Who’d Build a Refrigerator?

In the previous post, I proposed some design principles for the construction of a better refrigerator, and suggested that an “open source design” model could be used to improve it continually through collaborative effort, and an iterative process.

Being that this is a physical machine, requiring raw resources, energy, specialized tools, and physical labor-  to be produced, it will not likely be done for free.  That is, although the design should be completely open, anyone is free to build and sell one without ethical dilemma.  A growing segment of the population is becoming keenly aware that industrial humans have a detrimental impact on the planet, and that one way in which to stem problem, is through the everyday choices we make.  There seems to be a lack of choice when it comes to a domestic refrigerator.


  • The environmentally conscious
  • Minimalists and tiny house dwellers
  • Off grid dwellers
  • Collectors of hand made goods
  • Tinkerers, hackers, DIY community
  • Educators


I would very much like to build a complete refrigerator from scratch, and I may very well get to do that one day, but for now, I’m trying to picture other forms this machine may take, and develop some versatility such that unpredicted possibilities may develop by others.

The Various Forms Which The Refrigerator May Take

  • A self contained cooling unit that could be installed in a defunct refrigerator cabinet by any person with basic tools and skills.  The unit is operated on 12VDC or 120VAC, and is designed to operate at a high efficiency.  Starting with the common “freezer on top” model, a hole(s) would be cut in the cabinet, and the cooling unit would be gasketed, caulked, or otherwise sealed into the box with fasteners.  The unit would cool the freezer compartment to sufficiently low temperatures in the 0 to 10 degree F range.  The refrigerated space would be cooled with some manner of heat exchanger, thermal siphon, or heat pipe, which would be in communication with both volumes.  The cooling unit itself, would be comprised of an evaporator in the freezer compartment, and the condensing unit with compressor and controls above.  Both the condenser and evaporator would be of the fan-less static type, to reduce energy consumption and noise.  The refrigerated space and freezer space would no longer share common air, but would essentially be sealed off from one another in order to reduce frost build-up on the evaporator coil, and the need for regular, energy intensive defrost cycles.  Control of the system temperature would be made through a small digital interface.  Information such as run time, power consumption, duty cycles, and so forth, are readily available to the user, so that they may make informed decisions regarding their choices.  The cooling unit could be removed and reinstalled in another cabinet with marginal effort.

  • The same system previously described, could be installed in a functioning refrigerator, such that a redundant cooling system is in place, in case the main should ever fail, or if an energy comparison were ever desired.

  • Some individuals may wish to forgo the conventional refrigerator cabinet, and opt to construct their own.  Reasons for this may include aesthetics, efficiency, customization, or space constraints.  There should be few reasons why the aforementioned modular unit should not meet these needs, as long as the volume of refrigerated/freezer space is not excessive, the insulation and door seal are sufficient, and there is room for placement of the condensing unit.

  • A complete refrigerator/freezer, featuring a cooling unit, cabinet, doors, seals, shelves, and all the hardware, could be sold, but may require some finishing touches such as paint, paneling, tiling, or other methods by which an individual may wish to customize their refrigerator.  From an efficiency standpoint, the machine would be made to operate on a small photovoltaic array.  A large degree. of consideration would be put into the materials used for the construction, and in which ways they may be improved in future versions so that the machine may satisfy the needs of the user, but also meet design constraints previously described by the author.

  • A fully finished, hand crafted refrigerator/freezer, designed to operate at a reasonably high efficiency, and do so with considerable regard for aesthetic appeal.  This would likely involve large amounts of wood, glass, metal, and as little plastic as is practicable.  The cooling system would have all the features which were previously described, and may be identical to the other systems in every way.


Where To Start, and Where To Go

As much as I would like to collaborate with others on the design of the cooling system, I realize that most people have neither the tools nor the interest in building the vapor compression system itself.  A far greater number of users would be willing to modify an existing refrigerator or build their own.  I’m not sure how many would be willing to pay for a quality built refrigerator made with quality materials, but only time will tell, I guess.

I suppose that I would like to build my dream refrigerator, and see if anyone else likes it too.  It will take several years to get there, if that’s what I decide to do.  For now, I will focus on the heart of the machine: the cooling system.  The easiest thing to do will be to splice it into an existing refrigerator cabinet.  Due to my space limitations, I have chosen to use a mini fridge as a testing platform, but build the unit in such a way that I can transfer it easily to a larger cabinet, once I get to that point.  Modularity is an important ethic in this process.  I’m still putting together some ideas for the first model, but be sure that it will be crude.

Next time, I will discuss some specific details of the cooling system I am considering.

-M.C. Pletcher





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Posted in Refrigeration, Refrigerator
4 comments on “Who’d Build a Refrigerator?
  1. Mr. Pletcher – I took the liberty of using some of your content on my website. I would like permission to use it. Please check these links http://www.rvproperty.com/about-rv-property/living-the-rv-lifestyle/ and one of your YouTube videos at http://www.rvproperty.com/camping-clubs/ . If you wish, I will remove them from the website. I enjoy your blog. Thanks Warren

  2. Mark says:

    Mr. Pletcher, I just ran across your website as a result of searches for York open drive compressors in refrigeration use. VERY interesting work. I’m a tinkerer/engineer and have been kicking around the idea of a homemade refrigerator for some time. I look forward to any future activities you are dreaming up. I may send you questions in future as my plans shape up if you are amenable…

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