Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Luxury of Living Without a Fridge

Blogger's note: I lived without a refrigerator for a few years when I lived without electricity and I loved every minute of it. My ex and I managed to acquire a state-of-the-art icebox that had been sitting unused in storage since the 1930s. We kept it outside the northside door of the house and only had to stock it with ice through the summer months. In the winter, the icebox served as a freezer and we kept fresh food in a cool cupboard to keep it from freezing. Now that I've been living in homes with electricity for 13 years, the thing I miss most is living without a refrigerator... without the constant background noise, the power drain (and money drain), too much food, and the huge appliance made out of toxic materials. Ah, the good life...


Trashing the Fridge
by Steven Kurutz
The New York Times
February 4, 2009

For the last two years, Rachel Muston, a 32-year-old information-technology worker for the Canadian government in Ottawa, has been taking steps to reduce her carbon footprint — composting, line-drying clothes, installing an efficient furnace in her three-story house downtown.

About a year ago, though, she decided to “go big” in her effort to be more environmentally responsible, she said. After mulling the idea over for several weeks, she and her husband, Scott Young, did something many would find unthinkable: they unplugged their refrigerator. For good.

“It’s been a while, and we’re pretty happy,” Ms. Muston said recently. “We’re surprised at how easy it’s been.”

As drastic as the move might seem, a small segment of the green movement has come to regard the refrigerator as an unacceptable drain on energy, and is choosing to live without it. In spite of its ubiquity — 99.5 percent of American homes have one — these advocates say the refrigerator is unnecessary, as long as one is careful about shopping choices and food storage.

Ms. Muston estimated that her own fridge, which was in the house when they bought it five years ago and most likely dates back much longer, used 1,300 kilowatt-hours per year, or produced roughly 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide — the same amount from burning 105 gallons of gasoline. And even a newer, more efficient model, which could have cut that figure in half, would have used too much energy in her view.

“It seems wasteful to me to use even an Energy Star-rated fridge,” she said, “because I’m getting along fine without one.”

Ms. Muston now uses a small freezer in the basement in tandem with a cooler upstairs; the cooler is kept cold by two-liter soda bottles full of frozen water, which are rotated to the freezer when they melt. (The fridge, meanwhile, sits empty in the kitchen.)

She acknowledges that living this way isn’t always convenient. For starters, it has altered the couple’s eating habits.

“When we had the fridge, we were eating a lot of prepared food from the grocery store,” she said. But the cooler has limited room, and the freezer is for meat and vegetables. Without the extra storage, Ms. Muston finds herself cooking more — which requires more time and forethought because items from the freezer must be thawed.

Asked whether the couple had to give up any cherished foods, Ms. Muston sighed. “Cold beer,” she said. “Scott can’t come home and grab a cold beer out of the fridge anymore. He has to put it in the cooler and wait an hour.”

For the most part, though, the couple seems to have made a smooth transition to life without a refrigerator, something others have tried but failed to do. Beth Barnes, 29, who works for the Kentucky Bar Association, unplugged the refrigerator in her apartment in Frankfort last May to be “a little radical,” she said. After reading online comments from others without a fridge, she learned she could move condiments to a pantry, and that butter can remain unrefrigerated for a week or more. The main concern was how to store dairy products, a major part of her diet.

Ms. Barnes decided to use a cooler, which she refilled daily during the summer with ice that she brought home from an ice machine at her office. That worked fine until she began to travel out of town for her job this fall, and the system hit a snag.

In the end she compromised and bought a minifridge. “I could drop the refrigerator completely if I had a milkman,” she said. “I might eventually try it again if I ever figure out the milk situation.”

Read more.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


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