Saturday, February 21, 2009

Plumbing a Freezer?

Because we raise our own beef and grow a lot of our own vegetables, having a reliable, energy efficient freezer is a must. We make our own electricity and it's very reliable, so we don't have to worry about a grid power outage ruining a season's worth of food. This independence and reliability comes at a price though. Our solar panels make only so much electricity each month, and expanding the array is expensive, so we are always conscious of our energy budget. We spent a considerable amount of time looking for an energy efficient freezer. In the course of our research, we found three things to be universally true...

1. High end commercial freezers are energy hogs! For those high-end manufacturers that do publish energy consumption numbers, the numbers are pitiful. Best to stick with consumer models because, ironically, cheaper is better when you start shopping energy star stickers.

2. Chest freezers use less energy (on a cubic foot basis) than upright freezers. But we have two hand-me-down chest freezers, and we know from experience that the food (and trophy animals awaiting the taxidermist) on the bottom can get lost for years. No one wants to dive head first into the freezer to dig out anything except maybe Bryer's ice cream or t-bone steaks (but the good stuff never sifts to the bottom anyway!) The result: at least a third of our chest freezers' capacity goes unused, thereby offsetting the energy savings of this style. We opted to forgo the "theoretical energy savings" of a chest freezer and bought an upright freezer instead.

3. Manual defrost freezers use a lot less energy than automatic defrost freezers. In fact, automatic defrost freezers use about 50% more energy than manual defrost freezers, because they actually heat up internally, at regular intervals (24hrs?), enough to melt the ice inside the freezer. Whatsmore, the automatic thaw-freeze cycle can cause freezer burn to any food that touches the internal walls of the freezer. So manual defrost freezers are superior from an energy standpoint as well as a food quality standpoint. But what about the inconvenience of manually defrosting?

As a kid, I remember my mother and grandmother hacking maniacally and relentlessly at their freezers with ice picks and the resulting melty mess that was left on the floor. I would wait patiently for the biggest chunks of ice to eat. I don't think I ever actually ate a whole chunk - the ice always tasted like "freezer." More often, I'd sneak off and drop the ice down someone's shirt. My point... defrosting a freezer is fun if you're a kid, but drudgery if you are the adult. What to do?

One day, while shopping at Lowes for a clothes-washer drain pan, I noticed they had oversized drain pans. I had a eureka moment. Would it work? I whipped out my tape measure and discovered the oversized drain pans were the exact size as the footprint of a 20 cu.ft. upright freezer. I bought one, brought it home, cut a hole in the floor, plumbed it to a small p-trap and tied it into our gray-water drain system. Voila - a freezer drain pan to take out some of the P.I.T.A. factor of defrosting a freezer. (the photo at the right shows a regular washer drain pan, not the oversized one I used under the freezer)

Yesterday we put the final coat of polyurethane on the quarter-sawn oak parquet floor in our pantry. And today we moved the freezer, ceremoniously, out of our great room and into its cubbyhole in the pantry, where it's now sitting comfortably on the oversized drain pan. Of course, we took the food out before moving the freezer, and my wife took the opportunity to defrost it (in the great room), so it'll be about 6 months before I get to test the drain pan, but I'm confident it will work. (BTW, my wife just reminded me this model has a drain plug on it that can be plumbed to a hose, but she thinks this all-encompassing-pan will work much better - in fact we're now debating whether this was my idea or hers!)

And what to do with all that extra power we'll have? Maybe buy an ice cream maker? mmm.


Anonymous Jim K in PA said...

Hey Tom - great subject. We recently replaced our dishwasher. While shopping, we found that the only "Energy Star" rated DWs were the cheaper models. Ours is Estar rated, and cost 1/3 what the top of the line models did.

BTW - do you have a backup energy generation plan? I am looking into slow speed cold start diesels. I was looking at a Listeroid, but now I think a Redstone is in our future.

But only after the three-stage pico-hydro setup is in, and the VAWT, and the PVs. Come on Lotto!

February 23, 2009 at 12:43 PM  
Blogger oldmilwaukee said...


Glad you like the subject - I have some more appliances to write about. Specifically, our Staber washing machine. We bought it 18 months ago and have been using it at our trailer. Completely made in USA (Ohio), top loading, horizontal axis washing machine. It's an odd ball, but it is awesome and a real energy/water saver. I can't really get a picture of it at the trailer, it's in such a tight spot!

I have a 14Kw PTO generator that will hook to any of our tractors - but it is best matched to the 27hp Kubota. Because we use our tractors and have to keep them running anyway, I know the genny will "start" when I need it to start. I haven't plugged it in at the house site, but I have used it at the trailer and elsewhere in the field on the farm. My mig welder will run on it, but I get a lot of voltage faults which is annoying. The regulation of the voltage must be pretty spotty. I think the brand is Winco and the gearbox leaked within 6 months. Other than that, it's an OK solution for now.

I would like to have a tri-fuel genny dedicated to the house site... capable of burning methane. :) I think it is possible to run a diesel genny like that listeroid off of methane as well. (or at least augment the diesel by feeding methane into the air intake).

When you win the lotto, I'd suggest solar - so far it has been trouble free.

February 23, 2009 at 3:57 PM  

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