Living off-grid doesn’t mean giving up modern conveniences. There are a number of companies that make specialized off-grid appliances, and while they cost a bit more at the start, they’re built to last a lifetime. Our off-grid cabin has all the modern appliances, and while some are specialized for off-grid use, others are just efficient versions of standard household appliances.
We don’t have an off-grid gas range, and that’s a huge mistake. You don’t really realize how much electricity a modern gas stove uses until you’re off-grid, and you want to bake in the winter time.
Modern gas ovens use special technology that is designed to keep them at a more constant temperature. They do this by using an absurd amount of electricity in an igniter that continuously turns the stove on and off. Sure, the heat is generated by burning propane, but our “gas” range burns about as much electricity as a countertop plugin electric oven.
Growing up, we had one of those old pilot light gas stoves, and it worked just fine without any electricity. It kills me how much less efficient the new ones are, at least in terms of electricity.
Our kitchen was designed around an old-time wood/gas stove, but the previous owners took it with them when they moved out. We were disappointed, but it didn’t seem like a huge deal at the time.
That’s one of my biggest regrets about this house because it’s hard to find a wood/gas stove. Even if you can find one, it’s even harder to get someone willing to install it.
There is one place up in Maine that refurbishes them, called Bryant Stove and Music. We’ve made one visit out, and we’re hoping they get something suitable in stock soon so we can switch our stove out. Just recently called them though, and they’re no longer dealing in wood/gas combo stoves simply because there’s no one willing to install them.
Ideally, we’d install a large wood-fired stove for winter heat and cooking, and a small kerosene stove nearby for quick summer cooking and coffee without heating the house. Kerosene burns clean, unlike butane and propane camp stoves.
Refrigerators are by far the most common off-grid appliance, so there are a lot of off-grid grid refrigerator options. There are propane refrigerators for fully off-grid camps and DC electric models that run directly from battery power without an inverter.
DC Electric Refrigerators
If you have any electricity generation capacity, go with a Direct Current (DC) electric fridge. They use almost no electricity since they’re super-insulated and they can run directly from your batteries even if the inverter is down.
We run a Sunfrost RF16, and it’s basically a standard-sized refrigerator/freezer. They’re a bit more expensive than a standard AC refrigerator, but they’re built to last a lifetime.
A while back we were having an issue with ours, so we called the manufacturer for help finding a service tech. He laughed and said we don’t need a service tech, they’re extremely simple machines. He was able to talk me through the issue over the phone in about 5 minutes.
Ours has been running strong for more than 20 years now.
According to sunfrost, “one 100 amp hr 12V deep cycle battery will typically run the Sun Frost RF12 (a bit smaller than ours) for 3 days without recharging.” That’s a pretty small system, and still, it keeps it running.
They also say that 4 hours of sun on one 135 watt panel will keep the fridge running without issue. The only place where that becomes a problem is in far northern states in the winter time.
Living up here in Vermont there’s been plenty of times when we’ve shut the inverter and everything else down, and just let the fridge/freezers run on DC power for days on end. I’m very glad that we have that option instead of a standard AC refrigerator.
If you’re completely off-grid, with no way to generate electricity there are propane refrigerators. They’re not the best way to do it if you have other options.
That said, they do work well for remote cabins with no electricity generation capacity. Lehman’s sells gas-powered refrigerators and freezers if you find that’s the best option for you.
Propane refrigerators are much less efficient, and they use relatively expensive fossil fuels instead of free solar power.
Here’s a comparison of their efficiency: “A 10 cubic foot propane refrigerator will typically consume 1.5 lbs, or .375 gallons, of propane per day. The energy content of 1.5 lbs of propane is 32,250 Btu or about 9485 watt-hours. The Sun Frost RF12 consumes only 24 amps hours a day, which is equivalent to 288-watt-hours a day. That is an astounding 32 times less.” (Source)
We run two DC electric freezers, and a third large AC freezer in the summertime when the garden crops are coming in. The DC freezers are hard-wired into our basement, where it stays cool year-round. Both of our DC freezers are 8 cubic foot models made by Sun Danzer.
Our AC freezer is a large 14 cubic foot model, and we use it to store produce and meat harvested on our homestead in the summer months. Once the busy summer season is over, we work through all the food and preserve it in other ways, largely by canning. The AC freezer can then be off for the winter months when electricity is more scarce.
Before moving off-grid, I’d never had a dishwasher. Now we can pack it and let the sun do our dishes for us while we’re out in the garden.
Our dishwasher isn’t anything special. It’s just an energy-efficient KitchenAid model from more than a decade ago (model #kuds02frbl1).
Believe it or not, running a dishwasher off-grid actually makes a lot of sense. Doing dishes uses up power for a well-pump unless you’re lucky enough to have a gravity well. By packing the dishwasher in the evening, and then waiting until mid-day the next day to run it, you’re delaying use of electricity to match the supply.
Without a dishwasher, I’d be inside doing dishes on sunny days, rather than out in the garden, and I’ll honestly say it’s by far my favorite way to use our free electricity. In the summer, a dishwasher running midday doesn’t even dent our solar production.
In the wintertime, you can either skip using the dishwasher, or wait for the sun to run it, or just turn it on when you kick on the generator.
Off-Grid Washing Machine
Our electrical system is pretty robust, and we’re able to run a standard washing machine without issue. We have to time our loads to peak generation, but I’m happy with that solution. Some modern washing machines have an electric water heater built into them, that pre-heats the well water to ensure that the water is at just the right temperature going in.
That’s not a good idea off the grid, as any type of electrical heat takes a lot of juice. There are plenty of models without it though.
If you’re looking for a more “off-grid” solution than a standard washing machine, a friend of ours lives in a yurt near us in Vermont and has been very happy with her small pedal-powered washing machine. There are also a couple of different crank-operated washing machines with great reviews, like this one and this one.