How To Easily Convert a Chest Freezer to a Fridge For Solar and More!

In the months before purchasing our solar kit, we took measurements of how much power each of our appliances pulls using a Kill A Watt Meter.

After plugging our fridge into the meter for several days, we were able to determine that our upright unit was pulling about 2.25 kWh/day. With a solar system that will only produce 4-6 kW/day (assuming sunny days and clear skies), we had to find a way to reduce the load our fridge required.

I did a lot of research online, reading solar forums to find out what other people were doing for refrigeration off the grid. Many people use propane or gas refrigerators, but we didn’t want to have to depend on buying fuels to keep a fridge running.

Some people recommend solar refrigerators, but with the smallest models starting out at around $700, this option was way out of our price range. A more primitive alternative is using a Zeer Pot, but we really need something more practical than that for our everyday needs.

And then I came across something that sounded too good to be true:

Converting a chest freezer… a regular ol’ chest freezer… into a super energy efficient fridge.

Surely it would be complicated. There would be re-wiring and all sorts of complicated electrical modifications. Right?

Actually, not at all. It’s as simple as an extra plug. But I’ll get to the technical stuff in a minute.

One of the best things about a chest fridge is that they require just a fraction of the energy an upright model uses.

Think about it. Cold air sinks. So when you open an upright fridge, all of that cold air you’ve paid to produce falls right out of the fridge at your feet, which in turn causes it to run more often.

But with a chest fridge that cold air just sinks back down into the unit, requiring less energy to keep it cool. That’s why grocery stores like to use chest fridges.

Even if you don’t have any plans for going off the grid, you might want to consider the benefits of replacing your upright fridge/freezer with chest units simply for the energy savings.

Switching to a chest fridge isn’t for everyone. There are definite drawbacks to a system like this, which we’ll talk about later. But for us, it was a perfect and affordable option to use alongside our solar kit.

Converting a Chest Fridge To a Freezer

chest fridge

Step One: Finding The Right Freezer

When shopping for a chest freezer to convert to a fridge, find the smallest unit to accommodate your needs. Generally, the smaller the freezer the less energy it will require.

We found a 6.8 cu. ft. Magic Chef freezer for $80 on Craigslist. It’ll fit an 8×13 casserole dish down in the bottom, so there’s plenty of room to store leftovers or make-ahead meals.

Although this unit isn’t Energy Star rated, it was comparable. Before deciding on a purchase, do some research into how much energy it uses compared to other models of equal size.

The amount of watts it uses as a freezer will be different from what it’ll use once converted to a fridge, but by comparing models you can at least get an idea of whether it uses more energy than necessary or if it’s pretty energy efficient from the get-go.

To figure out how many watts a freezer pulls, you’ll need to use the formula: Amps x Volts = Watts. There should be a plate or sticker somewhere on the freezer that tells you how many amps and volts your freezer uses.

Just for reference, our freezer breaks down like this: 2.0 A x 115 V = 230 Watts, or .23 kW (1 kW = 1000 Watts). This tells us approximately how many watts the unit uses per hour.

After converting the freezer to a fridge, our unit was pulling .68 kWh/day. Once we loaded it up with food the chest fridge is now reading about .51 kWh/day. That’s less than a quarter of the energy our upright fridge used!

If you get a used chest freezer, make sure everything is in good working order, and ask about the last time the freon was topped off scratch that, but do make sure there isn’t a leak in the line.

fridge freezer

Step Two: Controlling The Temperature

Once you’ve found a chest freezer the next step is to convert it to a fridge. The easiest way to do that is to purchase a Johnson Controls Freezer Temperature Controller. We got ours for about $50 on Amazon.

With this device, there is no re-wiring or complicated configuring whatsoever. It’s as simple as a plug.

Here’s how it works…

Plug your freezer into the controller. Plug the controller into the wall outlet. Set the thermostat on the controller to a good temperature for refrigeration (we’ve got ours on 32*).

Place the copper prong in the freezer, feeding the copper wire underneath the lid. The temperature in the box will raise to the new thermostat’s setting, and your unit will automatically go from being a freezer to a fridge. Easy enough?

freezer fridge

We mounted the controller to the wall behind the chest fridge. You can see the copper wire leading into the fridge from the back side. It just slips right underneath the lid.

My husband also mounted a power strip with timers for our chest fridge and freezer, so we can control how often they come on when our solar is low on power.

chest fridge

Here’s the inside of the fridge before it’s filled. You can see the copper wire and probe in the center of the fridge. We try to keep it hanging around the middle of the fridge to keep the temperature consistent.

If the probe is closer to the top of the fridge, it may read warmer air causing the unit to cool down unnecessarily.

fridge probe

I try to keep the prong from touching the wall of the fridge. Not sure if that matters, but it seems like a good idea.

chest fridge

A refrigerator thermometer helps us make sure it’s staying at the right temperature.

Getting Used To A Chest Fridge

chest fridge

Once I had sufficiently emptied our upright fridge/freezer, I was ready to move what remained to the new solar powered chest fridge. I was shocked by how much space was being taken up in our fridge by stuff that didn’t even require refrigeration.

I’m still working my way through the condiments and canned goods (I had like six jellies open in the fridge… yikes!), but when it comes down to the basics, we really only need the fridge for dairy products, a few condiments, leftovers, and more delicate produce such as leafy greens.

Down in the bottom of the fridge I put a milk crate to hold condiments and things we don’t use that often. Over time, condensation builds up in the bottom of the fridge and it needs to be soaked up.

Having all of the loose jars up out of the water and in one easy-to-remove container makes cleanup a little easier.

chest fridge

I’ve used two freezer baskets to take advantage of the space at the top of the fridge. In these I put the stuff we use most often. I’ve found that having our leftovers right on top where they can’t get lost has really helped me use them up, where as before they would often get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten.

Having two baskets is a good use of the space, but it isn’t as practical as I’d like. To get to anything below, we have to remove one of the baskets first. Ideally, we would just slide one basket to either side to reach the bottom.

Frugal Kiwi has an excellent post on Organizing Your Chest Refrigerator, in which she shares some fantastic ideas for making the most of your space while still allowing access to the bottom of the fridge. I’d love to make shelves like her husband made, eventually.

But what about a freezer?

Yes, we still have a freezer. Instead of having an upright fridge/freezer AND a chest freezer (which is what we had before), we’ve consolidated all of our frozen foods into the one chest freezer.

The chest freezer by itself pulls about 1kWh/day, which we can support with the solar panels alongside the chest fridge.


Yes, there are trade-offs when switching from an upright to a chest fridge. Here are a few I’ve discovered so far…

Convenience– Obviously, having to move stuff to reach down into the fridge is a little less convenient than we’re used to. But honestly, it really hasn’t been too much trouble.

Condensation– The fridge does accumulate water in the bottom from condensation. About once a week I pull everything out of the fridge and dry it up with a towel.

No Instant Filtered Water– With our upright fridge, the kids were used to helping themselves to cold, filtered water straight from the fridge door. Now they have to get water from the kitchen faucet, ’cause it’s too far down for them to reach into the bottom of the fridge.

I’d like to get a Berkey or other beverage dispenser to fill with ice water to keep on the kitchen counter so that it’s easier for the children to fill their cups whenever they need to.

No Ice Maker– Of course, we don’t have an automatic ice maker now either, so it’s back to the old fashioned ice cube trays. Which works just fine.

Space– Having a chest fridge and a chest freezer definitely requires more floor space than an upright model.

This may be a deal breaker for you. We have chosen to be unconventional (imagine that!) and move our chest fridge and freezer into the master bathroom, which is on the north side of the house and stays the coolest.

We had to sacrifice the garden tub, but honestly we probably wouldn’t have used it anymore anyways since we’ll have to be more conservative with our water usage.

(Now I get to figure out the best way to fill the empty space where our fridge used to be in the kitchen.)

With a little adjusting it really hasn’t been difficult to get over these minor inconveniences. In our opinion, it has definitely been worth the trade.

Total Cost

The total setup cost to us was about $130 for a fridge that now runs on solar power, which we quickly made back by selling our upright fridge. Your cost will depend on the deal you can find on a chest freezer, plus about $50 for the thermostat controller.

Refrigerators generally don’t cost that much to run for a year, especially newer more efficient models.

But when your power is limited and every watt adds up in a big way, converting a chest freezer to a fridge is a great way to significantly reduce your household energy load.

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110 thoughts on “How To Easily Convert a Chest Freezer to a Fridge For Solar and More!”

  1. One thing to check before buying a freezer look in the owners manual many of the freezers need to be in a building some 40f to 90f and one had to be kept warmer than 55f. Hate to plug brands but he advertised garage ready i did find one other name brand similar.not too important for ref conversion in house but many keep freezers in sheds garages even porches

  2. Thanks so much for all your information. I was looking at getting a new propane fridge but I was looking for an alternative. Wehav a cottage off the grid and i had a small solar for lights and a cpap .But i had to use the generator quite a bit.With the fridge solution i went for 2 panel 540watts in a shed with solar controller and inverter charger 4 6volt 460 agm batteries 2 grand ca for the shed 5grand for solar i now have a quiet cottage with no generator except for work around the cottage. It was a great investment.with the saving on the frige the solar was about 3000canadian

  3. Just to mention another drawback. Many chest freezers use steel tubing for the plumbing (instead of copper – due to price). When the box is kept at 20 degrees F, there is not much condensation forming on the plumbing (within the walls of the freezer). When temperatures are above freezing, condensation will form and the tubing will rust and eventually rupture. Using a freezer at refrigerator temps will most likely greatly reduce the life of the freezer.

  4. I have had a chest fridge for a few years, here are my 2 big take aways:
    PRO–Easier to clean than an upright
    Con–Hard to make large flat surfaces for medium to large pans/trays of things

    I would love to see some photos of people’s kitchens! We are planning a huge remodel which should give us better work flow and use of space. We are trading our eat-in kitchen for a smaller one with adjacent open dinning area. I am struggling with a) how to make it look unified b) huge foot print of separate fridge and freezer in a smaller room.

    • They make a perfect Center Island in the middle of the kitchen floor ! Instead of an island the chest is your island 2 in 1

  5. I have had a similar setup since 2008 thanks to a 2005 article I saw written by Dr Tom Chalko. A couple of things to make it easier to get the condensation out.
    1. Raise one end of the chest freezer 1/4 of an inch (for a two foot wide freezer). This will allow the condensation to drain to one side of the cabinet.
    2. Place a piece of coated wire shelving at the bottom (think closet organizer shelving). This keeps items off the floor of the refrigerator. It allows the water to flow to the end of the refrigerator making it a lot easier to keep dry/clean. If the freezer has a drain hole, just use it each week or month to let the water out.

  6. Four years latter… $60 Johnson Controls A419 temperature controller (familiar with it and didn’t want Chinese junk) was added to new $168 GE chest freezer from Home Depot.

    No issues since conversion. Have since added steel plates with miniature casters to make it easier to move and a PVC rack to keep contents from touching bottom of case.

    Added 40mm 5VDC fan in plastic tube that continuously circulated cooler air on bottom towards the top. Average temperatures at top and bottom of case were within 2% of readings without fan over a 1+ month period before fan was removed.

    Contents always remained cold during extended (less than a day) power outages or when top was accidentally left open (several times overnight).

    • On these type of freezers the coils which heat up (and lose the heat) are often ALSO inside the insulated walls of the box, usually up near the top edge on the “outer side”.
      You would NOT want to cover those sections with added insulation. Make sure to not cover any air vents to the motor compartment, or the gap between the freezer and the floor, as well.

    • DO NOT Put Insulation onto the sides without knowing where the Condenser coils are attached to the front and side panels on the inside where you can not see them. If you put them over the surface which is used to cool the condenser, you will simply make it into a non usable appliance.
      I still laugh whee I think about my college educated boss of some years ago as he spent some serious money to have his ice cream dipping cabinet covered on all sides by ceramic tiles. Then he wondered why it no longer could be used to keep ice cream. Off to the surplus auction it went. All it needed was to remove the tile and clean up the sides.

    • not a good idea if the outside of the cabinet is warm while it runs as this will indicate the walls contain the condenser coil within the walls. if you add insulation to the outside of the cabinet then it will impede the heat rejection needed to make the unit run properly.

  7. What tips do you have for storing greens like spinach? At 35 F or less they freeze and go bad in less than a few days. But at 38 F everything else in the fridge seems to go bad faster than it should. This is our chest freezer converted to a fridge based on your article!

  8. Here is a way you can you can use your chest freezer as a freezer/refrigerator.
    I have 2 sliding baskets that go on top. I marked how far down the bottom of the baskets are. I took a piece of Styrofoam insulation. Cut it to fit in the freezer with a 1 inch gap on all sides. I cut the board in half from front to back. Then I adjusted the marks from the basket depth + 2 inches to leave room for the foam.
    I put the freezer items in baskets or boxes. In the bottom. And don’t pack it above the line. Then put your refrigerator items in the top baskets for easy access. That way you can put bigger items like gallon milk jugs on one side. If you need to get to freezer items, you can remove the bigger items, and just slide the baskets, and remove the foam halves to find what you need.
    You can adjust the built in thermostat if you need to.
    I originally figured this out by using cardboard pieces for the middle baffle instead of the Styrofoam. Also for even packing for your freezer items. Measure your freezer, do the math. Then go to the post office and get parcel post boxes that fit your freezer size for FREE!!!!!

  9. I tried this with a brand-new Midea freezer and it stopped working after a week. Wonder if some models or brands aren’t meant to be used with a controller?

    • Curious, David, what stopped working exactly–the controller or the freezer? I’m contemplating buying a Midea freezer and trying the Johnson Controller. Still recommend against it?

      • freezers have a different style compressor than coolers do. so converting a freezer to a cooler changes the operating specs and can cause the compressor to fail. those that say they have converted a freezer to a cooler have just been lucky so far but are living on borrowed time. a standard freezer can run without problem for upwards of 30-50 years. but converting it to a cooler may see a very short life span as you have. i don’t recommend the swap without changing the compressor and metering devise.

        • * Citation needed! I’ve heard of many many of these conversions, and this is the first time I’ve heard of one failing. That’s about the same failure rate as running as straight freezers.


  10. I must say that I was worried a lot because my huge chest freezer is not in use nowadays in my home because my hubby bought a compact one for our use. After reading this article and happy that am going to use my chest freezer as the refrigerator for my future use. Thank you so much, Kendra…..

    • Keeping your fridge or converted freezer cool is a simple way of reducing energy use. Also if you are lucky enough to be on a raised floor, put vent covered with flywire under the condenser area. Hot air riding, draws in cooler air from below to keep it even cooler. David Holmgren idea.

  11. Thank you for a detailed article and pics. I am looking to do this and found a freezer which the spec says it runs lowest of -9f to 48f. If this is so, I wouldn’t necessaily have to have the external controller or do I? I am confused as to why the controller vs a fridge thermostat to monitor the tempeture.

    I would appreciate your reply to this question.


    • To be honest, I’m not very electrical savvy so I don’t know exactly what to advise. I can only share what has worked for us. Maybe somebody with more experience can answer your question.

    • Just drop a thermometer or a glass of water into the freezer and set the temp to its highest setting. If the water does not freeze or the thermometer reads above your desired temp you dont need the extra switch.

  12. In 7 cu ft and larger freezers, there is a hump on one side. I assume it is where the compressor and other mechanisms are kept. Can that section be sectioned off with a board and would that be a warmer section, i.e. a refrigerator section? Maybe adjust the main thermostat so freezer section still freezes but refrigerator section is a chillier refrigerator?

  13. For condensation could you not just drill a hole out the bottom of the refrigerator and put a plug in it so you can simply drain the condensation by pulling the plug?

    • Yes…if it’s a manual defrost. If not it will cycle on & off ALL-DAY !! So don’t burn up your investment. Just remember, MANUAL DEFROST is what you need

  14. Very good article. We’ve getting ready to live off the grid and this was super helpful. I love your sense of humor too.

  15. “This tells us approximately how many watts the unit uses per hour.”

    ‘Watts per hour’ is meaningless: the watt is a unit of power, not energy. A watt is one joule of energy per second.

    You are confusing this with watt-hours (watts x hours), which *is* a unit of energy.

  16. Really in the bathroom? Everytime you flush you send particles of fecal matter into the air. I would never want to eat anything that was stored in the bathroom. Gross

      • I live off the grid, and for space reasons it would be real handy to put my fridge in the bathroom. I don’t do so because I once knew a family who did this. After a while (about a year), they all began to get sick a lot. Finally suspicious, they had their food tested and learned that it was in fact massively contaminated. Moving the fridge stopped their problem of recurring illness.

    • There’s fecal matter everywhere anyway. Every time you wash your clothes, fecal matter ends up all over everything you wash. You can’t get away from it.

  17. Has anyone ever found a 24 volt compressor to put in a freezer like this? I am making a camper now with solar panels and trying to get all of the appliances to be 12 or 24 volts to minimize the waste that comes from converting DC to ac.

  18. I love this idea for summer use. I am trying to figure out how to regulate a fridge so that we can use our cold canadian winter to store our food. I’m thinking of a vent in the wall to outside, and some kind of thermostat to open and close a door. I’m not an inventor though, and don’t know how to go about it, Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

    • In the book The Nourishing Homestead, the author seasonally uses an old ice chest upgraded with ventilation through the wall passively circulating the cold winter air. They ARE located in Vermont with nearly guaranteed long winter, and he does say they keep ice blocks in case of warm spells

    • check out “The Boss of the swamp”, on youtube he has a fridge with an opening to the outside and keeps everything perfectly.

    • good thinking…..perhaps put the fridge outside [on a porch] and try to keep it from getting TOO cold as an alternative approach. My grandparents used rotting cow manure to generate warmth for their hothouse [heat from microbial decomposition-as with a compost pile] However this may renew the feces controversy…or…get some sled dogs and house them on the porch with the fridge utilizing their mammalian heat and use their byproduct instead of the cow manure…but maybe no….dog food is expensive….or possibly put windows on a south facing porch [greenhouse effect] and put the fridge in there and open the door as necessary to cool things off and to let the dogs out now and then to frolic with the wolverines and badgers

    • Look for a Fisher & Paykel Cool Draw, they go from a wine cooler to a snap freezer in their temperature range. They are not cheap but very good. I have two and depending on the need they can be one fridge and one freezer or two fridges when the grand kids are about. I still have an upright fridge and an upright freezer but they only get opened a few times a day. The power bill did not change much over the last two years with the two extra units.

  19. Mmmmmmm

    expensive… to operate.

    It’s the LONG TERM costs that make the BIG and OLD (er) fridges such a financial liability.

    I did heaps of maths, science, physics, research and came up with this:

    The subject of “chest refrigerators” (look them up) is a major topic in terms of very, very, low running costs.

    These are about as good as it gets – 3.5 stars efficiency rating – loads of THICK insulation, small size and foot print,


    OR this:

    And one of these (spare is always useful – eventually)

    And depending upon how many times you open and close it a day, I’d say for the 105 litre one, your looking at about 6c a day running costs, and the larger one, about 10c a day max….

    It’s over the longer term, that the savings and costs become a real issue.

    It is seriously WORTH the investment in doing the change over….

    Small chest fridge, say 10c a day, x 100 days = $10.

    Big fridge at $1.20 – $1.50 a day x 100 days = $120 – $150.

    One year – 365 days = $36.50 vs. $438 – $547

    5 years = $182 vs. $2190 – $2740

    10 years = $364 vs. $4380 – $5480

    20 years = $728 vs. $8760 – $10,960

    Like once I figured this out, I thought, “What the — am I doing, running a HUGE fridge =$$$$$$ – with like a carton of milk in it, a few chops and some celery etc… and the super market is like 3 blocks away.”

    And since the initial purchase price is like $350 – $400 – and the motor is hardly and very infrequently working – all things being equal – it should last for decades, and while the laws of thermodynamics and insulation probably won’t change that much…..

    So a 20 year life span is completely realistic.

    A brand NEW biggish fridge freezer will easily cost $1000.

    Well for $1000, I can buy a chest freezer and pay for the next 20 years of running costs…..

    But that BIGGISH fridge, will cost $1000 and an additional $9,000- $11,000 in running costs….

    And the power consumption is SO low, it’s easy to run it from a small solar panel, battery and inverter….

    A 240W solar panel = refrigeration and lights and perhaps a few other things…

    In the cold of winter (depending on where you live and your heating arrangements) you can set the temperature to -5*C (it’s hottest internal temperature) and set the time to 4 x 15 minute on times per day and in the middle of summer, set it to 4 x 30 minute on times per day…

    The internal temperature needs to typically be around 5*C or slightly lower…. NOT super critical…

    By this I mean that a Kg or two of meat, needs to stay reasonably fresh for the next 3 to 5 days…. and not fermenting in the summer heat at 35*C

    And I have filled the lowest section with plastic water jugs, and covered that with some clear perspex, and I have a small 40mm computer fan and tube, to circulate the air internally – which is helpful in summer.

    The water bottles act as a cold store, and while the temperature doesn’t fluctuate much internally – the thermal mass of 20+ KG of cold water, helps to average the temperature out between on times…

    So it’s a really good sensible set up and so many people are into “chest refrigerators” – because they are so efficient and their running costs are SO low…

    I mean REALLY cheap to run.

    My running costs were estimated on the somewhat “accomodating” side, they are probably much lower….

    • I think what puts people off is the need to convert the thermostat, which really, when it comes down to the issue, it’s desirable but not essential.

      I use the simple wall mounted timers and add more on time in summer which here creates 40*C + temperatures and less on time in winter, which averages out to 12*C or so.

      The timers are simple to adjust…

    • Since the refrigerator industry switched to using R134a refrigerant, you can’t expect any refrigerator or freezer lasting more than 7-10 years. R134a requires significantly higher operating pressure than R22 or R12, causing faster wear on compressors. It’s not unusual to see performance falling off at the 10-year mark and complete failure by 15 years.

  20. I realize that the solar is free once your past the cost of the system, but if you will take time to calculate the cost of the system and compair it to gas absorption refrigeration you’ll find it will take you 20 yrs to realize a cost savings, the diamond gas fridge we sale burn propane at a rate of 14 dollars worth a yr. that’s a very small amount per yr. and they will last 20 plus yrs.our motorhome we live in full time I designed and built to be off grid we use 5 gas appliances fridge ,freezer, stove, dryer, water heater we spend less than 40 dollars a yr on propane. With 2 adults and four very large dogs living in our RV (smallest dog is 120 largest 245 ) we are very efficient. We have 1000 watts of solar and 1000 watts of wind to live off of, with 6- 2 volt lifeline batteries for storage.

    • FWIW I think you’ll find the economics for propane fridges have changed dramatically with the decline in solar PV costs. We’re an off-grid family in Maine and finally got rid of our $2k (initial price) gas fridge, replaced it for $500 GE electric fridge running on solar. The gas fridges put CO and heat into your living space so ironically it actually saves us power to run on electric since we used to need AC in the summertime to offset all the heat generated by the fridge.

      I like the idea of this article because we want a ‘bonus’ storage space and want to try having a unit that can be EITHER freezer or fridge depending on needs. But a decent EnergyStar GE fridge can run for about 1kWh/day, and long story short the $1,500 savings vs. gas fridge = buy yourself some solar panels.

    • Wait… you’re saying your propane fridge burns $14 worth of propane per YEAR? I don’t believe it. Most propane fridges burn more like $14 per week, usually more.

  21. Thank you for sharing this idea. My daughter is a Type 1 diabetic and I live in fear of long term power outages that would ruin our stock of insulin that she needs to survive. A quick question though….

    Without a solar panel to power it, how long does the refrigerator remain cold if you don’t open it?

    • Gosh, that’s a scary thought for a mother to have to consider. To be honest, we’ve never turned the power off to the fridge to see how long it would stay cold, so I’m just not sure. It definitely wouldn’t last as long as a freezer would without power. If you have a freezer, you could keep 2 liter bottles of water frozen as an emergency backup to your fridge. Then if the power went out, you could take the frozen bottles out and use them in the fridge like a cooler until they thaw. Just a thought!

      • I actually have dozens of ice packs (they are sent with her insulin delivery) stored in the freezer for just such an emergency, however I know they won’t last more than a few days.

        Perhaps I’ll follow Jon’s advice and invest in a propane refrigerator. I don’t want to lose a drop of this life saving medication.

        • Tanya, they have a permanent generator on the market nowadays that connects to your home’s propane connection that will come on only if the power goes out. It can sense the power outage itself and will turn on within 10 seconds of the outage. If it is in your budget I think that it would be a good idea to invest in.

        • Tanya, the smaller the “ice pack” the faster it will thaw…. a 2 liter bottle or a gallon water jug will take much longer to thaw, keeping the fridge cooler for a longer period of time… I’ve learned this from tent camping in hot weather with ice chests!
          And I know other posts here have said to NOT insulate the outside of your fridge, but in a power outage of unpredictable length (earthquake/hurricane) you may want to tuck blankets all over/around your fridge (just be ready to remove them IMMEDIATELY when the power comes back on!). And of course, I’m sure you already have the (bottle that’s currently in use) insulin near the front of the fridge so that you can quickly reach in for what you need. You might want to keep any backup/unopened bottles at the bottom and back of the fridge where the cold air sinks to… hmm, maybe keep the extra bottles in one of those small hard-side 6-can coolers INSIDE of the fridge?… with icepacks on top of them using up every last inch of space in the cooler. Yeah, it’ll take up room in the fridge, but for such a serious concern, it’s worth the trade-off.

  22. Our daughter converted a small chest freezer we bought her years ago for her apartment in town. She now lives in a 600 sq ft rammed earth home in a very remote location, and since space and $$ are an issue, this conversion suits her perfectly. But the condensation was a huge issue so my husband suggested she keep a small moisture removal box – a $1 purchase from the dollar store – in the bottom of her “fridge” and it works perfectly! She just has to remove it every few weeks and replace it with a fresh container. My husband keeps one in our basement, or anywhere else that moisture is an issue, including the laundry room! LOL!

    • Sandy,
      I haven’t heard of it being done, but I don’t believe it would reduce your electricity usage by much. One of the energy saving aspects of chest freezers is that the cold air sinks into the bottom of the unit when you open the lid, instead of spilling out as an upright does. The more your fridge has to run to maintain the right temperature, the more power you have to use.

  23. It would be nice if someone could engineer a conversion kit insert that fit snugly into the freezer and included a couple spring loaded or pneumatic shelf lifts that when pressed down would unlock (kind of like the lid on a CD player) and allow the shelf to rise out of the unit to chest level where you could pull items out (like you would from a traditional vertical fridge) before you pushed the shelving back down sufficiently to lock it back in the unit.

    It would also be nice to convert the lid to an island top that slid horizontally instead of flipping up so the fridge could sit in the middle of the kitchen as an island and be used as a surface for food prep. The tracks for the lid would have to be strong enough to support some weight to accommodate it being opened while it was loaded with food/stuff. Make the lid glass and polarized so it could be transparent or opaque as desired. Making a commercially viable chest refrigerator could be an interesting engineering project for some college engineering class.

  24. Hi there, I like the idea and am planning on doing this myself for my garage refrig. But my question is this…..if you are using a freezer that pulls 1 kWhr/day and a refrigerator that pulls .5 kWhr/day then wouldn’t it be cheaper and way more convenient to buy the HomeDepot top freezer frig for $450 that only uses 1.1 kWhr/day? So unless you don’t want to spend the money (and I agree that it will never pay for itself) it just doesn’t make sense for you to have two separate appliances like this when you only need one.

    • Brad,
      The combination of our chest fridge and large chest freezer hold a whole lot more food than the fridge/freezer combo you’re referring to. That’s the main difference.

  25. A year down the road… $60 Johnson Controls A419 temperature controller (familiar with it and didn’t want Chinese junk) was added to new $168 GE chest freezer from Home Depot.

    Temperature is set at 30F, compressor comes on at 34F, and probe is in free air space apx. 4″ above lowest point. Settings below these points results in food beginning to freeze in lower areas.

    Interior temperatures/operation verified with calibrated Cooper instrument.

    Interior condensation forms as ice in one lower interior corner and its only been defrosted once since installation. Food stays very cold and has MUCH longer life. Several times the lid has been left open for extended periods but food stays cold.

    Exterior condensation forms on bottom of unit and feet/insulated base should be added to raise unit off the floor to prevent accumulation/damage to floor.

    Power cycles are nearly invisible on graph display of whole-house energy monitor so I didn’t investigate beyond checking that current draw was within manufacturer’s claims.

    Common sense says to add fan to circulate internal air but temperature only varies a couple degrees from top to bottom.


    Saves energy and food stays colder/lasts longer. Adds convenient/additional flat surface in kitchen.


    Visitors: “Where’s the refrigerator?”

  26. A couple of questions.
    Just for reference, our freezer breaks down like this: 2.0 A x 115 V = 230 Watts, or .23 kW (1 kW = 1000 Watts). This tells us approximately how many watts the unit uses per hour.

    1. How does this equate to Watt hours? Wouldn’t you need to know how long it runs each hour?

    No Ice Maker- Of course, we don’t have an automatic ice maker now either, so it’s back to the old fashioned ice cube trays. Which works just fine.

    2. So is it a freezer making ice or a fridge? Is there an area that will freeze ice but not the food?

    • BoboJones,

      I’d recommend you get a Kill A Watt Meter to figure out how many watt-hours your unit is using.
      To answer your second question, it’s a freezer converted to a fridge. You set the external thermostat to be above freezing so your food doesn’t freeze. You can’t use it as a fridge and a freezer at the same time. One or the other. Does that make sense?

    • Really a kilo watt is 1000 watts
      A kilo watt hour is a load of 1 kw maintained over 1 hour which is measured as 1kWh

      I read the article understood it completely… if that .23kw is maintained for one hour you have .23kWh very simple math

  27. I had good luck doing this too. I bought a $15 digital temp switch through Amazon and converted a $154 5.0 cuft chest freezer from Walmart. The freezer is rated at 240kwh/year as a freezer. It’s using about 70kwh/year as a fridge.

    In dollars, the fridge it replaced used about $6/month. The new chest fridge, about $0.70/month.

  28. I’ve re-purposed a chest freezer to make a sprouting box to fodder feed our dairy goat herd. Fodder (sprouts) won’t grow above 75 degrees and we don’t see that kind of cool until winter. (We live in south Texas)

    Shelf rotation becomes a particular challenge but I’m working on a plan that follows the thinking of a can server.

    Great article. Thanks.

  29. Thought I could add something to this, when talking about a shelving unit, what about putting a shelf unit that moves out of the freezer. You could use a counter weight system with pulleys and cables. Sacrifice a little room to make things easily accessible. Similar to the counter weights in a window.

    • Good idea. It was actually used once for a demonstration home many years ago. I’ve seen the video many times, but for the life of me can’t remember which Worlds Fair it was, or maybe it was Disneyland. I’m thinking it was a World’s Fair from maybe the late 50’s. Anyway, the video shows a pop-up refrigerator built into a counter, so there’s no “normal” refrigerator to be seen. It would mean all of the items you have in the frige would be brought out every time you open it, but it’s a very workable idea. Use the nitrogen filled lift mechanisms for lift doors on mini vans. Have you ever tried to lift one of those doors with even only ONE of those cylinders broken. You can pick the cylinders up at any auto parts place. Just design what you want based on what materials you have available.

  30. Seeing as most Standard (Upright) Refrigerators these days are metal faced, I have seen the condensation strip removed to avoid natural internal moisture buildup and a small vent cut in the top of the door so they can be used as a pantry. The door then is painted to the color of your choosing and small herb pots are screwed into the metal face to provide an in kitchen fresh herb rack. It is a three pronged approach to the solar refrigerator and the repurposing of the upright. Just a thought.

  31. Forgive me for the silly question of the hour, but the article didn’t address how to power this thing. (First visit to the site). Obviously, a solar panel, but could you describe the setup and parts? What kind of panels, batteries, and charge controllers? I have not done anything solar yet.

  32. To manage condensation, you might want to check and see if you can install a drain tube. Find a good exploded diagram of your model freezer (parts sites are good for those, see below) to make sure you’re not drilling into working parts, slide in a tube and make sure you have a good seal. Then removing the condensation is as easy as pulling a plug (or opening a valve if you wanna get fancy).

  33. old non working chest type freezer are great for storing animal feeds in (chicken,horse,goat,rabbit,etc.) they are pretty air tight and keep bugs and mice out

    • Absolutely!
      I was wondering what I should do with the huge chest freezer the previous owners left in my barn. Well, now that I have chickens and rabbits, I store more feed in there than I need for a month, and NO worries about raccoons or rats getting into it!

  34. Hi Kendra,
    I have been looking into this idea myself and here you’ve got and did it. Lots of wasted space in some bathrooms, that was a good idea too. You know I have thrown my refrigerator out to the back porch and a small chest freezer would fit my small kitchen so much better. I have also been looking into antique ice boxes. I will always have a chest freezer and I could always keep bottles of frozen water in it for the ice box. I saw some Amish do it like that. Keep up the good work. Blessings

    • Milkmaid,

      I looked at the old ice boxes too. Saw some on Craiglist, though they’re pretty pricey. I’m sure you could probably make your own if you were so inclined. What I like about the chest fridge is that even if we decided we didn’t want to use our solar to run it anymore, we could do like what you suggested and freeze ice in our freezer to keep the fridge cool, using it like a large cooler. We could probably freeze water in milk jugs so that as it melts it doesn’t make a mess in the fridge, and just re-freeze them as they melt. But that takes up a lot of freezer space as well. A good backup option for times when solar might be low.

  35. Actually you could even get away with the thermostat part (I’m a bit uneasy about having anything obstructing the seal anyways). Once you determine how long the freezer machine needs to run to go to, say, almost zero, you can then determine the intervals between which the freezer “heats up” too much and when it would cool down too low. Then simply use a cheap clock switch and program it with these intervals. Say, it requires twenty minutes to cool down from 8 degrees centigrade to about zero degrees. And it takes about forty minutes to “heat up” from zero degrees to eight degrees. Then set the clock to switch on for twenty minutes every full hour, then switch off to lie dormant for another forty minutes and so on!

  36. This is just my OCD kicking in, but you don’t have to worry about “topping off” refrigerant. Fridges and freezers, the appliance type featured here, are sealed systems – much like a window A/C unit. There are no valves to connect gauges to or to refill refrigerant. If it’s not working because it’s low, it’s because there is a leak. And if there’s a leak you might as well throw it out unless you have the tools to fix it (piercing valves, gauges, the correct refrigerant, a vac pump, a torch, an EPA certification, etc).

    Otherwise, great article. πŸ™‚

    • My grandfather used an old chest freezer buried in the corner of his garden. He filled it with dirt and garden waste and stored all the worms he found in it; we always had fish bait. Our land had eight ponds, and those worms helped us catch fish and crawdads for our dinners. (Nearly 70 to 100 yrs ago I’m not sure they had ‘compost piles’). He left the lid on it, but he drilled several holes through the top, so there was oxygen and a way for rain to seep in and keep the soil damp. I know I was a kid, but I thought he was a genius, I didn’t have to spend hours trying to find night crawlers, they were always there in that freezer! I can’t say how often I had a Prince Albert tin in my back pants pocket to hold ‘my’ worms. Every year he got worm castings for the garden from that freezer, too.

  37. Since the space where a fridge usually goes is deeper than the average cabinet, I would add shelves and create an appliance garage there. You should already have a plugin in the back of it so a power strip mounted would give you plugs for each appliance.

  38. I would put in pantry space either shelves or cabinets where the frig was. Thanks for the cool description of how to convert the chest freezer.

  39. Awesome! Thanks for the info! πŸ™‚
    When you figure out what to do with the space vacated by your upright fridge, please post it. I’m very interested in doing this, but I don’t know what I’d do with that odd looking opening!

    • Theresa,

      I sure will! I’ve been looking for an antique Hoosier cabinet to put there… maybe a white one that would simulate the look of a fridge… but I haven’t found one to fit just right. Plus, they’re a couple hundred dollars. I also thought about building a cabinet there, with lots of shelves for storage space. I also thought about an antique pie cabinet. So many options, lol. I would like to be able to hang my cast iron pans on the wall, so I might rig up something like that on the wall with a cabinet below for storage and more countertop workspace. I’ll definitely update with whatever we figure out πŸ™‚

      • First, thanks for your post. I am in the market for a new fridge and will do this instead.
        my first thought for the former fridge space is to add deep metal wire shelving, lighting, and pots of herbs and salad makings. I had a little indoor garden in a closet once before and had salad makings all year. Tomatoes are perennials and the little cherry ones do well inside. A good winter project!


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