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Repurposing a deep freeze as a root cellar without digging?

 
pollinator
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I've got a small fleet of nonfunctional upright deep freezes that I need to either repurpose or get rid of.  The most useful (to me) use that I've found is to turn them into mini root cellars.  (With the upright freezers, this would involve placing them on their sides, with the door facing up.)

This would involve removing and properly disposing of all the innards, for starters.  Further, everything I've found--though I admit to not doing a terribly extensive search--involves burying the freezer.

This is a nonstarter for me.  If I'm going to dig a large enough hole to bury a freezer, I figure I might as well dig one a little bigger and spend a bit more and make a proper root cellar.  Secondly, this just seems redundant.  I'm not an expert on root cellar science, but if I'm not mistaken the rough idea is that the properties of insulation and temperature moderation of the earth are what makes the whole thing function anyway, so burying an insulated chamber seems silly.

So my question involves, of course, the possibility of using a freezer as a sort of above-ground root cellar.  What might this look like?  I'd think the following would be in order:

1. Place the freezer in the shade, preferably on the north or east side of a building.
2. Vent the freezer, as one would do if burying it.
3. Use it for a relatively limited amount of time (seasonally), and probably only for particular crops.  Exact details would surely take some trial and error.

Anybody have any further thoughts?  Or want to dismiss this idea outright?  Tried it yourself, or know someone who did?  Do share.
 
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Couldn't you use the freezers upright, back them up to a dirt wall, pile dirt around them and over the top for the insulating value (they get hot inside without help)?
 
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Some wise homesteaders I'm aware of in WI and MN use picnic coolers as root cellars in the fall.  They start with them in the shade and open them at night and close them during the day to cool them down in October.  Then later on they close them at night and crack them open during the day to keep them from freezing (November).  Then they move them to the garage for a few more weeks until it gets too cold in the garage.  Then they finally put them in their "real" root cellars for the winter.  

If they can manage by using lightly insulated picnic coolers in a much colder environment than you are in, I'm guessing you could possibly make it nearly through winter without burying them.  Just put them in the shade and try it out.  My hunch/guess is that they are ok with their coolers outside until they get down to highs in the upper 30s and lows around 20.
 
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If the goal is to let it be cold,cut not too cold,how about a cheap plug in thermostat freeze controller ,an immersion heater and a 5 gallon bucket of water?
The water acts as a coolth reserve, the freeze prevention works keeps things from getting too cold.

Maybe a nonstarter due to the energy expended,but cheap and useful I think.

Alternatively,replace or fit the doors with glass and aim them at the sun to capture solar heat.
I would line the insides with cement,to avoid melty,regarding plastic.
Tap them as an solar air furnace, dehydrator, plant starter, whatever.
 
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The earth isn't so much an insulator as it is a thermal mass. Transferring heat from areas of higher concentration to areas of lower concentration is something the earth does well. Having the buffer of the earth underneath and the ability to slowly change temperature as a mass vs the faster change of other things like metals or liquids is beneficial because it can find an equilibrium between outdoor temperature extremes. Thermal mass 'batteries' exploit this quite well.

Refrigerators, while insulated, have very little mass and really aren't that well insulated. A 2x4 wall with R13 stuffed into it is only about as effective as R11, and I don't recall seeing any standard refrigerators with 3 1/2" thick sides. By itself I doubt it would be very useful, unless you take the advice above and babysit it multiple times a day, understanding that one mistake could be very costly. It seems like the effort to bury the fridge could be a better trade off of doing the work up front to avoid giving your future self a headache.

However, it doesn't specifically need to be a refrigerator sized hole to make it more useful. Merely providing shade from the sun would be a vast improvement over leaving it exposed to the sun's heat. Covering it in straw or wood might be an easy way to increase insulation. Piling up soil or rocks around it would add thermal mass to help regulate temperature, as well as keeping the interior full of mass like water jugs. By themselves, a bit of thermal mass or a bit of insulation usually doesn't work as effectively as people would be led to believe by product advertising. Combining the two in sufficient quantities for the task tends to yield vastly better performance.
 
Wes Hunter
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Thanks for the replies so far.

To perhaps further clarify, I think I'm looking less for a root cellar solution and more for a freezer solution.  I'm not in desperate need for a root cellar, but would like to repurpose these freezers as such if it could be done cheaply and easily.  If not, I'm more than happy to move them on.

In order for it to work, I think I'd have to provide ventilation by either keeping a shim in the door, or drilling a couple holes and attaching some PVC for airflow.  If I have to open the lid, shut the lid, open the lid, shut the lid... well, that won't be happening.  So if there isn't enough insulative value in a free-standing freezer to keep temps moderate and acceptable, then it just won't work, and that's okay.
 
Mike Haasl
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Wes Hunter wrote:To perhaps further clarify, I think I'm looking less for a root cellar solution and more for a freezer solution.  



Wes Hunter wrote:In order for it to work, I think I'd have to provide ventilation by either keeping a shim in the door, or drilling a couple holes and attaching some PVC for airflow.



I think I still need more clarification.  If you want a freezer solution, you need it to get below freezing (ideally around 0F) and stay there reliably.  A root cellar solution would aim for 34F.  

A freezer would likely do just fine without any ventilation.  A root cellar needs some ventilation and a lot of humidity.
 
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I repurposed my old deep freezer as a compost/worm bin.

Took out most of the lid seal to prevent the biologics from over heating it when I put too much high nitrogen material in it.

Opened the drain and put a pan under it to catch worm juice.

I empty it out every other year or so, which is a bit of a pain, but it seems to work well for me.
 
Wes Hunter
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Mike Jay wrote:I think I still need more clarification.  If you want a freezer solution, you need it to get below freezing (ideally around 0F) and stay there reliably.  A root cellar solution would aim for 34F.  

A freezer would likely do just fine without any ventilation.  A root cellar needs some ventilation and a lot of humidity.



What I mean is that I'm not trying to solve the "I need a root cellar" problem, but am instead trying to figure out how to make the freezers work as such (without digging).  Semantics, perhaps.  If I was willing to dig, I'd just make a proper root cellar and skip the freezers altogether.

What I mean by "a freezer solution" is I need/want something to do with these freezers, or how to make them work.

I still feel like I'm not making that distinction clear enough, but it doesn't really matter.  I've put the freezers up on Craigslist.
 
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Perhaps it's that you have a "re-purposing these non-functional freezers" problem? Also, maybe that you were trying to use the insulative value of the freezer to moderate temperature? However, at best it seems like you'd end up with something warmer than night temps and cooler than day temps and that only if you kept it in the shade.
 
pollinator
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I don't see this as being workable as you propose. There is always a temperature gradient in play (except the spring/winter when the ground is below freezing) where you are gaining heat into this box. If you want to keep it below freezing, you would have to use ice or some other means of removing that heat, and ice will only get you close to freezing.

The laws of thermodynamics are not as capricious as the laws of the land...

 
Wes Hunter
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To clarify (again--apparently I'm lacking here): I don't need anything frozen.  I am, rather, hoping to use a large-ish insulated chamber (nonfunctional deep freeze) as an above-ground root cellar, using only ambient temperature and the insulative qualities of the freezer.  If it doesn't work, it doesn't work--and it sounds like it won't work.  They're eyesores anyway.
 
Tj Jefferson
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To perhaps further clarify, I think I'm looking less for a root cellar solution and more for a freezer solution



I may have misread this aspect. Anyhow the dead horse appears to be beaten thoroughly!
 
pollinator
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Many areas of Canada and the northern states, have well water that is in the 40s Fahrenheit. A simple loop that pumps well water through an insulated room or freezer, and back again, could produce a quite inexpensive and cheap to run, root cellar.

Ground Source heat pumps, return well water, or some other refrigerant, at just a few degrees above freezing. For anyone running one of these, this could be the perfect refrigerant fluid.
 
                                  
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Really seems workable on the face of it, but my experiments have been failures.

The last experiment was using for seed storage. (Fail) a hot dresser drawer is better.

Outside freezers heat up, buried freezers fill with water, and though buried, heat up, and collect moisture even during droughts.

I have kept frying pans in the freezer successfully, but there's an odor issue.

So...
Lots of ways not to use a freezer...

Hope someone comes along soon and has had some success...
 
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Many areas of Canada and the northern states, have well water that is in the 40s Fahrenheit. A simple loop that pumps well water through an insulated room or freezer, and back again, could produce a quite inexpensive and cheap to run, root cellar.

Ground Source heat pumps, return well water, or some other refrigerant, at just a few degrees above freezing. For anyone running one of these, this could be the perfect refrigerant fluid.



that sounds like the makings of a very good idea, one which solves two problems - temperature AND humidity.  The ideal root cellar is held just above 32F and 95% humidity.  You could setup a chest freezer with storage baskets full of food, with an inch of standing water in the base.  Setup an Inkbird controller programmed to dump the warm water to the drain and replace it with new (cold) well water when it gets above 50 degrees.  Seems like it would maintain low temp and high humidity, though I wonder if you would need fresh air exchange/ventilation beyond just the normal opening and closing...
 
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I think the real problem here is not with the freezer itself, but with the work involved to make the freezer work, and then blaming the appliance. This is no different than getting a Border Collie, not putting the effort into training it, then citing the dog as being useless. That is not the case at all, life takes work. Even if a person shoveled out a wheel barrow ful of dirt per day, in a week they would have a hole dug for one. How does a person eat an elephant? One bite at a time, the same with Permiculture.

Myself, I would love to have a few freezers, but I would bury them, and then use them to produce biogas from some of my sheep manure. I would think three of them would make excellent biodigesters.
 
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