Are propane refrigerators efficient? What about solar?

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Propane Refrigeration efficiency VS Solar Refrigeration efficiency – a comparison by WarehouseAppliance.com

When you are looking to compare the efficiency of propane refrigeration against solar refrigeration, there are a few things to consider. We will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each in length. Moving through this guide we offer valuable insight into what will work best for your needs as we apply our over 25 years of experience in selling both types of off-grid refrigeration options. Not only do we sell them but we personally use them in living our best off-grid life.

Consider Your Lifestyle Refrigeration Requirements

To decide what type of refrigeration is most efficient for your situation, you first have to consider your off grid lifestyle and refrigeration requirements. There are a myriad of reasons to consider off-grid refrigeration with the primary goal of being exactly that – being able to live comfortably without traditional power.

It’s important to note that if you need long term solutions for year round off grid food storage or if you only need occasional or infrequent food refrigeration for a vacation cabin, hunting lodge, ski lodge etc the efficiency of either type of refrigeration, propane or solar will change. Many of our clients enjoy lifestyles in remote areas, homesteading, hunting cabins, secondary vacation homes, beach homes and more. These remote locations make alternative power sources necessary to assist in these chosen freedoms and lifestyle pursuits. This leads us to the question, which is more efficient Propane or Solar refrigeration? We will discuss both options below.

Application and Demands

Propane: an adaptable solution for nearly every off grid application. Dependent on propane costs, sourcing and storing demands. In this write up here – we cover in greater detail regarding prices of propane refrigeration with the average cost per gallon, consumption for an average annual usage. Propane identifies itself as being the most cost effective option for the long run when compared to the expense of adding a solar power grid, battery backup, generator back up required to further support the solar power setup for a homestead. Propane is a clean burning fuel that is easily accessible. Drawback is that you have to account for how much propane you will need along with sourcing the fuel and storage as needed to ensure that you keep a steady supply on hand.

Solar: Cost prohibitive unless you already have a solar set up. If you do already have existing solar capabilities solar refrigeration may be an ideal solution. This is contingent on sunshine and plenty of it. Also, you must keep in mind that a solar refrigerator will draw power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The use of the solar power produced may better be used for other items in your home like lights, washing machines, charging cell phones, computers, etc. The setup for a solar system that can maintain a refrigerator full time is a huge expense, with costly maintenance and battery replacement schedules. These additional considerations can further prove to be both time demanding as well as cost prohibitive for the long term.

In this round, propane comes out as the most efficient cooling and refrigeration option for food storage in the long run.

Browse our Propane Refrigerators >>

Overall Cost Effectiveness

While comparing the two refrigerator units side by side the initial cost is the same or a bit higher for the propane refrigerator; this expense is then offset by the overall year to year running costs which are low month over month. In our previous write up we discussed the cost breakdown of propane refrigeration vs solar refrigeration and gave in depth examples of costs year over year. As mentioned earlier, the determining factor between the two is dependent upon if you have an existing solar installation that can fully support a solar refrigerator. If you have this then the winner may be solar– that is IF you have sunshine in abundance. If you are not blessed with year round sun –and most of us are not, then you are having to contend with cloudy days, where the sun barely makes an appearance. For those occasions you will need to supplement with a generator powered by gasoline.

Having to now accommodate for the missing sunshine puts propane back in the lead for being the most cost effective option for off grid refrigeration. For this round propane refrigerators is the winner again; unless you have an existing solar installation and plenty of sunshine.

Refrigeration Cooling Efficiency

Propane: Efficient and cost effective cooling efficiency running on approximately 60 cents a day in warmer climates and in cooler regions can operate on 45 cents a day. (Estimates are based on propane cost of $2 per gallon.)

Solar: Once you have established your solar panels, batteries etc then the cost of running the solar refrigerator is zero.

Win goes to solar unless you don’t have an established solar grid, batteries and backup generator. Then the win goes to propane as it doesn’t require a huge investment and year over year. It also doesn’t require a big expense throughout the year to operate. And if we visit our article here we see that it would take many years to have the same level of operating expense as that of the solar set up.

Improve Off-Grid Refrigerator Efficiency

Helpful tips on ways that you can further improve and maximize the efficiency of any off-grid refrigerator:

  • Keep the refrigerator in an insulated and shaded area with plenty of ventilation.
      • Shade ensures it won’t have to work as hard to cool your food.
  • Protecting the refrigerator from freezing in the winter and from baking in the summer.
      • Keeping the refrigeration unit safe from the elements and wildlife extends the health and well being of your refrigerator for obvious reasons.
  • A most efficient refrigerator is a full refrigerator.
      • The packed off-grid fridge offers further insulative effects as everything works together to keep itself and their neighboring foods cool.
      • This same insulative effect works at cooling any new food added to the refrigerator.
  • Keep the door closed as much as possible; lingering in front of the open refrigerator door is an easy way to tank your refrigerator cooling efficiency as well as put a strain and drain on the efficiency of the fuel source. Be intentional when you need to access your off-grid food stores.
  • Keeping your refrigerator level to ensure that everything is flowing properly and doesn’t force it to work harder. Level is optimal. Although both propane and solar refrigerators need to be on a level surface, it is extremely important that a propane refrigerator is on a level surface. The flame needs to be positioned correctly beneath the cooling unit and fluid inside the cooling unit needs to be level to flow correctly. Having a propane fridge on an unlevel surface will negatively affect the cooling efficiency.

A Few Words on Venting

With both types of refrigerator units you want proper ventilation, not allowing heat to be trapped behind the unit. Heat is generated from the cooling process in both a propane and solar refrigerator. Ventilation is naturally accomplished if the fridge is open to the ceiling above. This allows for the heat to rise away from the back of the unit. Keeping the heat from being trapped behind a propane fridge directly affects its efficiency. If the heat is trapped, the fridge will use more fuel to function properly.

We are often asked, “Do I need to vent my propane refrigerator?” The answer to this question is, it depends.

  • A propane refrigerator located in a large open area does not need to be vented outside. The heat will naturally escape from the back of the fridge to the ceiling above.
  • If your fridge is in a very small cabin, you may want to vent it in the summertime to allow the heat to escape from your cabin but in the winter you may want to close the vent and use the heat to warm your cabin.
  • If your gas fridge has a cabinet above it or your ceiling is very low, venting is recommended. Vent the heat from the flue pipe through an exterior wall; using a water heater vent pipe or vent it through the cabinet/ceiling above.

You will also want to allow accessibility for cleaning and maintenance for both units. Regular cleaning and maintenance serves to help them to stay running efficiently.

Further, if you are only off the grid for a season it is often recommended (in some states it’s required) to turn off and disconnect any plumbed gas lines prior to closing up the home. Remember to connect everything back once you arrive safely next time. Once again check for leaks to ensure safety and then you’re ready to start using your propane refrigerator for the new season.

Warranty, Maintenance and Further Considerations

When considering efficiency, we have to talk also about the warranty, maintenance and anything else that might affect the overall efficiency and performance of your off-grid fridge; as well as the efficiency of your hard earned money.

 

Propane: 7 years

Free longest extended warranty available in the industry from warehouseappliance.com of 7 years. Warehouse Appliance warranty details can be found here. Free setup phone support, Free service/ maintenance DVD and Free tech support for the life of the gas refrigerator.

Solar: 2 years (Traditional Warranty)

Propane: With propane refrigerators there are not many parts that can fail as it is a self-contained unit. Propane fridges are easy to maintain and clean; often bi-annual inspection and cleanings take minutes and any repairs are easily completed out in the field by the owner. Tools needed for most maintenance jobs are generally readily available and consist of a wrench and screwdriver. Parts are easy to come by as they are USA made. Inspection and maintenance consist primarily of two parts: burner and flue pipe. Keeping the burner and the flue pipe clean directly affect the efficiency of a propane fridge. If the burner is dirty due to a moth burning up or dust; the flame will not burn as hot. This will force it to run inefficiently by causing the unit to use more propane to cool and that will cost you money. The best practice is to check the flame regularly to ensure it is a crisp blue color with no yellow. If you notice your fridge is not cooling like it used to or you notice a yellow flame or odor you most likely have a dirty flame. We discuss cleaning your burner in our propane refrigerator maintenance DVD that comes with every fridge from warehouseappliance.com.

Browse our Solar/DC Powered Refrigerators >>

Solar: With a solar refrigerator the potential fail points are considerably more than with a propane refrigeration unit. Solar fridge potential areas of concerns are:

  • Compressor
  • Freon
  • Inverters
  • Limited Sunshine to generate sufficient solar power
  • Solar Power Set Up: Batteries, Panels and subsequent cabling including their maintenance, cleaning, repair and replacement needs.
  • Service and maintenance of a solar refrigerator is a much more involved process than with a propane refrigerator; often requiring a trip to the support center for repair work.

Taking another win is propane refrigeration. The design of the refrigerator is the epitome of efficiency at its finest. This is a closed loop system. It reuses the same chemical solution for every cycle. Since this is a chemical response, little can suffer in this design from wear and tear. With proper maintenance and care the propane refrigerator proves to be the winner in performance and design efficiency.

Durability and Longevity of Refrigeration Unit

Propane: Top performance and best quality in the industry, renowned craftsmanship and durability. Most often these refrigerators’ lifecycle, if properly maintained, can be upwards of 25 years.

Solar: Performs per industry standard and with regular maintenance often needs replacement after 10 years.

Propane refrigerator is winning again based on expected life span making for a very efficient investment.

Summary

The clear leader is propane refrigeration winning in performance, cost, longevity and maintenance. Our pick is propane for overall efficiency and cost effectiveness for your investment, doubling the lifespan or more over solar refrigerators.

This is exactly why I use a propane fridge in my home for successful off-grid living.

So, in closing, it is your lifestyle that dictates what refrigeration type works best for your needs. This is an investment that will serve you for many years to come and there are many factors to consider. We explored the efficiency of propane refrigerators as compared to solar refrigerators, and the winner was clear: Propane Refrigerators. But in the end the one that works best for you depends on your set up and off-grid lifestyle.

At Warehouse Appliance we highly experienced in all things to do with off grid appliances, and we are happy to answer any questions you may have on our solar or propane refrigerators. Send us an email or give us a call on (928) 636-1955

The Propane Refrigerator vs. Solar Fridges

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When choosing an off grid refrigerator, there are many things to consider. The biggest decision being; should your power source be propane or solar?

To ultimately decide on either propane or solar, you may want to answer these questions first:

  • Which is less problematic?
  • How long do they last?
  • Which is most efficient?
  • And which is most cost effective overall?

With these questions in the forefront of our minds, we aim to answer them in this article. There is a lot to unpack, so let’s get started.

So if you happen to live off-grid year round or even if you are only off-grid occasionally throughout the year with perhaps a summer cabin, fishing or hunting camp. You definitely need a refrigerator for your cold food storage. Hauling ice is a hassle, not to mention it is expensive! But what direction do you go? Should you buy a propane refrigerator or a solar one? This is a common question folks have. Our team has spent many years selling both types of refrigerators, and we’ve collected data from both sides of the isle.  Our opinion is this: the propane refrigerator is much more straightforward to use, and it is easy to maintain. Additional benefits of propane refrigeration are that it is much more durable, as well as overall a propane unit is more efficient, and cost effective than solar. Hopefully, this article will prove itself useful to you as you ponder which direction to go.

Simplicity

Propane refrigerators are simple.  They are decidedly straightforward in their operation.  A gas fridge has a cooling unit operated by a pilot light.  In simple terms, this cooling unit and flame make up the whole system! The cooling unit continues to cycle the cooling vapors using the pilot light.  There are very few components to ever malfunction. Plus, propane units do not require sunlight! Generally, the service on a propane refrigerator involves cleaning the burner box…which is easy!  The setup is simple too; just attach your gas line onto the 3/8” male flare screw fitting on the back of the fridge, light the pilot light and you’re good to go! Another thing to consider is the size, if you have a tiny house or small cabin you may not have a lot fo space to work with, in which case a small propane refrigerator would fit the bill.

In contrast, solar refrigerators use a compressor system made up of many different components and electrical pieces.  Solar refrigerators require compressors, refrigerant solution, solar panels, batteries, controllers and other electrical wires and components to make the refrigerator run properly–not to mention the requirement for sunlight…and lots of it!  The point here is that within an electrical refrigerator (which is essentially what a solar refrigerator is) there are many parts and pieces that could wear out, go bad or malfunction leaving your refrigerator totally useless…plus, you can’t control the sun and with solar you need a steady supply of sunshine!

Longevity

Next, propane fridges just last longer than solar fridges. Today’s EZ Freeze propane refrigerator is lasting upwards of 20 to 30 years.  Occasionally, a thermocouple or a thermostat needs to be replaced but even if you have no technical skills, you will be able to change them out yourself! Plus, EZ Freeze fridges come with a maintenance video as well. Generally, all you need is a wrench or a screwdriver to change out these parts. This proves especially useful when living off-grid, where tools and maintenance services are scarce. Plus, the parts are very easy to get your hands on because they are made in the USA.

Solar refrigerators last as long as the “normal” electric refrigerator you may have in your “on-grid” home.  Some can last more than 10 years, BUT when they do stop working or malfunction, getting them fixed is very involved. You may not find the parts you need and it may require taking the fridge to a service repair establishment.  The last thing you want to do while living off the grid is to spend your time and energy fixing and troubleshooting appliances. Your valuable time will be better spent tending to the other chores and necessities that come with living off-grid.

Efficiency

Efficiency is also a consideration when deciding between propane and solar.  Solar systems are expensive. The panels alone cost $10,000 to $20,000 and up from there. This doesn’t even include the battery!  Batteries can cost $5,000 to $7,000. Also, it is recommended that you have a backup generator (thousands of dollars) for those gloomy months when the sun is not shining in order to charge your batteries.  Let’s remember, the generator requires fuel and adds additional variables that can malfunction or fail.

Cost-effectiveness

So let’s break this down a bit:

Let’s say a solar system with panels, batteries and a backup generator costs a very conservative $20,000. Your fridge works off of this solar system at no monthly cost.

An all off-grid home, run with propane, has a propane refrigerator, propane stove and gas lights. The fridge, on average, will consume 1.5 gallons of propane a week.  That’s roughly 80 gallons of propane a year to run the fridge. Propane at an average of $2.00 a gallon will cost you $160 a year. Powering your lights and oven via propane will cost a little bit more.  If we tripled this cost to include propane lights and an oven/range, costs would be roughly $480 a year. That means it would take 42 years to make up for the cost of a $20,000 solar system. This does NOT factor in the fuel for the generator, or new batteries every 5 years, nor the maintenance expenses for the solar system.  As you can see the cost difference is too significant to argue when contemplating the two types of off-grid energy.

The Propane / Solar Synergy

Let’s not throw solar out the window all together.   Solar power as a whole, is a wonderful option and provides you with power needed to run other useful devices (i.e. lights, computer, cell phone).  If you do install a solar system, we want to help your solar system run as efficiently and for as long as possible. How do we do this? By removing those appliances that put heavy strain on your solar batteries. This simply allows for your other important items in your home, like the television, dishwasher and music player, to continue to work.  So, the best way to help your solar system run more efficiently is to remove heavy power consuming appliances from the solar grid entirely. Using a propane refrigerator and a propane stove will aid in this effort tremendously.

Choose a long established company

Now that we have determined how easy set up and maintenance of a propane fridge is, along with identifying the considerable low cost of running it, and additionally its longevity and power saving ability; let’s discuss another trend we have noticed: solar refrigerator companies seem to come and go.  The life span of these companies seem to be short. Which can certainly make finding parts and service locations very difficult. Please don’t misunderstand, this is not the case with all solar refrigerator manufacturers – even some propane refrigerator companies have left the market. However, as a whole, the propane refrigerator manufacturers stand the test of time.  

In the early to mid-1900’s Servel was the biggest propane refrigerator manufacturer.  Their units can still be found working in homes all over the world today! Since propane refrigerators were first on the market in the 1930’s, the science of the absorption cooling unit has proven its reliability through the test of time.  Whether you use natural gas or propane – the necessary combustion for the cooling unit has proven to work seamlessly over the years in creating the energy needed to heat the cooling unit solution. Our new units such as the EZ-Freeze propane refrigerator not only use the same technology and have the same longevity, but run on half of the propane of those refrigerators of old.  EZ-Freeze refrigerators only burn, on average, 1.5 gallons a week, per year.

EZ Freeze fridges are extensively tested in hot rooms, under extreme heat and humidity, which the solar refrigerators would not be able to keep up with.  The EZ Freeze brand propane fridges are safe, durable, and can be transported laying down; on their left side! You can’t do that with your solar fridge, as that is too dangerous!

Warranty

We also take pride in our 7 year warranty on the cooling unit, which is unheard of in the industry and this duration of warranty remains unmatched.  Not only is the warranty far superior to other propane manufacturers but EZ Freeze ranks #1 for any refrigerator, including solar.

Final Words

In conclusion, a well-made propane refrigerator from EZ Freeze will not only last you upwards of 20 to 30 years but it will save you time, money and is virtually hassle free. Our experience in the off-grid industry has taught us that solar power is useful and can provide power where there are no other options but when considering your two major appliances: the refrigerator and the stove, propane generated power is hands down the wiser investment.

 

Gas Freezers vs Solar Freezers

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There are two types of freezers used in off-grid living.

The two types of freezers used are gas powered or DC powered. Both are produced with a high insulation value to create the best efficiency. The major considerations between a Propane Gas Freezer and a DC Electric Freezer are initial cost and availability of the power source. The power source being DC, propane gas, or natural gas.

If solar energy, wind energy, or hydro energy is available or a possibly at your location, then the DC electric freezer initial cost will be low and this will be the best choice. If none of these DC energy sources are available and purchasing the equipment to capture the DC Electricity is necessary, then the initial cost of the DC unit can easily double. The freezer must have power available at all times to keep the food storage at good freezing temperatures. This usually means that these freezers will require a battery bank for power storage during night in the case of solar powered, or when the wind is not blowing in the case of wind generated power. In some cases of hydro power, batteries may not be needed. Solar power is not free. Solar power requires batteries and batteries do wear out and must be replaced. This must be considered when doing cost analysis.

This is where the possibility of a gas freezer may be best. Gas Freezers can operate from stored LPG (Propane) gas or piped in Natural Gas. In some cases, a natural gas well is available on the property site and a natural gas freezer would be ideal. An un-metered well means free power to the natural gas freezer. Propane gas is supplied either by truck to a permanent tank on the property or smaller portable tanks that can be transported and filled at a filling site. Permanent tanks are available in a variety of sizes ranging from 100 gallons to over 1000 gallons. The freezer can operate from any size tank. The question is, for how long. It is typical for a propane freezer to use approximately 2 to 3 gallons of LPG per 7 days.

What are some of the other differences? Performance, portability, and availability.

Performance between a DC powered or compressor driven unit versus a Gas Freezer or absorption system unit are only different in what is called “recovery times”. This is the time it takes for the temperatures to come down or recover to the thermostat set temperature. Both types will get as cold as one another, but the compressor driven unit has the advantage in recovery speed. It is estimated to be four times faster than that of an absorption freezer.

If you open the door or lid of either freezer to retrieve some food goods then the recovery times will only be minutes for either unit. In this case the differences between the two types is of not much concern. When putting non frozen goods into the freezer, this is when the difference of recovery speed shows up. The greatest difference of recovery speed shows when the units are started up from an ambient air temperature state. A typical chill down time for a DC Solar Freezer will be approximately 2 hours whereas the propane gas freezer may take up to 8 hours.

Both units can be portable. The Propane Gas Freezer is very portable due to the nature of the propane being in tanks. The DC freezer is also portable if the unit is operated by a portable power source such as batteries of a vehicle or a small solar system. The weight of the unit is another consideration. Gas freezers are heavier by at least 80 lbs. due to the absorption system weight.

Currently there is a very limited number of manufactures for both types. The DC Solar Freezers are available from a handful of manufacturers and only in chest style. The gas absorption freezers are only available from one manufacturer and only in upright configuration.

This brings up the last comparison. Chest style versus upright style. There are two arguments. You can decide which makes more sense. Chest style units do not allow as much cold air to escape since the lid is opening at the top and cold air falls. Upright freezers are usually open for less time since the goods are staring you in the face and are more accessible than the buried goods in the chest style. Furthermore, if the freezer is full of food then there is less air to fall out when the door is opened.