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Converting a chest freezer to my daily use refrigerator


waligomes
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Hello all,


I've been thinking about converting a chest freezer to a fridge for a while and I wanted to see if any of y'all had any experience with that kind of foolishness. I couldn't find much when I searched the archives.


Initially, I just wanted a big refrigerator without an attached freezer. I hate my current inefficient fridge.  Both sides of the side by side are always overcrowded and its hard to access the stuff in the back and the narrow freezer really sucks.  Since I have an upright freezer in the garage and an over abundance of room in my kitchen,  I thought why not replace the side by side with just a refrigerator and bring the freezer into the attached laundry room? What I really wanted was a upright drink cooler with glass doors, but my wife wasn’t having it.


So I started looking around for a fridge without a freezer and found they can be a bit spendy. Then I started looking for freezer to fridge conversions and found that not only was it fairly common (especially with the home brew and off-the-grid crowds), but that it was as simple as adding a thermo-switch and sensor in line with the wall plug. Sounds like my SV temp controller. In fact, it's my controller exactly.  Kewl! 


I also found that chest freezers are FAR more efficient than uprights and once I thought about it, that was a screaming daaa. Cold air, the main product of a chill chest, sinks. Open an upright fridge or freezer and a LOT of cold air comes out and down to cool your toes. Your refrigerator spends a good amount of time and energy recovering the “cold” (better stated as removing the heat) Open a chest freezer and that same cold air stays inside. In addition, freezers are generally better insulated than refrigerators (don’t know why they wouldn't have the same insulation (?))


From what I understand, chest freezers really don’t use less electricity when they’re on, they just stay on for a considerably shorter period of time compared to up an upright refrigerator (as little as a 1/10th of the time). Over a year, that’s 10 times less electricity. Since mine would not be trying to cool it to below freezing, its on for even shorter times. Very cool!


Two problems:


  1. Its a pain in the butt bending over to get anything out of the box and organization
  2. A fridge laying on its side takes up waaaay more floor space than standing up.

I’ve lucked out on the second as the previous owner built a small pantry (really a small closet) with two sliding doors, in the middle of the kitchen. If I remove the lower shelves of in the closet, it leaves almost exactly the right amount of space for a 9 to 14 cubic foot chest freezer with enuf space to open it AND leaves room for two shelves above it. Way cool!


The first problem requires a bit more head scratching. I could just put crates and baskets in the chest and lift them out to access the goodies beneath. But that leaves cold groceries on the counter till I get to what I want. I think a better idea would be a number of tiered wire shelves along the length and at each end. I got the idea for someone's site that writing on the top of refrigerated stuff and jars makes for easier identification from above.  I  like the idea of a fairly open bottom for two or so cambro's for veggies and meats and enuf open space to put a tall pot or tub for brines and marinating.


Using a full width and length bottom shelf combats a third problem that I forgot to mention: Condensation. Without a dryer or dehumidifier I suspect moisture from the warm damp air that comes in every time you open the lid will condense and collect on the bottom of the chill chest. All I could come up with is the bottom shelf to raise the food a bit and periodically open the drain. (anybody know anything about de-humidifiers and or dryers?)


After looking at some actual chest freezers, the shelves could actually work. I think split sliding shelves that cover a bit more than half the length would give me a bit more area shelf area. By sliding I can get better access to everything below.  The 10 CF unit at Home Despot looks just right for my kitchen.


What I’d REALLY like to do is go all Rube Goldberg on it and make all of those shelves rise out of the box when you open the lid with gas sprung lifters (think of your cars hatchback lift springs)


Ok, maybe not.


So has anybody been there and done that? Anybody see any glaring reasons I should not go this route? Fire away! 


Thanks!  


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I can't offer any technical expertise in this area - sorry - but, I bought an upright 'freezer' last year that has a feature that allows it to be either a fridge OR freezer (not both at once though), depending on what temperature setting I use. I am using it as a freezer currently but love the idea that I could easily change that at any time - and it was cheaper than either an 'all fridge' or fridge/freezer combo. If you can't make your conversion plans work, you may want to look into the either/or concept freezer.

There are very few to no chest freezers that do not require manual defrost these days - which I see you didn't list in your 'problem' section but do seem to understand when you say " All I could come up with is the bottom shelf to raise the food a bit and periodically open the drain. (anybody know anything about de-humidifiers and or dryers?)" If you are just looking for a fun project to dabble with, I hope you reach your goal - but, it is sounding very complicated to have to deal with all the issues you have identified - and perhaps costly too?

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The problem with a chest freezer that is converted to a refrigerator temp is that the air circulation is not optimal - or even passable if you come right down to it.

There will be areas of low temp and areas with much higher than desirable temps if you are storing things that need to be below a certain temp.

 

A friend tried this for storing wines several years ago and had some difficulties and ruined some pricey stuff.

 

If you have room for an upright, consider one of the commercial units that you can find used at restaurant supply places for the same cost as a home type fridge and they are built to last for decades, not years.

 

My friend now has two units, similar to this  that he fitted with wood racks to hold wine bottles - and with the bottom reserved for upright beer bottles.

 

He has them in the garage because the compressors are somewhat noiser than home fridges.

Edited by andiesenji (log)
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"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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The problem with a chest freezer that is converted to a refrigerator temp is that the air circulation is not optimal - or even passable if you come right down to it.There will be areas of low temp and areas with much higher than desirable temps if you are storing things that need to be below a certain temp.

 

Had the same issue with my sv rig. I added circulation and that brought that into line (+/- 0.1 oC throughout the bath) Although it would add some inefficiency (heat and electricity), wire shelves and a couple of pc fans should do for circulation inside the chest.    

 

If you have room for an upright, consider one of the commercial units that you can find used at restaurant supply places for the same cost as a home type fridge and they are built to last for decades, not years.

 If you can't make your conversion plans work, you may want to look into the either/or concept freezer.

 

Those are two very good ideas and I'l probably go that route if this one doesn't pan out.


There are very few to no chest freezers that do not require manual defrost these days

 

Condensation appears to be a valid concern. Some of the brewer's use an "Eva-dry Mini Dehumidifier". Its a renewable desiccant with a small heater built-in that you plug in periodically (every few months or so) to "renew" it. I've "read" that it dried out a fridge that the owner previously had to sop up to half an inch of water out of.  Hmmm, caveat lector. ....But if it does! 

 

He has them in the garage because the compressors are somewhat noiser than home fridges.

 

Hmm, now that's one I had not considered.  :unsure:  One reason I haven't popped for an induction cooktop yet is the whine of my hob. Do I really want to add something else to my kitchen cacophony? 

 

 I hope you reach your goal - but, it is sounding very complicated to have to deal with all the issues you have identified - and perhaps costly too? 

 

One of the main attractions for me is that all of the freezers I've looked at are well under $500. Combined with the potential energy saving, that fits my frugal nature like a glove. As for complication, well, my primary hat is a math teacher's. One of my favorite quotes from me is "It's not hard, it's complicated. Complicated just means its a bunch of simple steps"  This is starting to look like one of those "give me the helmet. I'll be the stuntman" moments. Thanks for the quick replies and please keep shooting. 

Edited by waligomes (log)
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Sounds like a good project to me! If it is more efficient than an upright refrigerator and works with even temperatures that do not leave your food frozen or in the danger zone, then your project makes a lot of sense and i would say keep us posted on your progress please.

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I had a chest freezer set up as a fridge when I was living off-grid and I currently have two chest freezers set up as curing chambers (essentially all the same setup.) 

Temperature controller...12v PC fan for air circulation...and food safe silica gel to dehumidify when necessary....not a big deal really.

~Martin :)

I just don't want to look back and think "I could have eaten that."

Unsupervised, rebellious, radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, and adventurous cook. Crotchety, cantankerous, terse curmudgeon, non-conformist, and contrarian who questions everything!

The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it!

 

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Two problems:

  1. Its a pain in the butt bending over to get anything out of the box and organization
  2. A fridge laying on its side takes up waaaay more floor space than standing up.

 

 

I think the pain in the butt factor every day for years on end would preclude me from doing the conversion.  How are you going to organize odd size condiments and delicate veg along with items that might spill or drip?  I can see doing it if you're making a keg-erator or second fridge that wouldn't be used that much, but digging through the chest for everything every day?  That would drive me nuts.

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I dunno... nothing is stopping you from converting a p.o.s. chest freezer, and if you use it for bottled beverages you probably won't incur any spoilage--just warm drinks.

 

But I've worked with chest freezers for a loooong time now.  IMHO they are best for long term storage of bulky items, it's not comfortable or easy to access stuff in them on a muliple-daily basis.  Mind you I've worked in places that have hooks and bungee cords hanging from the ceiling, or longish piees of 2 x 4 (construction timber, if you're English) to stuff in the chest and prop the lid open with.  Keeping the lid open and still having a free hand to shuffle or move stuff around can be dangerous....

 

Thing is, most chest freezers work best with a layer of ice on the interior walls.  They also have different "zones", with the stuff closer down to the bottom being colder.  Kitchen staff use this to thier advantage, keeping the ice cream closer to the top so it's easy to scoop.  They are also a pain in the rear to clean out spilled or crusted-on stuff, as you have to really reach in to get to the floor.  And finally, they are a bit of a space-pig, as their "footprint" is much larger than a reach-in, and any space above the lid must be kept free (useless, dead space) to access the freezer.

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Be creative.  :smile:

 

I had my chest freezer "fridge" set up with simple sliding shelves....no "digging" for anything...it worked quite well.

 

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~Martin :)

I just don't want to look back and think "I could have eaten that."

Unsupervised, rebellious, radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, and adventurous cook. Crotchety, cantankerous, terse curmudgeon, non-conformist, and contrarian who questions everything!

The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it!

 

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Condensation appears to be a valid concern. Some of the brewer's use an "Eva-dry Mini Dehumidifier". Its a renewable desiccant with a small heater built-in that you plug in periodically (every few months or so) to "renew" it. I've "read" that it dried out a fridge that the owner previously had to sop up to half an inch of water out of.  Hmmm, caveat lector. ....But if it does!

 

FWIW, I tried this product for dehumidifying a small fridge and was not impressed.  As I recall, when I finally thought to check how much moisture it was absorbing, the delta after drying out was something like two ounces (1/4 c).  I'm doing this from memory, so don't take that as gospel, but it's an easy test to replicate.

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Efficiency of a refrigerator or freezer is a function of mainly three factors:

 

1. Insulation quality.

 

2. Condensing coil effectiveness.

 

3. How often you defrost the evaporation coil.

 

dcarch 

4. compressor motor efficiency

"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

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Just wanted to chime in to say don't use your PID sous vide controller to control a freezer compressor, it's not designed for rapid on/off cycles.

If you do, figure out how to increase the minimum control period to 30 seconds or more. Imo anyway.

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Just wanted to chime in to say don't use your PID sous vide controller to control a freezer compressor, it's not designed for rapid on/off cycles.

If you do, figure out how to increase the minimum control period to 30 seconds or more. Imo anyway.

 

That's an important consideration for refrigeration systems.

 

Try looking for an aquarium temperature controller. Many have both heating and cooling relay contacts. The aquarium cooling contact is designed to have delay timing for a compressor.

 

Regarding desiccants, try weighing them before and after, and you will realize they are of not much use in absorbing moisture.

 

dcarch

Edited by dcarch (log)
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For desiccants, I've been using the Damp Rid stuff... I seem to recall it is Calcium Chloride salts, and it does a fine job at keeping the humidity in a chest freezer with a temp controller attached to it under control.  You can tell it is effective, as the tub of salt crystals eventually turns into a tub full of liquid... which tells you it is time to switch it out.  The freezer/fridge seems to do a fine job for beer and beer related purposes, but I'd definitely recommend a few PC fans if you want to be sure the temperature is consistent all the way through the thing.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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I recently converted a standard refrigerator into a curing chamber primarily by adding my own temperature controller: what you are describing is similar. As someone else mentioned, you can't use a sous vide temperature controller, which are typically PID controllers. For a fridge you actually only use a simple "bang-bang" controller, switching the compressor on and off (which of course you don't want to do too often, so make sure your controller has a pretty loose tolerance).

 

I also caution you that your energy savings are probably not going to be measurable just switching between a chest and upright variety. It actually takes very little energy to cool the air in the fridge, so opening and closing the door is not as costly as you might guess.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Further to the Eva-Dry mini dehumidifier.  After posting last night, I remembered I still have one kicking around.  It's been in a outside storage locker for a couple years and so, I assume, fully saturated.  Certainly the color indicator window said so.  Indeed, it took 24 hours plugged in to dry it out, as opposed to the usual 10 to 12.  Bottom line, my recollection is correct.  The weight before drying was 1 lb 4-5/8 oz (573 g); after drying it is 1 lb 1-1/8 oz (501 g).  That's a delta of 2-1/2 oz (72 g) or about 5 tbsp water.  And, again, that was fully saturated.  In use, you never reach this level unless you leave it in place after the uptake has slowed to a trickle, which defeats the purpose of using it in the first place.  Drying when the indicator window says it's time produces the 2 oz delta I mentioned.

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Further to the Eva-Dry mini dehumidifier. -------------  The weight before drying was 1 lb 4-5/8 oz (573 g); after drying it is 1 lb 1-1/8 oz (501 g).  That's a delta of 2-1/2 oz (72 g) or about 5 tbsp water.  ----------------------

 

My dehumidifier in the basement  can take out at least a gallon in 12 hours.

 

dcarch

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My dehumidifier in the basement  can take out at least a gallon in 12 hours.

 

dcarch

But what is the volume of air in your basement?  A chest freezer is 13 cubic feet or so...  a basement is what... 1000x that or so. Why are we comparing apples to dust mites? 

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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I spoke to Ed on the phone last evening and asked him about his chest freezer to fridge problems.  He said there have been some more effective conversions since he tried his and he wishes he had been able to tap this wealth of info when he tried it (in 1999).

 

He then sent me an email with this link - one of his neighbors has gone totally solar and did three, large (25 cf) freezer conversions using this technique and controllers with great success.  (raises game birds as well as chickens and needed cold storage for eggs for sale)

His aim was to cut the electricity use dramatically and commercial refrigeration units do draw a lot of power. 

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Not only the cubic feet, but are we comparing the same dehumidifier?

 

Right.  I'm talking about the mini dehumidifier mentioned by the OP in Post #4.  Like this.  It's a passive system, the main "trick" of which is that the dessicant can be heated and reused rather than replaced.

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But what is the volume of air in your basement?  A chest freezer is 13 cubic feet or so...  a basement is what... 1000x that or so. Why are we comparing apples to dust mites? 

 

Not the purpose for my statement to compare apples to dust mites.

 

At the very maximum, a desiccant device will take out only a few table spoons of moisture, and no more. If you have a large batch of food to dry out and if you open the door regularly, and if you are like some who prefer some air circulation to avoid stale air in your curing chamber, you may need to realize the max capacity of your device.

 

A compressor based humidifier, which is already in your frost free freezer/refrigerator has no capacity limits to extract moisture from air.

 

dcarch

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