Posts Tagged With: Saving Energy

Unplugging the Fridge: Cost vs. Inconvenience and Project Review

Nice Jugs!

A few weeks ago, I posted on what we had saved for the first two weeks of our fridge-less project. I got some interesting responses!  Some of which made me realize that not everyone who is a current browser on my blog fully understood what we were doing.  I had a hair-brained idea to see if we could live without a refrigerator for a month.  No reason.  Not really to save money (though I knew we probably would).  More like, I just wonder if we can?

I got a lot of “I’d love to do that, but I can’t live without my [insert favorite cold food or drink item here]” comments.  That was never the point of our experiment.  More like the opposite.  How could we unplug the fridge and still eat and drink all the things we like to have?

So if you’re a newer reader and have not followed since the beginning of this project, which we started in May, or if you just can’t remember that far back (I know I can’t!), please read my first post about it.  It summarized the old and inefficient fridge we were using, and some of what we thought we were getting into.  This post explains how we are keeping food cool.  Yes we still have milk and yogurt and cheese and meat.  And we use the chest freezer in the garage.  I have two boys, a preschooler and a toddler.  And they love them some yogurt.  ;)

One of the more interesting comments I got after that post a couple weeks ago came from a reader on Facebook.  She said:

I watched “No Impact Man” with my yoga class and we had a discussion afterwards about the movie and in particular the getting rid of the fridge part. Even though they were “saving electricity” in their apartment, they were using someone else’s electricity to procure the ice they were using, not to mention that spoilage was possible by not keeping cold foods at a safe temperature, especially considering they had a baby in the house. Most of us in the yoga class came to the conclusion that we *could* go for a time without a fridge – I’ve done it myself after several hurricanes for up to 3 weeks – but the energy that shutting off most new energy efficient refrigerators actually saves is often negligible.Your family saved approximately $4. You didn’t say in your blog post, so I have to ask: was $4.00 worth the extra trouble and inconvenience?

So first, I want to talk about the inconvenience.  Here’s what is currently in the “icebox” (the freezer compartment of our unplugged refrigerator):  A gallon of milk, a quart of half and half, a half gallon of yogurt, four kinds of cheese, a tub of cottage cheese, lemon juice concentrate, fish sauce, homemade jam that’s a little too runny at room temperature, peanut butter (so I don’t have to stir it every time), green onions, grapes, a pound of butter, hoisin sauce, ginger, my bacon grease container, half a bottle of bleu cheese dressing, and mustard.  Oh, and two one-gallon jugs of ice.  Normally there would also be mayonnaise, possibly some orange juice, and usually some carrots and celery, but I need to go to the store.  Meat for tonight’s dinner is defrosting on the counter.

To keep all of this cold, I walk out to the chest freezer in the garage each morning (usually while I’m on my way to get chicken food) and swap the half-melted ice jugs for two completely frozen ones.  I also grab meat for that night’s dinner and a pack of peaches or frozen veggies or whatever I’m going to use later in the day.  Pretty simple, and we didn’t change our diet or menu at all.  The only thing is that I now buy only one gallon of milk instead of two each week, or it will go bad too soon.  I don’t go to the store more often, we just are drinking less milk (but this hasn’t been an effort, not sure how it’s working actually?).

We did leave for the weekend at the end of May, and that entailed a bit of planning for the condiments we left behind, but it really wasn’t a big deal.

Next, cost.  From May 1 to May 18, we saved $0.31/day or $5.58 for the month compared to the previous year.  That was 15.5%.  Unlike No Impact Man, we were still running our chest freezer in the garage, regardless of the experiment, so this was a true and actual savings, since we run our own freezer year round, and we ran it last year as well.

Now it’s been a full billing cycle.  From 5/18/11 to 6/17/11:

This Year Last Year
Average Daily Temperature
62°
64°
Gas/Therms per Day
0.57
0.38
Gas/Cost per Day
$0.71
$0.59
Electric/kWh per Day
12.67
18.52
Electric/Cost per Day
$1.53
$2.29

Translation:  We saved $0.76 per DAY over what we spent last year!  For a month, that’s $22.80 in electricity.  Um – math people, correct me, but is that really 33.2% !?!??!?!  REALLY!??!?!  Whoa.

Is it worth it?  Um, yes, 33.2% savings over a year in electricity is worth a daily trip to the garage freezer to swap out ice jugs to us!  That amount of money would put a decent dent into buying a newer, more efficient freezer (which would really save us a lot more, since ours is from the 1980’s).

Will we keep it unplugged?  As it stands, Y.E.S.!!  Now, admittedly, this is the first week of distribution from the CSA, so we’re not sure how all of that will be handled once the major produce really starts rolling in.  I am 35 weeks pregnant, which means I can expect to be less available to handle food preservation duties for a few weeks.  But Rick and I make a pretty good tag team.  There’s no law that says if the going gets tough (or we’re just plain going crazy), we can’t plug back in to catch up.  But I really don’t think that will happen.  I will, of course, tell you if it does.  Full disclosure here. The plan for now is to keep going without it.  Feels kind of liberating, actually!

So what do you think?  Would you be willing to try it?  Any ideas of how we could improve?  Do you think it’s worth it?

Also, I think I linked to nearly all of them, but just in case, here is the entire series of posts covering our Unplugging the Fridge experiment.  Happy reading! 

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Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , , | 19 Comments

Wanted: Fridge-Sitter

Ever wonder what happens when you leave town for the weekend, and you have resolved not to plug in your fridge?  Probably not, huh.

Last weekend we wanted to take a spur-of-the-moment mini trip to the mountains.  It was the last weekend we had free before we hit the end of June-holiday/birthday craziness, and then it would be July and the baby would be due at any time.  My mom was a gem and said we could camp in their motor home for the weekend.  So we went for it.

I basically packed up the whole icebox into a cooler.  I put in the ice jugs, the quart of milk we had left (I put it into a jar instead of the big jug), the half and half, the cheese, some green onions and the pork chops we’d planned to cook.  All that was left in the icebox was my jar of bacon grease that I save to cook with, a jar of mayonnaise, some celery and a few other random condiments that required the cold.  We packed all of these into a smaller cooler with ice packs.  And then we took the shelf out of the freezer compartment, and put the little cooler in to stay the weekend without us.

The verdict?  Everything in the little cooler/freezer compartment/condiment and bacon-grease-preserver thing-a-ma-jiggy stayed cold.  The whole weekend.  Everything we took with us in the cooler for the weekend got used, with the exception of the last of the milk, which soured due to us neglecting the expiration date and then leaving it in the heat without replenishing the ice (since we’d used everything else by then, we forgot it).  So, yay.  A weekend away, a full three days and two nights, without plugging in a fridge and nothing but the neglected milk going bad.

So, if you decide to be crazy like me, rest assured that you can preserve your condiments without a fridge for a weekend, without changing ice packs or inviting your neighbors to see just how nutso you really are, if you use a good cooler that you don’t open ever until you’re ready to unpack it upon your return.  ;)  Heh. Longer than a weekend, you should probably make other arrangements though.  Either use those condiments up, give them away, or resolve to make peace without them, I’d think.  Or you can invite the same neighbor that is collecting your eggs for you to fridge-sit.  ;)

Categories: Food, Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

No Fridge = Saving Money?

So – we went the whole month of May without a fridge.  Was it hard?  No.  In fact, it was surprisingly easy.  Kind of undramatic actually.  In my last update, I mentioned that we’d continue the experiment for at least a full billing cycle from our electric company to see how our energy saving (if any) was adding up.  This month’s bill showed up, and although it wasn’t a full cycle, we’re seeing some savings at least.  From 4/18/11 to 5/18/11, this is what our bill looked like:

This Year Last Year
Average Daily Temperature
49°
49°
Gas/Therms per Day
1.03
0.90
Gas/Cost per Day
$0.98
$0.84
Electric/kWh per Day
14.27
15.76
Electric/Cost per Day
$1.69
$2.00

Note: if you’re curious, Nick over at Northwest Edible gave a great explanation of watts vs. kilowatts vs. watt hours, last week.  It was a bit over my head, but good info. 

Obviously we’re using less electricity than we did last year (wonder why we’re using more gas though?).  But it’s not a full billing cycle yet, since we started this project on May 1st.  We’re going to keep it up at least one more month to see what we get.  But so far, I’m happy that there has been some impact already… if I’m doing my math right, that 31 cents works out to an average savings of 15.5% per day.  (!!)

Categories: Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

To Be Continued

Four weeks now without a fridge and going strong.  We’ve had a lot of questions about the experiment and how it’s gone so far.  Last week, a friend asked if we knew yet if we planned to continue, or if we were going to plug back in after the month was up.  The honest answer, at this point is yes, and I don’t know yet.

Yes, we plan to continue living without the fridge plugged in, at least for a while.  Partially because it’s not been that hard or that big of an inconvenience.  Partially because I really want to get a full month’s billing cycle (or maybe two) from our power company under our belts, so we can compare the bills to last year.  I don’t know how significant of an impact not running the refrigerator will have on our energy consumption and bills for just the one or two months.  I’m hoping it’s a lot, but I realize that translating those kilowatt-hours to dollars isn’t always that huge of an impact either.

When asked what amount was significant enough to keep it unplugged, I didn’t really have an answer.  I like the idea that by unplugging the fridge for a year we could save enough money to upgrade our older, less efficient freezers to new, super efficient machines.  But I don’t know how realistic that is.  And if it’s not, I don’t know that that will make me plug back in either.  It’s sort of an open question right now I guess.

The other reason I don’t know how long the experiment will continue is that we’re coming up on summer when the CSA will be in full swing and we will have a lot of vegetables to get through every week.  This was Rick’s first major concern when I originally brought up the unplugging idea to him.  I plan to take it one week at a time.  To try to be efficient and wise about getting veggies put away in the freezer, kept cool in water, and used up within the week as we can.  But I’m not going to just let them waste or rot if it gets down to it.

I expressed the possibility of using the fridge in the summer if we are overwhelmed with produce and then re-unplugging it again in the fall and through the spring until it’s needed again.  But we’ll see if that’s even an issue as the summer gets here.  The CSA season starts usually in mid-June and takes a few weeks to get into full gear before we’re bring home loads and loads of food.  We’ll be able to adjust and take it as it comes, I think.  ;)

So far, we’ve learned a lot already.  I learned that once you open the cheese, you better use it up, and don’t store it in the door unless you want it to go moldy.  Also, I learned not to buy two gallons of milk at a time.  They take up too much space and we ended up giving about half a gallon to the chickens that was spoiled during the first week, simply because it’s not quite as cold in the icebox as the fridge was, and the expiration date wasn’t at the end of the week.

At this point, we’re looking to keep going.  We still have a week left in the experiment, but I just don’t see us plugging in yet.

Categories: Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

Where’s the Meat?

Since my post last week when we unplugged the fridge I’ve gotten a lot of questions (mainly on my facebook page) about meat.  Are we vegetarian?  Are we switching to raw foods?  How do we plan to keep meat from going bad?  What about lunch meat?

Well, it’s pretty simple.  No we’re not vegetarian or switching to a raw food diet.  And we don’t store meat in the icebox (or the fridge).  Rick is a hunter.  The majority of our meat is some kind of game meat, mainly elk right now.  And we process his annual fall harvest (meaning we butcher and package the meat) ourselves.  That means all our meat is in vacuum-sealed packages, appropriately sized for our family.

When meat is on our menu, roughly three days a week in the summer time, I go out to the chest freezer in the garage, retrieve the prescribed package of protein and let it defrost on a plate on the counter, just in time to get cooked up for dinner.  If it’s a hot day in the summer and it defrosts quickly (we don’t have AC, I know you’re shocked), I put the plate in the fridge.  This is what I’ve always done in the past.  I plan to use the exact same method with the new icebox set up.

We generally don’t buy much in the way of meat from the grocery store.  It’s difficult to find humanely raised meat sources that don’t cost an arm and a leg.  That chicken we ate last week – regardless of it’s toughness, totally made Henry’s night – he loves chicken and we rarely eat it.  Lunch meat/deli meat is generally very processed and full of nitrates and preservatives.  Not very good for you in other words, and we basically never buy it.  The one meat we find ourselves bringing home periodically is bacon or bratwurst (the nitrite free kind on both counts).  But these are specific menu items that get used within a day or two of coming home from the store, and are a treat for us.  I don’t foresee a problem making half a pound of bacon last a day or two in the icebox.

When I announced this project, my mom, who really does think I’ve lost it completely, asked about the Thanksgiving turkey.  Well, luckily for the experiment, Thanksgiving isn’t in May.  But if it were and I were in charge of the turkey, I imagine I’d either buy it fresh a day or two ahead and keep it in the icebox (or a cooler with ice packs?) until T-day, use the cold water method to defrost it, or, as a last resort, ask the bachelor neighbor who runs a nearly empty fridge anyway to use his.

The other question a few people asked me (people who admitted they hadn’t been following along from the beginning) was where would we get the ice, since the fridge was unplugged and we were using the freezer compartment as a cooler?  The answer to that one is from the freezer in the garage.  We have two freezers in the garage, an upright and a chest freezer.  They are both full come September/October.  By the spring, we can usually consolidate to one and unplug the other.

Sadly, even the old 1980’s chest freezer is running more efficiently than our refrigerator was, and we would be running the freezer regardless of this experiment.  Our freezer contains a whole elk and countless pounds of frozen peaches and plums (around 200 pounds of fruit alone went in last September).  There are a handful of ducks from the winter, grouse from the fall, and a few fish from the summer time.  It holds all our excess farm and garden veggies that weren’t otherwise canned or dehydrated, though we’ve consumed nearly all of those by now.  In years past, when hunting’s been slim, we’ve bought whole pigs or a side of beef from local farmers.  Basically, we couldn’t eat sustainably on our budget without a freezer.  And, there’s room enough in the freezer for a couple of gallon-jugs of ice to use in our experiment.

So far, the switch hasn’t actually been too drastic.  I’ve found myself accidentally opening the refrigerator door to reach for the milk, only to find an empty cavern.  And I’ve made a conscience effort to collect and return items from the icebox all at once for recipes (let’s see, I need cheese, yogurt and the cucumber) in order to keep it as cool as possible in there.  It’s basically like using a cooler, or as CitySister said in the comments last week, it’s like camping!

Categories: Food, Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

We Call it an Icebox

May 1st, we officially began our experiment.  We unplugged the fridge!  I was encouraged at how on-board Rick really was.  On Saturday night, he even made sure that we had jugs of water in the freezer, in order to be prepared for the first day using our freezer compartment as an icebox.

Yesterday was really only a half day with the new system.  I should have prepared better on Saturday by doing all the cleaning and stuff ahead of time, but I was distracted by trips to the garden center.  So, on Sunday morning, Rick cleaned out the freezer while I went to the grocery store.  When I got home, I cleaned out the fridge and we set up the new system in the former freezer compartment (what will from here on out be referred to as the icebox).  The actual unplugging took place around noon.

Here’s what the icebox looks like now.  This is our full week’s worth of refrigerated food, including two gallons of milk, a few condiments I wasn’t sure about leaving out, some leftover greens that we bought last week, and the eggs for my sister that were already in the fridge before.

I’ve done a little rearranging already, putting the less perishable items like carrots, in the door, and keeping the soft cheeses further back by the frozen water jugs.  Also, that container of left-overs on the very bottom left was promptly eaten by me after cleaning out the bottom of the fridge.  It was after lunch time and I was hungry!

I’ve actually had a hard time resisting the temptation to continually open the icebox to feel if things are cold in there, but I know keeping the door closed is crucial to the success of the experiment.  Rick has suggested getting a thermometer that we can keep in there so we won’t worry, and we’re going to experiment with different ice-jug configurations to make sure we’re making the best use of the space and coolness (is that a word??).  He also suggested that we keep the jugs on a towel or something, that way we won’t have to constantly be wiping down the interior of the icebox, since the jugs will probably sweat as they melt.  For someone who thinks I’m crazy, he seems awfully involved, huh?  I guess it’s not just me after all.

Categories: Food, Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Getting Ready to Unplug

I’m not crazy.  Really.  I’m not.  I just read a lot of green-type articles and blogs, and I think .  I think a lot.  When I mentioned my latest idea to Rick, he became very quiet.  You know, the kind of quiet where someone clearly thinks you’re off your rocker, but is trying to figure out how to say so and if it’s really true?

Perhaps it’s because he’s experienced with my “thinking episodes.”  He calls it a ‘wild hair,’ or my ‘latest project.’  But I know he hasn’t forgotten how those nagging little thoughts of mine plague me until I drag him and the rest of my family into some project or other that the rest of society at large would consider crazy.

Consider for example when I started thinking about chickens.  In our back yard.  In the city.  Or when I started thinking about bees.  BEES!  Now we have a coop, eight hens, and an empty bee hive waiting for a second try with a new swarm.

Then there was the time I started thinking about the microwave.  I’m pretty sure this is what Rick’s mind flashed to when I mentioned to him this latest “wild hair.”  You see, lately I’ve been thinking about our fridge.  I’ve I’ve thought about it a lot actually over the last few years.  Our fridge was here in our house when we moved in.  So we knew it was at least 8 years old… and recently, I can’t seem to stop thinking about how much energy it’s using.  As the appliance that consumes the most energy in American homes, the refrigerator, running 24/7, I have been concerned about all the kilowatts leaching out of our meter.

I called the manufacturer of our refrigerator, model and serial numbers in hand.  I was surprised to learn that our fridge was not as old as I thought.  Made in June of 2001.  But I was dismayed at the big 863 kWh that it was consuming.  New refrigerators of the same size and style are consuming less than half than that.  Ours is consuming more than the old 15 cubic foot chest freezer from 1984 in the garage – that consumes a whopping 601 kWh, nearly fifty-percent more than what a similar modern freezer consumes.  This seems like a big problem to me.

Initially I thought the solution to this problem would be for us to get a new fridge and a new freezer.  See that was my first thought (i.e. not crazy!!).  But we don’t really have the $600 to shell out for a new freezer, let alone $800-1400 for a new fridge.  Then I started paying attention to what our fridge was actually doing.  The freezer on top usually stores the frozen CSA veggies and random meats brought in from the chest freezer for the current week’s dinners.  The refrigerator only really contains our eggs, dairy, condiments, and an excess of greens and celery.  Sometimes there are left-overs in there for a day or two (max, we’re good left-over-eaters around here).  I defrost foods on the counter the day I need them.

In other words, we’re not really using much space in the fridge, and some of the things we have in there don’t really even need refrigeration.  Eggs are shelf stable for quite a long time, and in Europe, they are even sold on the grocery shelves unrefrigerated.  Many condiments are shelf stable as well, despite warnings to “refrigerate after opening.”   And, around our home, lots of them get used up way before they’d ever spoil in the cabinet (peanut butter and jelly, soy sauce or sesame oil, for example).  So my second thought was to look for a smaller fridge.  An apartment-sized or even a dorm-sized fridge.  But I found out that they consume a lot of energy as well.  Nearly what a large fridge consumes.  And they have a pretty hefty price tag, even on craigslist.

Now I was questioning what we really needed.  For basically just storing our milk, yogurt, half and half, and the occasional bowl of left-over noodles or extra head of kale, what did we need?  Do you see where I’m going here?

I’m thinking about going without a fridge.  Let me say it again, so you know it’s not a typo… I’m thinking about going without a fridge.

So you can see why I was surprised that Rick didn’t immediately pass out when I mentioned to him a few weeks ago that I’ve been thinking about the fridge.  I have to give him a lot of credit.  He silently listened to my idea.  I explained my idea, talking fast because I could hear the doubt oozing through his silence.  We have coolers and I had an idea about using the top freezer portion of the fridge as sort of an ice box.  His next question, an incredulous statement really, was “you really expect me to run out to the freezer during the freezing-cold winter to swap-out ice packs because you don’t want to use the fridge?”  but he had answered his own question.  In the winter it would be cold.  We could keep things outside the back door on the patio.

As what I was suggesting started to sink it, I think I heard a muttering or two of “my wife really is crazy” and a sort of stifled laugh.  But there was some weird resignation coming through the phone.  I broke the news to him while he was at work, you see.  Safer that way, I figured, and it would give the idea a little time to stew in his head before he got home and could really talk about it. I was afraid he’d dismiss the idea out of hand.

When he got home I had my argument all ready.  It would be an experiment.  For just a month.  One month.  And we’d keep the freezers.  And it wasn’t as if we couldn’t use refrigeration… the ice box idea was just a old-fashioned, lower energy form of that.  I promised that we’d only unplug the frige for now, and if it wasn’t working we could just plug it back in and bag the whole thing.  Rick asked surprisingly few questions.  He sort of shrugged.  I asked if he told his co-worker of my idea, and when he admitted that he had, he told me his coworker’s response was, “Do you encourage her?”  I think he must have confessed that he does, so he really didn’t have a lot of argument against it.

After a few minutes, he asked about the summer, when the CSA is in full force and we have more veggies than we know what to do with.  Won’t they all just wilt and go to waste without a fridge to keep them in?  I had thought about this and confessed I didn’t have a total solution… yet.  But my tentative plan was that since I wasn’t going to be working on the farm this year or driving an hour each way every week, I’d have six extra hours and a lot more energy on farm day to get veggies washed and put up properly before anything wilted.  We’d put the things we were going to save for the winter in the freezer the day they came into the house instead of waiting a day or two, and we could use coolers for the melons.  Rick eyed me suspiciously.  But he said I could try it in May if I wanted.  We’d tackle the summer if we decided to continue the experiment.

I have read a bit about going without a fridge in the past, and since deciding to embark on this project.  Proponents like Sharon Astyk and Greenpa give me a lot of hope.  I’ve read the arguments that Deanna at the Crunchy Chicken makes against unplugging the fridge too.  But I think that this really can work for us.  Sharon Astyk has a fairly simple system going that I plan to emulate.  No, we won’t be drinking gallons of milk in a single day.  We’re not the first to try something like this.  And if things work, we’ll probably unplug the fridge for good.  We’ll turn that space into a pantry area to store our canned goods, and we’ll save money for a new, energy-efficient freezer.

Crunchy asks if it’s cheating to use a freezer in your effort to not use a fridge, but the truth of it, at least in my eyes, is that it’s not.  I see them as two different tools.  (You really should read  all the comments on that thread, by the way – you might just get converted by Sharon & Greenpa).  Rick hunts and that is the greenest, healthiest, most organic and humane way to get meat.  Not to mention most economical.  But it would be a waste if we couldn’t freeze it.  The CSA share provides more local, organic veggies than we can eat in a summer.  But local fresh veggies are a rarity here during Colorado winters, and what ever you can find is usually very expensive.  So canning, drying and freezing summer’s excess is another economical, practical, and efficient way to eat well all winter.   And, sadly, even our very out-of-date freezer is running more efficiently than our less out-of-date fridge.

So, let the experiment begin.  I hope you follow along with me in May as we try unplugging the fridge.  If anyone out there has done something like this in the past I’d love to hear your experiences.

Categories: Food, Independence Days, Simple Living, Sustainability, Unplugging the Fridge, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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