drawn and submitted to the county building department for approval! The plans I had been working on over the past four years were on my desktop computer, and it was time to get the computer out of storage (in the car), set it up and finalize the plans I wanted to send to the architect.

Yeah – right.

My desktop wouldn’t boot up completely.  Every time we tried to get the computer running, it would shut itself down.  We took the hard drive to Geek Squad and they gave us the bad news – the motherboard was fried!  Ugh!

So, here I am typing this blog post on my new laptop.  An expense we didn’t expect to have at this time, but it is what it is.

I am learning how to be more flexible and to just “let it go”. 😉

My next project is getting a vegetable garden going.  I have a lot of seeds left over from the garden I planted two years ago, and I am hoping they are still viable.  Dear hubby built four raised beds in the orchard last year I only grew tomatoes and peppers last year, but this year I want to grow green beans, zucchini squash and pattypan squash, more tomatoes and peppers, garlic, onions, sunflowers and maybe even some melon.  Before we left our house in the valley, I was able to get a few cuttings from my oregano and rosemary plants, along with some star jasmine.  I put them in rooting hormone and it looks like they may just “take”.  We will see.

The energy guide label of our new 5.1 cubic foot freezer - very energy efficient!

The energy guide label of our new 5.1 cubic foot freezer – very energy efficient!

Hubby is also working toward installing a new 400 watt solar system that will keep our new little chest freezer running.  Once that is set up, we will be able to store more foods in the freezer and won’t have to completely rely on canned meats and vegetables.  Of course, once the vegetable garden starts producing, it will be nice to have a place to store the excess.  I doubt that I will have enough produce to can this year, but we will see.

Another project we will be working on within the next couple of weeks will be our water tower.  We have a 500 gallon water storage tank that will be set upon a tower that we are building with 20’ long 6 x 8 foot posts.  This will give us better water pressure in our trailer.  Right now, even though we have hot showers, the water pressure is miserable and all we get is a trickle shower. Posts on this project will come soon.

Finally, another project of ours is getting a honeybee hive established.  Our hope is that with a hive in our orchard and another one next year in the permanent raised bed vegetable garden, we will be able to eventually harvest honey and beeswax, ensure pollination of our fruits and vegetables, and help the general honeybee population thrive. Since I will be growing organically, using only heirloom seeds when possible, our garden should be a safe haven for the bees.

So, there you have it.  That’s why I have been absent for so long!  Now that I am back on the blog, I can’t wait to share with you all the things we are doing to continue establishing this wonderful homestead of ours!

I love comments – please leave one below!

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