Off Grid Refrigeration

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Ruhh's picture
Ruhh
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Off Grid Refrigeration

We recently bought an off-grid property and are wondering what our best options are for long term options for refrigeration. For the time being we are only using the property on weekends but are prepping it for long-term full-time living.

The place came with a very old propane fridge but it doesn't seem to work. I would like to repair it but we can't find anyone that knows much about them (at least the old one like we have). Anybody around here know much about them? It seems to be a problem with the pilot light and how it really works. We think the bleeder/pilot is out of place. We had the main burner working one day but made a lot of smoke and now we can't seem to get it going.

We are considering a new/used one and are weighing the options between another propane version or an electric one. The problem with electric is that we would also be stuck having to buy more solar/wind infrastructure.

Despite the cost of more solar/wind we are leaning towards electric. What are thoughts on AC vs DC models regarding efficiency, cost and reliability?

I'm also thinking of building an ice house but not sure if I've got the drive to do so.

I don't know if I could live with warm beer.

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

Hello Ruhh:

I looked at this.

Also, if you want the info I have collected on solar shoot me an email davossherman@gmail.com We are planning on building a few panels this summer to see how they work. Our well is 900' deep and is 3.5 3 phase ac sooooo our electric is well over average for a 3br 1800 sq foot house heated with wood and cooled by mountain air (we don't use ac but 3 days a year.)

Congrads on the secluded location!!!

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

I saw a ice house design on MyBackAchers.com (they zero energy farm . . guess that's why their back achers!)

They made an insulated room and filled it with tanks of water & anti-freeze and chill them down in the winter, then close it all up. The number of freezing 55 gal tanks depends on the size of your room and your climate. . . or how cold can you get it in mid-winter? I'm wondering how you would power a propane refrig if that disappeared too.

Save your energy needs for lights, tv/stero/video games, computer and communications. . . . or spa!

EGP

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

This is one of my long term projects, you know, when I run out of doing everything else...!  Making one from scratch would be a big ask, but obviously, he's done it.  Fortunately for me, I had the foresight to acquire a non functioning solar water heater off someone's roof..... I knew it didn't work, and I just knocked on the door and offered to take the ugly non working contraption off their roof for free, and they said yes!!  BTW, I don't believe for one second that the collector has to be remotely as large as you see here...  every m2 of collection is a whole 1000W of power, and that sucker must be all of 8m2 = 8kW....  and I've never seen a freezer that uses THAT much power.  My collectors are more like 2.5m2....

Does anyone here (whilst I hopefully have your attention) know how easily acquired that blck steel pipe they specify in this design is, and how does one bend it into a spiral?  Is it soft metal or something?

Mike

http://www.scribd.com/doc/6599651/How-to-Build-a-Solar-Icemaker

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Damnthematrix
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STEVEN Solar Freezer

Actually, here's a better link you can download and save the file from...

http://www.free-energy-info.co.uk/P13.pdf

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

Hello Mike:

I bought plans for an ethonal still, never built it after doing the cost analysis I realized that our elected officials picked the stupidest thing to offset fuel consumption. But a still is a still, one day maybe.

The only black pipe I am familiar with is lead. If there is a flexible black pipe, or if it is like the copper pipe in the still plans they just wrapped the coil around a black 3" or wider diameter pipe then slid the coil off of it.

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

There's some high-level info about gas/propane refrigerators on HowStuffWorks and some more detailed info at WarehouseAppliance that may help you debug the problem. However, if your beast is really old, you might be better off purchasing a new propane refrigerator since they aren't as efficient as the new ones (less insulation, burn more fuel). You can convert the old fridge box into a food dehydrator or solar cooker.

Living off the grid, I'd say that a propane fridge is the way to go -- maintenance is much simpler (no moving parts) and you don't need to beef up your collection system. Another benefit of getting a propane fridge is that you can later convert it to run on biogas from an anaerobic digester.

Now, the question remains whether a gas freezer is better than a 12v DC freezer, and I think the jury is still out on that one. Summit makes some darned efficient DC chest freezers, and other manufacturers even have models that include a dedicated panel just for the freezer. I'd say to go with a DC model (freezer or fridge) so you don't lose that tiny bit of juice going through the inverter to turn it AC. Plus a lot of AC models void their warranty if they are used on an off-grid system (check the fine print!), while DC models are expected to be run off-grid.

One thing the jury isn't out on is that chest freezers are way more efficient than fridge/freezer combos. So you're much better off getting a smaller fridge and a large freezer. If you have a root cellar (or icehouse) that stays around or below 40F year round, most of the stuff we refrigerate would work just fine down there. There are lots of food that really just needs to be kept cool, not cold -- fruit, veg, butter, cheese, condiments, etc -- so you really don't need to waste space in a fridge for them, and just need one big enough for leftovers, milk and other highly perishable items.

Edited to add:  if you can afford a little extra, there are models that are "multi-fuel" -- propane/AC, propane/DC, and propane/AC/DC (which might be the best way to go for "insurance" against possible shortage of one fuel//power supply).

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Damnthematrix
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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

A word of warning about gas powered fridges.....  in my experience they are HIGHLY inefficient and burn through gas like there's no tomorrow.  And as we know, there is no tomorrow, so I wouldn't go that way if you can afford it, you'd be better off going PV + DC fridge, unless you live somewhere really cloudy....

Mike

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

Gas powered fridges are inefficient, but have the advantage that with a bit of tinkering can run off wood,coal.....or the sun

A classmate of mine had a masters project involving a fridge run off a hot water type solar panel, targeting reiterating vaccines in third world tropical conditions.

If anyone serious I could possibly chase down the supervising professor involved for details.

Cheers Hamish

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

I don't think this product is currently in production yet, but it sounds promising.  I'm hoping they can bring it to market before TSHTF.

http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/2382/74/

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

  Sorry about the blatent plug, but check out Sundanzer (made by Electrolux) and Sunfrost. Super-efficient D.C. refrigerators and freezers (540 watt-hours per day @ 90 degrees F).  I have been using the Sundanzer 8 cu ft deep freeze for 7 years with no problems whatsoever. I also have the Sunfrost 16 cu ft refrig/freezer and am very pleased with it (3 years with no problems).

  540 watt-hours per day is 23 times more efficient than a comparable G.E. product, but G.E. makes appliances, turbines, and jet engines as well ( I sometimes wonder if there is a connection ).

  Kansas Wind Power is a good place to start as well as Homepower magazine. I remember in an old issue a story about a solar ice maker made from a 21' length of pipe with a reflector that was filled with ammonia and it made something like 20 lbs of ice on a sunny day.

  Refrigeration is not necessary for survival but it sure is n-ice.

  Spencer

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

Thanks for the replies all.

I think I might give an ice house a try and just keep the refrigerator there for now and use it as my cooler with blocks of ice. We are in a fairly cold climate north of Ottawa (it snowed last weekend up there) and I could probably make a decent one. When we bought the property the guy left these strange insulated pannels that are panels sheet metal filled with insulating foam about 1.5" thick. Lots of sandy soil around too do dig a nice cellar for it without totally breaking my back.

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Ice House

Ottowa would be the perfect place for an ice house!

If you can - make it big enough for different compartments - 1.The iced area with the anti-freeze & water barrels; 2. Cold "refrigeration area" or a root cellar temperature area.

In theory, you would only go into the ice area a few times a week to get stuff so it should stay cold till September. . .or more. EGP

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

Good luck with all that Ruhh!  At least from a refrigeration aspect, you're lucky to live so far north :)  You won't need a fridge or freezer the entire winter... maybe not even the tail ends of spring or fall either. That should help with whatever power source you decide on since you only have to power it during the hottest (and normally sunniest) parts of the year. One of our neighbors unplugs his freezer (on the porch) after the first frost and doesn't plug it back in until after the last frost and hasn't lost any food for decades. You're almost as far north as we'll be, so I'm betting your new root cellar will stay plenty cool all summer if it's dug deep enough and insulated - just have to make sure it doesn't freeze during the winter though.

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Re: Ice House

I thought that in the oldem days the Ice House was supposed to just store big blocks of ice and you covered it in sawdust. As the year goes by you just take small chunks and put them in your 'cold box' inside the house? I figure this would store the ice more efficiently and having your 'cold box' in your kitchen more convenient. I guess with the larger version you could kinda do both. Should be a fun experiment and hopefully it won't be a necessity.

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Re: Ice House and alternatives

Hello Ruhh and all,

If you have a deep well that is already pumping water (or a deep artesian spring otherwise) don't overlook the temperature differential from the deep water (hopefully significantly colder). People have used spring houses, submerging milk, butter, etc. in jars or jugs in the circulating water to keep things cold (or would build small ledges in a side wall of a tank in a small covered building for summer use.)

One way to reduce the energy needs with the same principle would be to use circulating water through a coil and wind the coil around a vessel of some sort (with insulation on the outside) and use the interior to store what you are trying to chill and keep cool before the water moves to its next use. 

Also, I've read about building a small insulated pantry on the north wall of a kitchen (with air circulation) as a way to keep items cooler without having to refrigerate them. Obviously this works better in higher elevations or other situations where the air cools at night. Just a thought.

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Re: Ice House

Ruhh wrote:

I thought that in the oldem days the Ice House was supposed to just store big blocks of ice and you covered it in sawdust. As the year goes by you just take small chunks and put them in your 'cold box' inside the house?

Olden days huh?

We could ask Sam.  I think he just went out and chipped it off the glacier that was in his front yard. 

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Here’s a really cool idea

Here's what I did, and I'm not even off-grid! Enerhy efficiency is always a good idea, saves piles of money too.  Of course the controller I used won't work in the States, we use 240V, but devices like this must be readily available from Beer Brewing supplies, that's where I found mine.

Good luck.

Mike

Here’s a really cool idea

6 09 2009

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. I’ve been meaning to do this for years…. It’s either been too poor, too busy, too many other things to do. Last year we switched to another power supplier, Integral Energy. To cut to the chase, because absolutely nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, in the electricity industry is trained to take calls from people who sell solar power to the grid, we were basically conned into switching under the premise that we would be better off under Integral’s tariff regimes. The people who made these promises had possibly never even seen a solar array tied to the grid…

After six months we got a bill…. and zero credit for the substantial amount of energy we exported to the grid. After hours on the phone and emails back and forth we eventually did get a whole nine months rebated, but the next three was, again, not credited.

So I thought, right, they want to play silly buggers, so can I. And I disconnected from the grid, running the house from the batteries we have as backups for the occasional blackouts. At the same time all this happened, our old fridge, which I knew was on the blink, finally gave up the ghost, consuming vast amounts of energy which at night was thrashing the batteries. I woke up one morning to find them flat, which was OK (sort of – it’s a sure way of shortening battery life) because as soon as the sun was strong enough they were quickly recharged. The problem of course is that we could not continue using this fridge as long as we were relying on the batteries, and it had to be replaced.

This is not my idea, I lifted it straight off the internet. If you run a freezer, especially a chest freezer, as a refrigerator, then you will use considerably less energy than otherwise would be the case. Why? Well when you open the top, all the cold air stays inside the fridge for starters, and because they are designed to run far colder, their innards are better made. Plus the insulation used in freezers is often three times as thick as that in fridges. All you need to do is use a replacement thermostat to over-ride the freezer’s internal device.

I was lucky to have found such an item the week before here. thermostatIt is cheaper than any other alternative I’ve yet found, and it looked well made. Fifty bucks later, one arrived in the mail pronto.. now all I needed was a freezer to go with it.

Years ago, I’d spotted this unusual chest freezer in a shop. It had a drawer in the bottom. It’s the only one like it, as far as I know. The beauty of this design is that the stuff in the drawer is not as cold as that which is stored in the freezer’s top compartment, more about this later. Then, because the top is very shallow, you don’t have to bend in half to reach the bottom for the beer! I wanted one….

As luck would have it of course, its price had gone up substantially. The cheapest I could find over the internet was $703, plus delivery. That was way more than we wanted to spend, and so we looked around to see what else was available.

The good thing about the GFC is that cash talks loudly these days. haierfreezerI found one of these beauties in a shop I didn’t even know existed, totally by chance. It was the last one they had. The asking price was $699. Less for cash. So I accosted this rather large salesman and asked him what was his best cash price (ostentatiously pulling out a wad of $50 notes from my shirt pocket!). $570 said he after typing a few strokes into his computer…. I nearly keeled over! SOLD said I. Would you believe that amount was exactly all the cash we had? Some things are just meant to happen….

I’ve got it all going now, in spite of the atrociously written instructions on how to program the controller, and when I finally get the energy consumption figures over the next week or so, I’ll update the post. Can’t wait.

And that bottom drawer…? Well it’s the ideal place to age those goat cheeses I’m about to start making!

UPDATE:

img_4686After 10 days usage, I’m pleased to announce that our new fridge is still working well, and that best of all it’s only used 2.5 kWhrs, or 0.25 kWhrs/day. You may be interested to know how I measure the fridge’s energy consumption…. years ago when I was doing energy audits for money, I bought myself my own kWhr meter which I rigged up with a hard wired lead to plug into a powerpoint, and which has its own powerpoint (at the back) into which you plug the appliance you wish to monitor. I broke the seals and zero the meter before using it. The temperature controller BTW clearly shows the temperature in the fridge is 3 degrees. It’s kind of neat to have a constant temperature readout…. you know instantly if something’s gone haywire!

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

While I admire your perserverance in making this freezer/fridge, I think I would just go and buy an A++ rated fridge. Do you have these in Australia?

http://www0.dealtime.co.uk/xPO-Siemens-Siemens-KS38RN95GB-Siemens-185cm-Larder-Fridge

This one says it uses 103 kWh per year which is only about 10% more than your arrangement.

James

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

No, but we do have Libherr German refrigerators that ARE as efficient as our setup..... but they cost FOUR TIMES as much. I am of the opinion that spending more than you can afford, ie borrow, is not sustainable, so I would not ever have considered spending so much money... Even those Siemens devices you pointed me to cost double what we paid for our setup, and there's also the issue of whether they would be as efficient in our hot climate.

PLUS there's is the added advantage that to get to the bottom of our fridge, you don't have to squat down to get to it, the top section is hardly worth bending for, and the drawer is accessible whilst still standing. Contrary to what anyone else might think, the advantage of being able to open the top and see the entire contents of the fridge at a glance is turning out to be very appreciated now.....  no more shuffling around to look for what's at the back of shelves, and the continuous temperature readout is rather neat.

Mike

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

Yes okay, point taken.

One thought that does occur to me, concerning your setup is as follows:

Now obviously the circulating fan will be only operating at the same time as the thermostat allows the compressor to operate. As you are operating at a much higher temp than the device was intended for, this will not be for very long or very often. Is there a danger that in the summer heat, parts of the inside may heat up more than others? (I had a fridge a few years ago in which you could feel a warm spot above the compressor.)

A possible way to guard against this would be to keep your thermostat probe a long way from the bits that get cold. (Maybe put a few thermometers around the inside to check.)

Regards

James

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

There is no fan in this freezer.

The reason the walls of refrigerators get hot these days is because some clever dick decided one day that would be a good place to put the [unsightly?] evaporator.....  about as stupid an idea as there ever was. Remember how old fridges used to have that black coil at the back of the cabinet? This freezer actually has an external evaporator like they used to have in all refrigeration units, and our freezer/fridge is sited such that the evaporator is very close to the cool masonry wall in the kitchen, thus quickly and efficiently absorbing all the heat (which is hardly any, - doesn't even get hot enough to being too hot to touch).

The temp probe is smack bang in the middle of the air space....

Mike

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

Well guys, just stopped in because I finally had a fast enough connection and enough time to trawl the boards for a change. Don't really have much to add, just an anecdote from our current situation.

Since it's been below freezing every night, my refrigeration problems are over for the next 4-6 months. We put the open "fridge" cooler out on the deck after the sun goes down and bring it back in before we go to bed... it stays below 40 the rest of the day. We leave the "freezer" cooler propped open about an inch all night and close it when the sun comes up. Easy-smeezy.  When it gets colder, we're actually going to need to use the coolers to keep the refrigerated foods warm enough *not* to freeze... it boggles the mind! Only in Alaska can you buy 100 lbs of frozen food and drive around town all day without worrying that you'll lose any of it. Here, you have to put the food you *don't* want to freeze in the cab or you'll lose it. We already lost a jar of jam when it got put in the wrong bag at the store and ended up in the back of the truck where it froze (and cracked) on the 4 hour drive home... and it's only September!

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Re: Off Grid Refrigeration

Since the home and refrigeration needs are sporadically used I would suggest you check out the "Crosley Icy Ball" (Google it). It would be used in a manner similar to a block of ice (i.e. you place it in your "ice box" every day but you have to recharge it once a day. You do that by heating it with any fuel or heat source you have available.

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Heat driven intermittent sustainable refrigerator

Video showing heat driven intermittent sustainable refrigerator -- TED presentation

Development funded for the storage of vaccines, of course . . .

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Re: Heat driven intermittent sustainable refrigerator

I wish it was for sale...but I think the company went belly up from what I could find out about it a few months ago. (I think Whirlpool used naked shorts to kill their stock Sealed-- just joking of course)

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Re: Heat driven intermittent sustainable refrigerator

I emailed Adam Grossler. Hope I can get the research results or info about it.

Thanks Cloudfire!

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Re: Heat driven intermittent sustainable refrigerator

BungeeBones wrote:

I emailed Adam Grossler. Hope I can get the research results or info about it.

Thanks Cloudfire!

You're welcome, Bungee . . . I'll be interested to hear what you come up with . . . I'm interested in this concept . . . When I was a kid, we were among the first to have central air conditioning, due to my father's severe allergies . . . Our A/C was gas-powered and used ammonia as the coolant . . . It ran very cheaply, and without problems for about 35 years . . . I don't remember the details, but apparently electric A/C captured the market, not because of efficiency, but rather due to strategic and tactical moves by the purveyors of electric A/C, which I do not clearly recall . . . At any rate, it was clear to me, given my very low air conditioning costs, and the reliability of the unit, that the gas-powered units were superior . . .

This "icy ball" technology sounds similar in concept, so I'd like to hear more about it . . . Also, if you can eliminate the explosion risk, it seems like a fairly low-tech solution, which is something I'm all about . . . Bonus, if one can use something less toxic than ammonia as the refrigerant . . .

Anyway, our unit finally died in the mid- to late nineties . . . cracked housing . . . which, I understand, is how they usually finally gave up the ghost . . . or, I guess that would be the ammonia fumes . . . Yep . . . it reeked of ammonia, all right . . .

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Re: Heat driven intermittent sustainable refrigerator

JAG wrote:

I wish it was for sale...but I think the company went belly up from what I could find out about it a few months ago. (I think Whirlpool used naked shorts to kill their stock Sealed-- just joking of course)

I am reasonably certain they were wearing Bermuda shorts and were not naked.  Cool

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Re: Heat driven intermittent sustainable refrigerator

Cloudfire... any recollection of the manufacturer of that unit? I haven't Googled gas powered air conditioners but I am very interested in this. You see, after the Icy ball I was watching the heat waves roaring off my neighbors roof and thought to myself, "If they can cool things with heat why don't we cool houses with it?".

It turns out the biggest collector of solar energy is .... drum roll please ..... swimming pool heating. That's right, 80% of our current solar capcity is for that crucial, strategic energy need of keeping our tootsies warm in our pools. I'm sure economics and efficiencies etc is at the core of those installation decisions.

But considering how the Icy Ball and all other ammonia based coolers use an  aqua-ammonia solution (i.e. water and ammonia mixed are the coolant)  then the solar swimming pool heater (water, low cost, easy to find etc) and an aqua-amonia cooler seem like a natural fit.

So if you can forward me the manufacturer if you have it I would appreciate it and, in the mean time, I'll Google gas powered air conditioners too.

Thanks

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Re: Heat driven intermittent sustainable refrigerator

BungeeBones wrote:

Cloudfire... any recollection of the manufacturer of that unit? I haven't Googled gas powered air conditioners but I am very interested in this. You see, after the Icy ball I was watching the heat waves roaring off my neighbors roof and thought to myself, "If they can cool things with heat why don't we cool houses with it?".

It turns out the biggest collector of solar energy is .... drum roll please ..... swimming pool heating. That's right, 80% of our current solar capcity is for that crucial, strategic energy need of keeping our tootsies warm in our pools. I'm sure economics and efficiencies etc is at the core of those installation decisions.

But considering how the Icy Ball and all other ammonia based coolers use an  aqua-ammonia solution (i.e. water and ammonia mixed are the coolant)  then the solar swimming pool heater (water, low cost, easy to find etc) and an aqua-ammonia cooler seem like a natural fit.

So if you can forward me the manufacturer if you have it I would appreciate it and, in the mean time, I'll Google gas powered air conditioners too.

Thanks

Hi, Bungee;

I usually keep owners' manuals forever, but no luck on the old gas A/C . . . However, I want to say that the manufacturer was Jenn-Air . . . But, they no longer make the buggers . . . As I said, the gas air conditioners got squeezed out during the early 60's (as I recall)  . . . . I think it may have had something to do with the relatively inexpensive electrical power, at that time (Remember "Little Bill" electric advertising? . . . Or, maybe you're too young to remember that . . . [sigh])

Hope this helps . . . . .

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