How to Repurpose an Old Refrigerator into a Root Cellar

How to Repurpose an Old Refrigerator into a Root Cellar

Introduction

Converting an old refrigerator into a root cellar is a great way to extend the life of an appliance while also gaining extra food storage. A root cellar provides the perfect conditions to store fruits and vegetables for months. With some simple modifications, a discarded fridge can be upcycled into a functional and energy efficient cold storage unit. This article will walk through all the key steps to DIY your own refrigerator root cellar.

Reasons to Repurpose a Refrigerator as a Root Cellar

There are many benefits to repurposing a refrigerator as a root cellar:

  • Saves money – Root cellars provide free cold storage whereas electric refrigerators rack up energy bills. Converting an old fridge is extremely cost effective.

  • Energy efficient – A well insulated refrigerator requires no electricity whatsoever to maintain cold temperatures. It acts as a passive cold storage unit.

  • Increased storage – Root cellars offer more space for storing large amounts of fresh produce compared to upright refrigerators.

  • Versatile storage – A refrigerator root cellar can store fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts and more at optimal cold and humid conditions. Different cooling zones can be created.

  • Environmentally friendly – Upcycling an old appliance prevents it from ending up in a landfill. No harmful refrigerants are released.

How a Refrigerator Creates the Perfect Root Cellar Conditions

Standard refrigerators provide an ideal environment for root cellar storage. Here’s how:

  • Air tight – A refrigerator is designed to be completely sealed which helps maintain stable temperatures and humidity levels.

  • Insulated – The thick plastic or foam insulation in fridge walls retains cold air exceptionally well in a passive system with no electricity.

  • Cold – Refrigerators can keep temperatures between 32-50°F which is perfect for preserving most produce.

  • Humidity – The closed environment creates relatively high humidity 70-95% RH which keeps food from drying out.

  • Dark – Minimal light crosses the thick insulation keeping light levels ideal for storage.

Choosing an Old Refrigerator to Repurpose

Certain types of discarded fridges will be better candidates for DIY root cellar conversion:

  • Working compressor – Choose a refrigerator that still has a functioning compressor. Units without coolant can’t hold cold temperatures.

  • Intact door seals – Door seals prevent cold air leakage. Examine the gaskets for any cracks or damage.

  • Adjustable temperature – Look for a fridge with good thermostat control. This allows adjusting storage temperatures.

  • No rust – Avoid units with exterior rust or corrosion which compromises the insulation.

  • Appropriate size – Select a larger model (16+ cubic ft) to store adequate produce. Mini fridges have limited capacity.

Dismantling and Cleaning the Refrigerator

Before converting the refrigerator to a root cellar, it’s essential to fully dismantle and scrub down the appliance:

  • Remove door – Take off the door to allow easy access for cleaning and modifications.

  • Remove shelves – Detach any interior bins, shelves or drawers. Assess if they can be reused or replaced for storage.

  • Remove compressor – If keeping the refrigerator cold passively, the compressor should be disconnected and removed.

  • Scrub interior – Use non-toxic cleaners and bleach solution to fully disinfect the fridge interior and trim any odors.

  • Clean door gasket – Pay special attention to scrubbing the door seal which can harbor mold.

Modifications and Improvements

Certain modifications can optimize the old refrigerator for root cellar use:

  • Replace shelves – Install solid shelves rather than wire racks to accommodate boxes and bins. Sturdy, adjustable shelves provide maximum storage flexibility.

  • Install drainage – Add a drain line or gravel filled tray to remove excess moisture that can accumulate at the bottom.

  • Insulate any gaps – Seal any air leaks around the body or door gasket using flexible sealant and weather stripping.

  • Add ventilation – Small computer fans can improve passive air circulation if the fridge maintains overly high humidity.

  • Create cooling zones – Section off areas with insulation sheets to provide different temperature and humidity levels if needed.

Setting Up the Root Cellar Refrigerator

Proper placement and setup ensures a refrigerator will function efficiently as a root cellar:

  • Location – Situate the fridge in a basement, garage or porch that maintains cool temperatures but prevents freezing.

  • Level positioning – Use shims to level the fridge if the floor is uneven. Keep it tilted slightly back so the door can fully seal.

  • Stabilize – Prevent the fridge from tipping over by screwing it to studs in the wall or bolting it to the floor.

  • Insulate exterior – For added energy efficiency, wrap the outside in rigid foam insulation boards or bales of straw.

  • Humidity control – Place shallow trays of water inside and ventilate appropriately to maintain optimal 60-75% humidity.

Maintaining the Root Cellar Refrigerator

Regular maintenance keeps a DIY refrigerator root cellar functioning at peak performance:

  • Monitor temperatures – Check a thermometer inside regularly to ensure optimal cold temperatures are maintained between 32-40°F.

  • Prevent freezing – In winter, wrap or insulate the fridge well to prevent stored food from freezing.

  • Regulate humidity – Add or remove trays of water and adjust ventilation to maintain 60-75% humidity.

  • Clean interior – Wipe down interior and remove spoiled produce regularly to prevent mold growth.

  • Clean door gasket – Keep the door seal clean and supple so it continues to form an airtight closure.

Ideal Foods for Refrigerator Root Cellaring

Many types of produce store well for months in a fridge converted to a root cellar:

  • Apples – Most apple varieties store perfectly for 2-8 months at 32-40°F.

  • Pears – Ripen green pears in the fridge for a few weeks before eternal cold storage.

  • Potatoes – Cured potatoes keep 4-6 months in dark, humid fridge conditions.

  • Carrots – Unwashed carrots maintain crispness for 6-8 months.

  • Beets – Beets stay fresh in slightly humid fridge environments for 4-6 months.

  • Cabbage – Keep cabbage around 3 months if stored cold. Remove outer leaves as needed.

  • Garlic – Cured garlic will last up to 8 months stored at room temperature or longer refrigerated.

Troubleshooting Common Root Cellar Refrigerator Problems

Even in passive systems, cooling troubles can arise:

Losing cold air – Improve door seals and insulate unit exterior if temperatures creep up.

Condensed moisture – Increase ventilation and air circulation if excessive moisture accumulates.

Freezing conditions – Insulate the fridge or move to a warmer location if stored food starts freezing.

Mold growth – Remove spoiled produce immediately and thoroughly scrub interior with bleach solution.

Pest infestations – Discard any compromised food. Set traps and seal any gaps where pests could enter.

Conclusion

Repurposing an old refrigerator into a root cellar is an extremely cost effective way to gain a large amount of cold food storage. With proper placement, setup and maintenance, an old fridge can be converted into a fully functional root cellar that provides ideal conditions for long term fruit and vegetable preservation. Just take care to thoroughly clean, modify and insulate the unit to create optimal temperature, humidity and air circulation levels.