How to Repurpose an Old Refrigerator Into a Root Cellar
Converting an old refrigerator into a root cellar is a great way to extend the storage life of fruits, vegetables, and other produce. Root cellars provide a cool, dark space that helps slow spoilage and prevents your harvest from rotting prematurely. Refrigerators already have insulation and temperature control, making them an ideal starting point for DIY root cellars. With a few modifications, you can easily repurpose a discarded or broken refrigerator into a functional root cellar. This guide will walk you through the full process step-by-step.
Choose a Suitable Refrigerator
The first step is picking out a refrigerator to convert. Here are some things to look for:
Size – Choose a refrigerator with adequate space for your needs. Standard sizes range from 4.5 to 30 cubic feet. Consider your typical harvest size and storage duration.
Condition – While you don’t need a working fridge, the insulation should be intact. Avoid units with damaged or missing insulation.
Type – Standard top- or bottom-freezer models work best. Avoid side-by-side models which won’t seal as tightly when modified.
Electricity – Refrigerators without power can be converted. However, choosing an operational unit allows you to regulate temperatures more precisely.
Once you’ve found a suitable used refrigerator, thoroughly clean the interior to remove any odors and residue before proceeding.
Remove Interior Components
The next step is to strip out any unnecessary interior parts:
Remove all shelves and drawers.
Remove the freezer compartment if converting a combo unit.
Remove any electrical components – control panels, lights, etc.
Cut away the inner door liner leaving just the outer metal shell.
Disconnect the power cord.
This leaves an empty cavity ready to be converted into a root cellar.
Adding extra insulation improves the refrigerator’s ability to maintain cool, even temperatures:
Use spray foam to insulate the floor and any exposed voids. Let cure completely.
Line the walls and ceiling with rigid foam insulation boards for increased insulation. Use adhesive to secure.
Seal all seams and edges with caulk or spray foam to prevent air leaks.
The fully insulated interior will keep cold air trapped inside once temperatures drop.
Now add storage shelves to hold your harvest.
Use wood boards or wire shelving secured with brackets. Allow airflow between shelves.
Install shelves in cooling zones with vegetables on bottom, fruits in middle, potatoes/onions on top.
Add a humidity tray filled with damp sand to the bottom shelf to provide moisture.
Use lightproof boxes or bags for onions, potatoes and light-sensitive crops.
Proper shelving helps organize your root cellar and optimize storage for different types of produce.
Modify Door Seal
For an airtight seal, attach a gasket around the door perimeter using adhesive. Open-cell foam or rubber seal work best. The door should seal completely when closed to maintain ideal conditions inside.
Add Lock and Ventilation
Install a ventilation system by boring holes near the ceiling and embedding PVC pipes to the outdoors. This allows air exchange while preventing pests. Add screen mesh over vents to keep insects out.
Also attach a lock to the refrigerator handle to secure your root cellar from critters seeking food.
Install a thermometer inside to monitor temperatures. Cooler crops do best between 32-40°F while warmer produce prefers 50-60°F.
Maintain ideal conditions by:
Cracking the door to ventilate on warmer days
Adding ice packs to cool the space if needed
Turning on the refrigerator if converting an operational unit
Proper temperature control prevents spoilage and maximizes storage times.
Maintain Root Cellar
Maintain your refrigerator root cellar with:
Cleaning and organizing before each harvest season.
Checking for rotten produce and removing regularly.
Preventing humidity buildup by absorbing excess moisture.
Pest control using traps and natural repellents if needed.
With proper maintenance, a DIY refrigerator root cellar provides affordable long-term food storage for homesteaders and gardeners. The simple modifications keep harvests fresh for months past the growing season.
Converting an old refrigerator into a functional root cellar is a straightforward project. Following the steps above allows you to inexpensively create temperature-controlled storage perfect for preserving fruits, vegetables, and other crops. With minimal investment, you can reduce food waste and enjoy your harvests year-round.