Prepping 101 Keeping food cold with out power

Prepping 101: Keeping food cold without power


Cold food without power

On our talk about the power grid, food preservation came up. Our modern society has evolved to have food fresh and wholesome at all times. A lot of people hold the 18th and the early part of the 20th century as all people having fresh organic wholesome food.

Nothing could be further from the truth. People who GREW their own food- vegetables, fruits, meats, poultry- had fresh food in season. The average city person. Well, they were stuck with what came from the local market.

And most of the time, meats for example, were not the freshest. History Channel did a series on the foods we eat. The touched on HJ Heinz and his catsup. According to the story, he invented catsup to mask the taste of rancid meats that all were eating.

Mass produced refrigerators were not yet invented, and were hyper-expensive when they first came out. By the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, homes had an ice box. They depended on regular ice deliveries to keep food fresh.

The Crosely Icy Ball

Now comes along 1923. The first of the Icy Balls were invented. Fast forward to 1929, and the Crosley Icy ball shows up.

What pray tell is an Icy Ball? It is, or was an early evaporation refrigeration  device that allowed people in rural America and Canada a refrigerator with out electricity.

Image courtesy of Crosley Auto Club

Crosley Icy ball at the Smithsonian. Image courtesy of Crosley Auto Club.

The Icyball is an intermittent heat absorption type of refrigerator. A water/ammonia mixture is used as the refrigerant . Water and ammonia combine easily. They combine in the hot ball at room temperature. When the hot ball is heated, for about 90 minutes, the ammonia evaporates first because it has a lower boiling point than water. The other cylinder is in water to help condense the ammonia in the cold ball. When the balls are fully charged, the cold ball is placed in the insulated box, as the ammonia evaporates to recombine with the water in the hot ball it removes heat, cooling the inside of the refrigerator for 24+ hours.

If you have an RV chances are you have a modern icy ball. I’ve made one once it it worked GREAT. We installed into a huge Coleman ice chest and we would recharge the icy ball every morning. It kept food fresh for an entire 10 day scout camp out with no ice. 

Now some warnings:

Pagan Preparedness does not accept Any responsibility for damage or injury for anyone building one of these units. Ammonia is DANGEROUS and can leak/explode if the device is not made correctly. DO NOT TRY THIS UNLESS YOU ARE FULLY QUALIFIED IN HIGH PRESSURE WELDING AND OR HIGH PRESSURE PIPE FITTING.

That being said, this is the one that I and a welder buddy built. Larry Hall Icy Ball. It worked very well but was heavy for anything but car camping. A friend of mine, Louis, was a professional welder and machinist. He did all the fittings. After we built it and tested it, Louis asked me, “What about using a wrecked RV cooling unit. Well DUH! The Norcold and Dometic units used in EVERY RV are a modified Icy ball.

RV units

What we think may be the safest course of action is to find a wrecked RV and get the cooling unit from the refrigerator. It doesn’t matter if the case of the unit is broken. As long and the unit is in good shape, it will work. Then, make an insulated box to place the unit on. Or, even better, track down a used RV fridge.

There are still companies that make propane refrigerators . But, they are NOT cheap. Warehouse Appliance. Has a great selection of Propane refrigerators. Be prepared for sticker shock.


In the last edition of this topic, I kind of dissed solar. So, hang on a minute and let me get some salt and catsup and eat those words. Nom nom nom. Taste like crap! My error is listed here. The Power grid Is it as bad as we thought?
I was off on a tangent for a fridge. I had in mind those 29 cubic foot monsters. That need about 40-60 kwhs a month.

Now, for SHTF, we plan on preserving a lot of food naturally. Smoked, dried, canned etc. A refrigerator wont be used for every day food storage like they are today. Why don’t we use it to store food so that we can preserve it at a later time? Deer hunting, for example. Use the fridge to cool the meat and to hold it a safe temperature while you get everything ready to process it? Same with vegetables. The gods know that your sweet pea crop does not come in at once. Harvest a week or so at a time put in the fridge/freezer and then do it all at once.

Yes Solar

I wasn’t thinking on this when I wrote my previous piece on power. All the calculations take into account a fridge running 24/7 365. What if you don’t need to run it all the time, and only when you need it? Other than that, keep it on “vacation” settings. Put a thermometer in it and set the temp to keep it about about 10 to 15 degrees below room temp. This will keep it cool, save your solar batteries, and not take forever to bring it to a lower temp. Doing it this way will allow you to cut down on the amount of solar cells needed.

For example the average 25 cubic foot fridge uses about 50kwh a month.

The Solar Panel Math

While there are a lot of variables to consider, a 5.5 x 3 foot solar panel can produce roughly 250 watts of electricity. If we assume the panel gets about four hours of direct sunlight per day (again, plenty of variance here), that’s 1000 watts or 1 kWh of power in one day. Thus, a total of 30 kWh per month with one panel. That is a lot lower than the power needs of a 25 cubic foot fridge.

So. let’s fudge the math a bit. I knew a homestead in New Mexico that tried this. They had a GE 20 cf. fridge. The math for it came out to 42 kwhs a month to run. He had 1 panel of 200 watts. His solution was he pulled out the shelves on the door. Then added 1 inch of hard foam insulation to the INSIDE walls and 2 inches to the door.  He would then run the fridge at a colder setting during the day and then shut it off at night. This allowed him to cut the power needs of the fridge and increase its efficiency.


We can take my buddy’s idea, but down size it a bit to a 18 cf fridge. We can get by with a smaller solar set. A 100 watt panel with good daylight, mounted on stand that can rotate can generate up t0 600 watts a day. 6kwh times 30 is 18 kwhs a month. Totally doable for a smaller fridge. There are cheaper solar sets out there and more expensive.  Me, I’m saving up for this one. Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit.  30 amps of power for 153 bucks. Then a second to power lights. Wait what? Last time you talked about Kerosene lights.

Kerosene cost

Ummm  errrrr welll………  Ok,kerosene lamps are awesome. But will you be able to get more kerosene? Also, what is the cost? Here in South Carolina, Kerosene at Tractor Supply is $35.00 per 5 gallon can. $7 bucks a gallon. 5 cans of this per year per light. 175 bucks. The solar kit I linked is 153 bucks. (We still need to add in batteries and wiring, of course.) But, that is a one time charge. And the system can handle up to 4 100 watt panels.  This is the actual wiring diagram for the linked system

 Renogy 100W Solar Power Starter Kit

Renogy 100W Solar Power Starter Kit

We have a little 17 cf fridge in our house It takes 6.5 amps of power. That comes out to about 750 watts. An inverter needs to have more out put than the running power of a fridge. Good rule of thumb is at least double the amps of it running. So the proper size of inverter would have a surge rating of at least 1500 watts. The system we are building is using the KRIËGER 1100 Watt 12V Power Inverter . This will allow plenty of power to run a fridge, plus some LED lamps and recharge radio batteries


Using this method with a smaller fridge should take a lot of worry out of the prepper’s food storage. We won’t be able to go to Walmart for a gallon of milk. But if we have goats or cows we can store some it as fresh. We will be able to store food until we have enough to make processing less of a daily chore. Or, just to have that moral boost of ice cream in an dark world.


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