How to Live Without a Refrigerator

How to Live Without a Refrigerator

One of the things that seem to surprise people the most when we tell them about our tiny house is that we deliberately chose not to add a refrigerator to our home.

In part this decision was made because of our simple off the grid systems. You probably already know that any time you use electricity to generate heat you decrease the efficiency of a solar power system. We had already decided that any of our heat-producing appliances needed to be fueled alternatively with propane, butane, or wood. Creating cold, in general, also uses a large amount of power.

Of course, there are very nice propane refrigerators available and we considered those but in the end decided we didn’t want to add that type of appliance inside our home. So we researched the alternative of living without refrigeration all together.

We aren’t the only tiny housers choosing to live this way. Tammy Strobel and Logan Smith also go without refrigeration and she wrote about their experience eloquently on Rowdy Kittens back in 2011. We decided to take a similar approach when we moved into our tiny home.

Laura and Matt’s outdoor cooking setup.

Tiny homes and simple living work well together. If you’re interested in living without refrigeration, here are a few simple steps you can follow to start.

  • Buy fresh food. The first thing we did after moving into our tiny house was explore the area farmer’s markets. We are lucky to live in a town where these types of markets are common. We joined a CSA (or Community Supported Agriculture) where we pay a membership fee to a farm to receive fresh produce on a weekly basis. We stock up on vegetables that don’t need to be refrigerated. It has also forced me to get out of my culinary comfort zone and try new things.
  • Buy staples. To supplement our bounty from the farmer’s markets we also keep some staples on hand. These include things like dried pasta and rice. These foods can last a long time if properly stored and can be combined with almost any ingredient to make a delicious meal. We often throw together a stir fry with rice or cook up some of the veggies and toss them with pasta, olive oil, and herbs.
  • Plan your meals. Some foods, like meats, are perishable and they need to be eaten quickly. We usually take a walk around the market to scope out our options before we buy anything. Then we make a plan for the next week of meals. We think through what days we’ll be out for dinner as well so we don’t buy too much food. If we buy meat we eat it the same day. Anything that would be okay overnight we eat the next day, and so on.
  • Shrimp salad. Meats are eaten the same day they were purchased.

  • Know what is safe at room temperature. One of the things I love to pick up at the farmer’s market is farm fresh eggs. As it turns out, fresh eggs don’t necessarily need to be refrigerated. Certainly, if you have a refrigerator they can last a couple of months when kept cool but if you don’t they’re fine for a week or two on your counter. I love eggs so we grab a dozen and use them throughout the week making egg sandwiches, fried rice, or in a recipe. Butter, if it is covered, and even hard cheeses can last for a little while without being refrigerated. There are a lot of resources online for foods that don’t need to be kept cold. Here is one pretty good list.

Do you think you would consider living without refrigeration?

*Full disclosure. We do have something called a Stirling Engine Cooler. These extremely efficient electric coolers, sold by Coleman, are unfortunately no longer available but they were meant to be used by long haul truckers or on boats. We miraculously found one while we were building our tiny house and snatched it up. We keep it under our tiny house and hooked directly to our batteries. We only turn it on when we need it. In all honesty, we only use it to keep our beer cold. 


Laura is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings and she walks the walk. She lives in a 120 square foot cabin in Asheville, NC that she and her partner Matt built themselves. You can learn more about Laura and Matt at their website 120squarefeet.com.

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11 Comments → “How to Live Without a Refrigerator”


  1. Jim

    May 13, 2014

    Can you supply information on the cooktop / stove pictured?

    Reply

  2. Teri Sonnenberg

    May 13, 2014

    I was on Wikipedia and found a type of fridge that is environmentally friendly, and is what was once used in rural areas if Africa where there was no electricity. Two ceramic pots, both glazed on the inside, one that fits in the other. In between them is lined with sand, and some water if you want but not necessary. The top is covered with damp cheesecloth. Meat will stay cold fir up to 14 days.

    Reply

  3. Jack Simmons

    May 13, 2014

    Regarding farm fresh eggs… they do not require refrigeration as long as they have NOT been washed. If your farm fresh eggs are being washed by your provider or by yourself, they DO need refrigeration. Washing eggs removes the bloom, exposing them to bacterial contamination, even ‘pushing’ whatever ‘dirt’ was on the egg through the permeable eggshell into the egg itself. Even unwashed they only last a month or so un-refrigerated. If you’re uncertain about egg freshness, do the float test!

    Reply

  4. Freer

    May 13, 2014

    I would have a small ice maker. You can cool things sometimes with the ice as needed, and have ice for drinks!

    Reply

  5. Julie

    May 17, 2014

    So cool. I have also read about using 2 pots and wet sand for very effective cooling, I haven’t tried it though. You should research it.

    Reply

  6. Iska

    May 17, 2014

    Also, fermented foods are healthy and a great way to keep vegetables and meats.

    Reply

  7. Mestengo

    May 17, 2014

    There is economical and there is cheap and silly. Living without the pleasures and safety of chilled foods borders on the latter.

    Reply

    • Laura M. LaVoie

      May 20, 2014

      I think that is precisely the point. Some foods are no safer cold than they are room temperature. If I want ice cream, I made an event out of it and go to an ice cream parlor.

      Our choice had nothing to do with saving money but about living in a way that simplified our life and makes us happy. Your mileage may vary.

      Reply

  8. Edward Thompson

    May 18, 2014

    Really wish I could find the stove/oven you are using. Can you send the make/model to me.?
    Had something at one time as well as a Wards Ref,sink,stove. but they seam not to make them anymore.

    Reply

  9. dewhit

    May 25, 2014

    There use to be many in the mountains that built simple stacked rock “pits” in the shallows of creeks to keep milk and butter and other perishables cool.
    I had relatives that had root cellars and would pack potato’s in straw beds to keep for a long time after harvest. A lot of vegetables and fruits were canned and stored in the cellar along with smoked and salted hams.
    Consider using an old free or scrap refrigerator or freezer and gut the compressor and bury it for a simple cool food locker. Be prepared to have to defend it against wild marauders though.

    Reply

  10. Laura James

    May 27, 2014

    Cooking is one of my joys in life, so I don’t think I would be able to deal with not having a small fridge for sensitive items. Although I am an apartment dweller now, I’ve spent time practicing conservation of resources for when I have my own tiny home. So far I’ve learned to get by with very little electricity for lights as well as learning to use much less water and recycle cooking water for plants etc. I even stopped showering every day, using washcloth and a bucket to bathe. However, I love to cook and can and bake, so I don’t know how yet to deal with the idea of not having a refrigerator for sensitive items. I guess I could stop making some dishes that need refrigeration but it would make me sad. I think a person has to balance the need for food safety, joy in working with special ingredients, and the potential for waste when going fridge free. Love the idea of a root cellar. A kitchen garden for picking small amounts of greens, lettuces and herbs daily and an outdoor kitchen will be the first things I build when I create my tiny homestead.

    Reply

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