A Really Cool Experiment

I’m still on hiatus from container house construction, but this post kind of connects.

We’ve been thinking about the kitchen in our new container house. The kitchen will take up a space 16-feet by more or less 24-feet.

We are planning three large islands, each one about 4-feet by 8-feet. Islands make for a much more social cooking experience for the cook, as she or he isn’t always facing the wall. One island will have the sink. Turn around and the second island will have the stove/oven. The third island will have space for bread making, etc., and on the other side of this island will be a raised sit-at counter.

The lush green tropics is not a place to be closed off and holed up. One of the things I would like is more windows with views to the outside, and fewer (if any) wall mounted cabinets and appliances.

We currently own a commercial refrigerator and a commercial freezer. They are big honking things that block out the sun and block out the stars. And they contradict the open space feeling and design that we want. Yes, they are cool. There is a lot of space inside these units with racks like oven racks and none of the plastic soda can or milk or egg holding geegaws of standard residential units. These are spacious and we have enjoyed them.

Just for fun, I connected them to a Kill A Watt monitor to see how much electricity they were consuming. I did the math and found that combined they use about $130 per year at our local $0.15 per kilowatt hour cost of electricity. Not too bad, certainly a lot better than if we still had our pre-1990 refrigerator, and certainly not a big reason, or a reason at all, to retire our giants.

Still the tall-appliance phobia that I have developed niggled at me. And if I can spend a nickle to save a penny, I’m a sucker, sign me up. Most of the memories of my father are of him following everyone around from room to room, shutting off light switches that we had left on. He found second use (note cards) and third use (cat poo scooper) things to do with the cardboard separators in the Shredded Wheat cereal boxes. I think he was ahead of the curve (driven by being a tightwad) when it came to energy conservation and recycling. That being inculcated into me at an early age, it has always seemed odd to me that refrigerators lost all their cold air every time you open the door to watch hair grow on the leftovers. I probably heard him say it, but I don’t remember. Subliminal conditioning is the worst because it bypasses the guards at the brain’s front door.

Recently I came across a site on the Internet where a man had converted a chest style freezer to an energy efficient refrigerator so that he could use it in his off-grid home in Australia. I was intrigued and Googled more. I found this accessory temperature controller that would do the job of making a freezer not-so-cold. I like it because it isn’t digital and has minimal electronics, always a good thing here in power-fluctuating Panama.

I promoted my idea of having two chest style freezers, one converted to a refrigerator, to Cynthia. All kinds of bells and whistles went off in her head about how we would store and have ready access to our food. (Once Cyn thought about it and agreed, she rubbed her hands together and bought into the idea. Good for my organization-obsessed wife as there would have to be a place for everything and everything in its place.) I suggested that on our next trip to the city that we go to a Doit Center where they have chest freezers and also an excellent selection of plastic boxes.

So we did. We chose a Frigidaire model that would be a good size for either cold or frozen food. We found some plastic boxes in a selection of three sizes, each with a snap on lid and a handle in the center of the lid. To the amusement of the friendly attendant in the appliance department, we stacked and re-stacked, deciding what food could go in what container to provide the best daily access.

In the end it all seemed a reasonable way to lower the horizon in our new kitchen. We had to go to two Doit Center locations, but we came home with two freezers and a good selection of plastic boxes, all, tax included, for under a thousand bucks.

In the meantime, the temperature controller had arrived in the mail from the States, and we spent a good part of a day setting up the new units. The accessory temperature controller was a no-brainer, just plug the freezer into the controller and plug the controller into the wall. A small temperature probe slips into the cabinet.

So far we have had the units in use for 19 hours, including the initial loading of food time; much of the food, such as the condiments, had warmed significantly. The Kill A Watt indicates that the units have used 0.99, call it one, killowatt hour of electricity. I did the math and it comes out to $68 per year for both units combined. It will no doubt be less in the future because the initial start-up used more electricity. More math tells me that it will take 16 years to pay them off, but we will sell our old units and reduce it to maybe 8 years. But in the trade, we will have all the windows we want in the kitchen.

One more benefit of this experiment is that the new units are much, much quieter. The commercial units have fans to circulate the air in all the unused empty space, and they make a lot of noise. They operated more than they were off. The new units? With the thicker insulation, they hardly run at all.

Speaking of insulation, side insulation is several inches thick. But the lids on the units are only about an inch thick. We have noticed that the tops are cool (the freezer cold) and condensation forms; rust on the metal lids will soon follow. Shame on you Frigidaire and all the similar brands with one-inch thick lids. So I am planning to get another inch of rigid insulation to put on top of the lids, then make a metal cover to go over the insulation. We like the aluminum diamond plate like truck toolboxes are made from.

Here are a few photos:

Here they are in our current rental house. The blank wall is a good place for my watercolor paintings until we move. The table between the freezer (L) and the refrigerator (R) is good for staging food into or out of the units.

This is the inside of the "refrigerator." It is amazing to me (I am easily amazed) that all our food, and space for more (two blue containers are empty) fits into such a small space. It is a pleasure to open the lid and not have all the cold air fall out. The Cokes? They are for Armando and our housekeeper. Honestly, I never touch the stuff.

In an update to my last post, It Takes A Pueblo, I found out that the cement was a gift to the community by their elected government representative, the Diputado. Other times, they may fix the dirt roads or do other needed community projects.

That’s all for now. What are your kitchen phobias?

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4 Responses to A Really Cool Experiment

  1. Bob H says:

    water heaters no sense keeping water hot 24 hours to use twice a day you can use water on demand or circulating solar heating that will work better in a warm climate but not in Seattle

  2. On demand water heaters are the only game in town here. You can buy them anywhere and some are quite tiny. Shower head water heaters are very popular, too. Called suicide showers. Most houses and even older hotels have only cold water, showers included but it is changing slowly.

  3. Juan Walker says:

    Brilliant post. I’ll be sharing with my client in Port Lavaca….his next phase is considering solar, wind, and the most efficient appliance options….Thanks!

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