In Praise of Chest Refrigerators

Nearly every household on Earth has a fridge that totally wastes at least 1 kWh of energy a day (365 kWh a year).
— Dr. Tom Chalko, Mt. Best, Australia

Chest Freezer converted to Refrigerator

That’s a big claim by Chalko, but he has proven that it’s true. How?

Using vertical doors in refrigeration devices is an act against the Nature of Cold Air. Understanding and cooperating with Nature rather than acting against it leads to much better efficiency.

Chalko converted a standard chest freezer into a chest refrigerator. He says that if it were connected to the grid, he would pay about $5 per year for the electricity to run that chest fridge. (He powers his fridge from renewables, not from the grid.) We put a Kill-A-Watt  device that easily tracks appliance electricity usage on our standard American upright side-by-side refrigerator freezer, and it costs $600 per year to power that fridge. So $5 versus $600. Gee, tough choice there!

We’ve probably all sensed the cold air spilling from our upright refrigerator onto our feet as we pondered what to eat next with the fridge door wide open. Cold air sinks! Everyone knows it. But upright refrigerators fly in the face of that simple principle.

Plenty of businesses use chest refrigerators and freezers, but it’s rare to see a chest fridge in a residence. Notice that a lot of horizontal refrigerators and freezers in supermarkets don’t even have tops! Why not? Because cold air sinks! Every time we open our “modern” upright refrigerator, the cold air rapidly sinks out of it.

So, we could all go right out and buy chest refrigerators, but there is a problem with that. To buy even a small 5.5 cubic foot chest refrigerator, it costs over a thousand bucks US. Here’s the only one I can find on Amazon, it costs $1,148 as of this writing.  And the big box chain stores don’t even sell chest refrigerators. Our upright standard American refrigerator has about 13 cubic feet of fridge space. The 13 cubic foot chest fridge on Amazon costs $1,743. And we’d still need a freezer as well.

But chest freezers are far less expensive. A 5.5 cubic foot chest freezer costs between $160 and $200. Which is why Chalko converted a chest freezer to a fridge. And why we are running an experiment along similar lines.

We bought the used chest freezer in the picture above for $75 at a local yard sale. It works great as a freezer. The second expense was the little controller (the Love Controllers Digital Temperature Switch model TS-3) velcro’ed to the top of the freezer door in the picture, and a temperature sensor probe (the TS-11) placed inside the freezer and connected to the controller. Together, these cost $60. The controller decides when the fridge turns on its compressor to make things cooler inside. It’s set to keep the temperature at 38.5 degrees F instead of the below-freezing normal operating temperature of a freezer. So the freezer won’t have to work as hard when it needs to be a fridge rather than a freezer. So we spent $135, rather than $1,148 on the chest fridge from Amazon.

Chalko is an electrical engineer in addition to being a renewable energy pioneer and meditation teacher, so he built his own controller to convert that chest freezer into a chest fridge. He’ll sell you one of his controllers through his web site. It’s better than the one I’m using because it uses less energy than the TS-3 controller. But it’s also more expensive and I wanted a less expensive controller for my experiment.

From the initial Kill-A-Watt readings from our “new” chest fridge, it looks like Chalko is correct about strongly reduced power consumption when one has their refrigeration devices working with the laws of nature rather than against them.

Let’s wild guess that there are 500 million upright refrigerators in the world, likely a low estimate. So if Tom is right and each of those wastes one kilowatt per day, that’s 500 BILLION watts of electricity wasted. Every day!! And utility company power plants are rated in millions of watts of output, only the biggest can put out one billion watts in a day. So it sounds like we have hundreds of unneeded power plants? Gee, I wonder who benefits from all this waste. Couldn’t be that the power companies, power plant builders, and the fossil fuel suppliers like things just the way they are. Nah, they wouldn’t pull a caper like that. After all, they’re such nice people who really care about us, and the Earth.

Let’s think just a little more about this: When people install a solar photovoltaic array to get some power from the Sun, they typically buy a 1 kilowatt to 4 kilowatt array for their home. And one of those kilowatts is wasted in most homes on refrigeration!? Mind-boggling.

Anyway, here is a link to Tom Chalko’s site in Australia, this link is his single-page explanation of his chest fridge. And he has a link to a PDF with a full explanation of his controller and his fridge project. And the rest of his site has lots of great energy ideas. We found out about Chalko’s work from the premier renewable energy site in the US, Build-It-Solar.com, created and maintained by the amazing Gary Reysa.

And this experiment has convinced us to convert fully from vertical to horizontal refrigeration devices. We will post on this topic later with real-time results.

And if anyone wants to duplicate our experiment using the TS-3 controller, please find our e-mail on the Contact page and let us know. We can probably save you some time in terms of wiring that device to a freezer.

2 thoughts on “In Praise of Chest Refrigerators

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