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The Garage Refrigerator

09 Jan, 2007

This tip was written by Bryan Nelson, owner of TheEpicenter.com. Bryan says, "Think of your refrigerator as a big steel supply cabinet! A spare refrigerator serves many purposes, including a place to store your emergency food and water supplies."

The Garage Refrigerator: Why you should have one, and what should be in it?

Refrigerators, like all mechanical devices, wear out. Refrigerators are referred to as "durable goods," meaning that they have an intended life in excess of 3-5 years. You will however, find that a good old refrigerator can last 20 years or more in many cases.

I remember back in the late 1970s when my father had a garage sale to clear out some of my grandparent's possessions after grandpa's passing. There was an old Philco upright from the late 30's down in the basement. My father sold it to a guy for $10. After the buyer struggled for several hours to get it out of the basement and finally to his house, he called my father back to complain that the fridge didn't work. After repeatedly insisting that it surely must work, my father finally relented and agree to refund the man's ten bucks.

Several minutes later, the man called back; the refrigerator indeed worked, and he had merely forgotten to turn on the switch when he plugged it in!

Now in that case, the 40-year-old Philco was both good and durable!

My own experience has indicated a failure rate of one time in a 5-year period. Nothing is worse than having perishable items in the freezer, and finding that the refrigerator has conked out on a Sunday, when the repair man is at the beach! The last time my fridge went down, I was lucky (or prepared) as I transferred the contents to the backup refrigerator in the garage.

A Look Inside My Garage Refrigerator

The freezer section contains water!

Freezing Water for Emergency StorageWe can never too often stress the eminent importance of water to survival. I can stand to drop a few pounds of stored energy (fat), but I can't go without water for more than a few days and neither can you!

My garage refrigerator's freezer section is filled with water in single serving bottles. I have tested the plastic containers you see, through a half a dozen thaw and freeze cycles, and have determined empirically that water bottled in number 1 plastic will withstand repeated cycles without bursting (a common problem from freezing expansion). I'm not endorsing a specific brand of water. You should look for the number 1 symbol on the bottom of the container and only use non carbonated water.

Now, remember the problem with having a refrigerator fail on a Sunday? (Or if you have week long power outage?). The beauty of my frozen bottles is that now my old garage refrigerator contains a supply of ice! And when the ice melts, it will be my extra source of water! Get the idea?

Inside the main section: Food and more water!

Storing Food for EmergenciesYou see 5-year Coast Guard-approved water rations and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). You can't see inside the drawers that are usually meant for vegetables, but they contain more water!

(To the dismay of survivalist author Ted Wright, my beer is located in the door of the refrigerator and not buried in the ground! That's an inside joke. Ted likes to give me a bad time about taking up valuable refrigerator real-estate with my beer, but I keep telling him that I can't enjoy my beer if I bury it with other supplies! At least I don't need to worry about rotating it when I drink it, Ted!)

Some of the contents of my garage refrigerator: MRE meals, MRE bread, and MRE main entrees like spaghetti with meatballs, ham slices, potatoes au gratin and the like. Though it is not necessary to refrigerate many of these items, the lower storage temperatures will extend the shelf life of your MREs beyond the 10 year mark!

You will also notice a supply of batteries in the refrigerator! It sounds like a strange place for batteries, but shelf life can be extended by lower temperatures.

The main reason to have a spare refrigerator

Think of the refrigerator as a big steel supply cabinet! That sucker is solid! My survival strategy assumes that the house and detached garage will collapse in an earthquake. I expect that some or most of the supplies in the refrigerator will remain intact.

In 1995, I lived in quake country, so I take additional precautions to ensure that my supplies will be there when I need them.

I have secured the refrigerator to the wall studs from four locations.

Extra Refrigerator for Emergency Food StorageA top view. (Photo at left; sorry about the quality of the photos, but there really are two straps on the top!)

Two straps were installed at the top, and two were installed at the bottom of the refrigerator. Most refrigerators are set up so doors can attach from the right or the left side. You will be able to take advantage of these hinge hole locations to install the securing straps. Even if the doors are mounted so they open to the right, the left side holes still exist where the door hinges would have been located for left door applications.

I used the nylon webbing from a set of front seat belts out of an old Jaguar I dismantled several years ago. (British cars are one of my many hobbies!)

Securing the Garage Refrigerator for SafetyAny junk yard can supply you with a set of seat belts at very low cost. Front seat belts are the longest (over the shoulder type). And one pair will provide material for all four straps. Secure the straps to the existing refrigerator hinge holes with bolts and large washers. Secure the other end of the straps to wall studs using screws and washers.

To ensure that the supplies stay inside the refrigerator during a big shake, I fashioned a securing device out of 1/2-inch plywood as shown.

The "E" shaped device fits under the two door handles (and between them). Your handles and the spacing between them will differ, but you get the idea. I attached one of an adjustable auto cargo tie downs (discussed last week) to the center of the "E", and bolted the other end of the tie down to the wall stud behind the refrigerator.

E-Shaped Device to Secure Garage RefrigeratorSince I use the refrigerator to hold my beer, I need easy access to the contents. The "E" device is easily removed by grabbing the adjuster and pulling 2 inches of slack.The door securing device. (Photo at left)

You should be able to find a functional garage refrigerator for free if you hunt carefully. I once had an additional spare from a kitchen remodel, and found that I couldn't get rid of it. I contacted several charities like the Salvation Army, and none of them would pick it up because it wasn't a self defrosting model! Can you believe it? They wouldn't pick up a functional unit simply because it wasn't self-defrosting!

I discovered that it was going to cost me $15 to drop it off at the dump, so I convinced a friend that he NEEDED one, and he still uses it today!