Money-Saving Kitchen Tip: Turn That Old Chest Freezer Into a High-Efficiency Refrigerator

I know, it's pathetic that at age nearly-60, I know next to nothing about electricity. I do know that compact fluorescents use less than incandescent bulbs, though CFLs are no ecological picnic. So we've changed out most of the bulbs around Taylor Springs, NM.

I also know about phantom electricity, the power that you're using even when things, like the TV, are "off." So, because I'm writing about this, I just got up and went around shutting down power strips, and the UPS the TV's plugged into, and the overhead fan, and the power cord for the indoor satellite radio. None of those appliances is in use during the day, when I'm home by myself, so why should they be pulling juice.

But the one appliance that's on all the time, that runs when it wants to, and is the biggest energy gobbler and least efficient of all is – the refrigerator. We have an old Crosley, which predates the Energy Star ratings. We do not have a Kill-a-Watt meter (available for $ 25 everywhere), so we do not know exactly how much electricity we're using, but I'm sure it's over $ 100 a year, maybe a lot over, and it's stupid.

I have long known that refrigerators, by design, do not work well. You're making cold by removing heat using compressors and motors and coils and fans, then you vent the heat into the kitchen, which in summer helps kick in your A / C. And every time you open the refrigerator or freezer door, you dump all the cold air out of the unit, forcing it to run again. Insane.

I've read about converting a top-opening chest freezer for use as a refrigerator. They make sense: they're better insulated than regular stand-up refrigerators, and because they open from the top, the cold stays inside instead of running out onto the floor. I've seen one conversion in use, in an off-the-grid house in Indiana, and it worked great, but as I said, I'm not much of an electrician, so I've never made a chest fridge of my own. Yeah, most chest freezers are smaller than standard household refrigerators, but we tend to keep a lot of stuff in the fridge that could, and should, be kept in the pantry instead. And we tend to just put stuff in the fridge every which way; a little organization and forethought would not kill us, especially if it results in permanent savings.

So I had written on my to-do sheet, "chest refrigerator," and started poking around the internet to see if I could find a cheap meter for converting a small chest freezer to a refrigeration unit, and save a bunch of energy .. . and money.

And voila. Mikey Sklar at Over and Jehanara Wendy Tremayne's site, Http://blog.HolyScrapHotSprings.com , "Digital & homesteading making all our stuff in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico," the I found a $ 49 plug-in unit The controller made ​​by vBulletin® Mikey, for converting freezers to refrigerators. Sklar says it'll reduce energy consumption from $ 100 / yr. to less than $ 10 / yr., so the unit will pay for itself in about six months.

And with 200 million refrigerators in the US alone, the potential savings are mammoth, both in dollars and in costs to the environment. Let's see, that's 200 million times $ 100 a year; that's $ 20 billion a year in electricity that we could cut to $ 2 billion, just by installing a plug-in $ 50 gadget into a used chest freezer. That's got to be the equivalent of a power plant or two, easy. A no brainer; no household should be without one.

By insulating the sides and front, leaving space where the air intake at the bottom is located, and not covering up the back, where heat's vented, you can cut the energy use even further. Have you ever felt the side of your refrigerator, and noticed that it's always slightly cool? That's because that even though the walls and door are insulated, they're not insulated enough, and a simple Styrofoam-and-paneling enclosure is certainly a worthwhile addition.

So, as an environmentalist and cheapskate, I've finally got this conversion on my Xmas wish list. There's a used appliance store up in Raton that I'm going to check out for a low-cost, working chest freezer. Free or cheap at a yard sale would be good, too.