What happens when the grid goes down? The temperature in your fridge goes up.
Dairy curdles, meat starts stinking, and once-crisp veggies melt into a sad puddle of slime. A fridge loses temperature rapidly without power, keeping food safe for just four hours.
But you don’t have to wait around for your food to go bad.
If you prepare correctly and act quickly, you might be able to save food from spoiling during an outage. Read on to discover all the methods to keep your fridge cold without power, so you can spring into action when the grid fails.
1. Keep Your Fridge Closed
Opening the fridge is tempting, especially if you’re used to leisurely perusing the snack options. However, your browsing habit can cause the temperature to rise quickly.
Why is that?
Because cold air is denser than warm air. It sinks to the bottom of a space, and warmer air comes in to fill the gaps.
In a closed unit, the cold air has nowhere to go. But once you open the door, it literally falls out of your refrigerator. It runs away into the night, leaving you lonely and hungry. So, browse your book collection instead.
Pro tip: Wrap duct tape around the fridge door to prevent yourself and other family members from opening it mindlessly.
2. Insulate Your Fridge
Cold air will escape no matter what, but adding extra insulation will slow the process down. Grab some blankets or towels and wrap them around your fridge. Cover all the sides, and pack linens in the space between the refrigerator and the floor.
Every nook and cranny should be covered. If you want to go the extra mile, you can buy some dedicated foam insulation. An inexpensive choice like SmartShield Insulation will keep heat away for much longer without costing you too much, so it’s perfect to have on hand in case the power goes out.
Pro tip: If you insulate your fridge, make sure to unplug it. If you don’t, the covered vents can be a fire hazard once the power returns.
3. Utilize Your Surroundings
Is it very cold where you are? Consider moving your fridge outside. Of course, those with larger or heavier units may not be able to take advantage of this method.
But if you have a smaller refrigerator, transporting it might be a viable option. If you decide to go this route, be careful. Weather, wildlife, and simply the act of moving it can all cause damage. Make sure to put it in an area that is clearly visible from a window so you can keep an eye on it.
Many sources caution against moving your fridge outdoors because it can attract animals. I believe it’s a trade-off and depends entirely on your priorities.
You might not care about attracting critters if the alternative is losing out on a side of Wagyu beef. But if you’re unarmed in the middle of bear country, outside storage may not be worth the risk.
You can mitigate the danger by staying vigilant. Monitor the weather and surrounding conditions. Never leave it outside overnight when you are asleep because nocturnal animals and sudden changes in weather conditions can harm it. When you go to bed, move it back indoors to safety.
Pro tip: If you aren’t comfortable leaving your fridge outside in cold weather, move it into a separate room next to an open window and check on it periodically.
4. Use Frozen Water
Fill plastic gallon jugs or water storage bricks with water and keep them in your freezer. When the power goes out, simply transfer the frozen jugs to your fridge. The ice will lower the temperature in your fridge and keep it lower for longer. The more frozen water you have, the better.
You can also try using salt water instead of regular water. This might sound counterintuitive because we use salt to melt ice on the road. But salt actually lowers the freezing point of water from 32°F to 28.4 °F. Since the temperature of saltwater must get lower to freeze solid, it takes more time to heat back up and melt, preserving a cooler temperature for longer.
Pro tip: When freshwater ice melts, you can drink it. When saltwater ice melts, you can use it for cooking or washing.
5. Use Dry Ice
Dry ice is a great option for more extended outages. It’s made from carbon dioxide and won’t melt into a liquid. Instead, it will turn into gas, giving off freezing-cold vapor inside your refrigerator. As a bonus, your fridge will resemble a Halloween-style haunted house. Spooky!
At -109°F, dry ice has a much colder surface temperature than regular ice. Touching it with bare skin is dangerous. You could get ice burns on your hands from the extreme cold, while prolonged skin exposure can lead to frostbite. So, wrap it in a towel or wear gloves when you handle it.
Always follow proper safety precautions for using dry ice during a power outage. Never put it inside a completely airtight container. The gas expands as it dissipates and causes pressure to build, which could explode the container or cause injuries when you open it.
Do not put dry ice on sealed cans, bottles, or jars. The dry ice will freeze nearby liquids, and they could explode inside your fridge.
Pro tip: If you want to use dry ice, find out where to buy it before an outage happens and plan to get there ASAP.
6. Use Freezer Items
Not everyone can access dry ice or remember to pre-freeze water. If you’re caught off-guard, you can use other frozen items. Gel or ice packs work exceptionally well since they are designed to hold cooler temperatures, but you can use whatever you have. Transferring frozen vegetables, meats, or even last year’s Thanksgiving pie can help keep the temperature down.
It’s also wise to begin the habit of freezing items you don’t use every day. For example, you may buy a gallon of milk for a recipe but not otherwise drink milk. If you freeze the gallon, it turns into a temperature “power bank” during an outage. Plus, you can thaw it out and use it for another recipe instead of buying another gallon in a few months.
Unfortunately, using freezer items comes at a cost. Removing them will keep your fridge colder, but it will increase the temperature of your freezer. A full freezer will defrost in 48 hours without power, while a half-full one will defrost in just 24 hours. So, every item you take out will cause your freezer temperature to rise a bit faster.
Pro tip: If the outage lasts several days, your refrigerated food will probably spoil even if you add freezer items. In this case, preserving the integrity of your freezer should take precedence.
7. Maintain and Arrange Your Fridge
Keeping your fridge ready for a power outage will help it stay cold when the electricity goes out. This means performing routine maintenance on the unit and arranging the items inside wisely.
Make sure your fridge runs well so it begins an outage at the coldest possible temperature. Check hinges and seals to ensure they close properly and trap cold air inside.
Additionally, pay attention to how much food is inside the fridge. Refrigerated food absorbs cold air and helps keep other food around it at temp. It doesn’t work the exact same way as frozen food, but it does mean an empty fridge will warm up faster than a well-stocked unit. So, buy that extra six-pack!
Pro tip: Keeping your fridge ¾ full is ideal for keeping the temperature down during a power outage.
8. Use an Off-Grid Fridge
One of the best ways to protect yourself from food spoilage during a power outage is to eliminate the need for power in the first place. You can do this by getting an off-grid propane refrigerator that doesn’t need any electricity to run.
If the grid goes down, a propane fridge will still function without a hiccup. These fridges often cost a bit more but typically last longer than traditional ones. They’re an excellent investment and help decrease your reliance on the power grid.
Another option is to use a thermoelectric cooler. These rely on DC to produce a limited cooling effect, but they tend to be less versatile than propane fridges because they are small and don’t get very cold. Switching from a regular fridge to a thermoelectric one will be an adjustment, but solo homesteaders may want to consider it. You can run them on a car battery, boat battery, or solar panels.
Pro tip: Off-grid refrigerators still need fuel to run, so ensure you keep an adequate supply in case of emergencies.
9. Use a Generator
When the power goes out, you can generate backup electricity with a gas or propane-powered generator. Inverter units run clean and aren’t very loud, so they’re the most efficient way to generate power for home appliances like a fridge. It’s much better to use a quiet generator at home since the noise can be pretty outrageous.
A solar generator is another great option. Solar generators have the advantage of being mostly silent and running on free fuel, but they do require sunlight. Power outages often happen during times of inclement weather. If the sky is gray and dark, you won’t be able to use one.
No matter what generator you’re using, make sure it has adequate wattage to power your fridge. A regular fridge may require anywhere from 350 to 780 watts of running power. You’ll need around twice this much to account for surge power. So, your generator should have at least 1,000 to 2,000 watts, depending on your unit.
Read more about running a fridge on a generator.
10. Use a Battery
If you don’t have a generator, you can use a car, boat, or RV battery to power your refrigerator.
You’ll need an inverter to convert DC electricity to AC. You might also need jumper cables to transfer the power, depending on the system. This method can damage both a battery and a fridge if you do it improperly, so give yourself a quick tutorial before the outage.
You can also purchase a battery more suitable for powering appliances during an outage. The Jackery Power Station is a great option. It has 1,000 watts of running power and features both AC and DC outlets, so you can plug your fridge right in. You can even charge it with solar panels, so it’s a versatile option for any situation.
Pro tip: If you get a dedicated backup battery, keep it charged and ready for power outages.
You don’t have to let your food spoil when the grid goes down. By following these tips, you can preserve it during an emergency and stay fed until the power comes back on.