Why Only Ice in the Freezer?


Searching a bit has failed to find the answer to this one but I sense it might be something Steve would have fun tracking down.  We will see if he is up to the task!  Maybe someone else knows the answer?  I suppose I could be missing something obvious, but I have sure given it some thought and so far I have come up empty.

Sustainability is something I have believed in and read about for many years.  I don’t preach about it and am sure not perfect in my own sustainability efforts, but usually when I hear these days about the latest sustainability suggestion or recommendation, I already know about it.  This one has me stumped.

Twice in recent days, once in print and again in another unrelated interview on NPR, I have heard it said that the person in question lives such a sustainable life; “they have only ice in their freezer”.  These were two different people being talked about in two completely unrelated stories.  In both cases, no elaboration was given.  It seemed assumed that anyone with any knowledge at all about sustainability would understand why having only ice in their freezer would prove these two folks to have unimpeachable sustainability credentials.

So what’s up?  Do I have ice on the brain, or are others as stumped as I am.  Google was no help, so maybe Steve will come to the rescue!

It's only fair to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn
Will Sig
1 Will

You may be right, JD with your first comment. I am missing the meaning of your 2nd comment. Am I just tired or is there a typo?

Thing is if that is the goal, they should not have a freezer at all. If they have a freezer, it should be full to use as little energy as possible to run. A full freezer uses much less energy than a partially full one.

Maybe the comments meant that they FILL their freezers with ice to use less energy. But in that case, why not fill it with food bought at a discount or in bulk and frozen? Why freeze only ice?


2 Will

Yeah that is what I mean. It takes energy to keep peas frozen, but no more than it takes to keep ice frozen and much more that it takes to keep an empty freezer cold. If you are going to have a freezer you might as well fill it with food. If you have no food, fill it with anything to take up the space.

As a matter of fact one recommendation to keep the cost of running your freezer down is to always have it full of something, even if only frozen jugs of water.


3 JD Thomas

My guess is that they mean they are living with a very small energy footprint and they are not utilizing energy to store food, instead living on shelf stable preservation methods like canning and drying.

techfuns last blog post..Energy Security IS National Security IS Economic Security


4 JD Thomas

While Ice is not ever shelf stable so its the one thing you would need to expend energy to power the freezer on no matter what else you did.

techfuns last blog post..Energy Security IS National Security IS Economic Security


5 JD Thomas

The second comment was because my time ran out to edit the first one.

I don’t think how MUCH ice is in the freezer has anything to do with why they are using that phrase.

If you look at something like – for example – peas.  It takes energy to keep frozen peas frozen, but none to keep dried peas or canned peas on a pantry shelf.  The point of the phrase seems to be that the people taking sustainability to great lengths have pared away food energy use down to the bare minimum with ice being representative since you can’t store ice without expending some energy.


6 JD Thomas

Maybe I’m missing something not having read the original usage you saw in context, but it sounds to me as though the term is meant to be hyperbole connoting extreme low energy use and not as advice on how to most efficiently use an appliance the way you seem to be treating it in breaking it down to its literal wording. Does that make sense?

And yes, full jugs of water in your fridge and freezer are both great ways of displacing air so the compressor doesn’t need to run as much as its circulates less air.


7 Steve

hey Will,
I appreciate the compliment… but I’m stumped on this one. I checked google and all I could find is your post! 🙂 I agree with techfun on this. That is, I think they are saying that the person does not keep frozen food because it requires energy to store (unlike canned or dried). I’m guessing the person doesn’t actually have ice either, but has the freezer unplugged.
As to the empty vs. full thing, I’m guessing it takes energy to freeze whatever you put in the freezer, but once it’s frozen it should take about the same energy to keep it frozen whether the freezer is full, part full, or empty. Freezers and fridges use a lot of power, so anyone that can go without one can really reduce their carbon footprint. For those of us that can’t, the key is to get a newer energy-star rated fridge, and keep the little ones from opening it all the time. ~ Steve

Steves last blog post..Respect Authority


8 Will

Yeah Steve, a full freezer is more efficient that one that is partially full. JD explanation is how I understand it also. But the two references I mentioned said that the two people had freezers, they were plugged in, but contained only ice. JD may be correct that it was hyperbole, but I am literal by nature so I am not big on hyperbole.


9 Steve

hey Will,
I did a search on google for “freezer energy use full or empty” and found this.
1) Refrigerators and freezers consume about a sixth of all electricity in a typical American home – using more electricity than any other single household appliance. Fortunately, refrigerators have gotten much more efficient over the past 20 years. While there still is room for improvement, today’s refrigerators use 60 percent less electricity on average than 20-year-old models.
2) A full refrigerator retains cold better than an empty one. If your refrigerator is nearly empty, store water-filled containers inside. The mass of cold items will enable the refrigerator to recover more quickly after the door has been opened. On the other hand, don’t overfill it, since that will interfere with the circulation of cold air inside. The simplest solution is to buy the right size for your family in the first place.

And there’s a whole lot more info about upright versus chest style freezers, keeping the coils clean, ice-makers waste energy, etc.

~ Steve

Steves last blog post..Respect Authority


10 Anna

Guys you should talk to your wives, lol, I always pack my freezer to the top so is not running too often, greater solid mass in the freezer longer to melt, lol. Will going back to your question, I wouldn’t know… Anna 🙂

Annas last blog post..3S Spring Sunlight Seeds – Areca Palm Seeds or Fruit


11 Ben

I wish there were a definitive, scientific answer to this question but common sense would assume that ice acts as a sort of cold “battery”, keeping the air around it cold. It makes sense that a cold or frozen mass will keep a volume of air colder that if the volume had only cold air. Furthermore, adding insulation to the exterior of a refrigerator should, theoretically, help keep the cold in and the heat out. Someone suggested that evaporation of the ice would use more energy but if the water is contained, it can’t evaporate, hence no wasted energy? I built a super insulated rigid foam ice box and it keeps things cold a long time with just a small block of ice. Recycling slabs of rigid foam in this way is also very good for the planet!


12 Will

Hey Anna – I somehow missed your comment on this post. Some wives are always cleaning out the freezer so it is not as full as it needs to be for the efficiency you describe. At least ours is an upright. I remember a huge chest freezer we had when I was a kid. I bet some of the stuff at the bottom of that baby had been there so long it qualified as hazardous waste!


13 Will

Hi Ben – That is a good idea with the rigid foam. I wonder if it would be any better that a commercial cooler, though? The manufacturers of those should already use good rigid insulation for their chests I would think. Maybe not though, keeping the cost as low as possible may take priority.


14 John Hunter

No ice cream is a bit too far 🙂 My guess is it is hyperbole that is focusing on what makes up much of the current content of freezers – overly processed food. The sustainability movement often talks about local food. The current food production system is based on large supermarkets, frozen food… I have found, many sustainable people like the idea of “old Europe” where people shop for their meal each day, don’t have huge refrigerators… The statement also hearkens to the idea of people living off their farm with no electricity (granted having ice in the freezer in this context makes little sense but I think it is an feeling not logic they are getting at). I could be wrong that is just my guess.
John Hunter recently posted..Investment Risk Matters Most as Part of a Portfolio- Rather than in IsolationMy Profile


15 Will

Makes some sense John. Especially the part about no ice cream. Although I have to say I have been quite good about not eating it much lately. There is actually some organic vanilla bean in the freezer right now. But it has been there so long, I imagine the beans have sprouted.


16 Faythe

I do not think I am catching at all what the writers are complaining about? I try to keep my freezer full, and really the way my new refrigerator is made the freezer has lots of wasted space! so I can not stock up on the frozen foods we prefer. we really do not care for canned veggies, and I also like to stock up on breads & butter, ect… so a freezer in cold or warm weather would be sued fully in my house. If it was summer I would want cold drinks & lots of things perish faster if not kept colder, trying to keep from using excess fuel to drive to the grocery which is over 10 miles away. I also store grains & oats in the frig part, less likely of waste from bugs. I live out in the sticks, but not on land I can farm. so would I be like the eskimo that still wants a freezer in case it warms up?


17 Cristina

Interesting all the discussion about the efficiency of freezers… and ice cream 🙂 but I would go with the idea John wrote, that ‘Only Ice in the Freezer’ is related to the preference for local sourced products, fresh ones (that weren’t processed, freeze and transported long distances into big supermarkets) that are consumed right after being prepared (so no need to spend more energy freezing / unfreezing it).


18 Will

You may be right. My freezer is probably running at its peak efficiency for part of the year at least because it is packed with food that I grew and then processed to eat later. I just used some frozen peppers today and tomato sauce last night. But then in the summer, it has less in it since we are eating most of the stuff fresh.


19 Colleen

Really truly sustainable, they wouldn’t own a freezer at all. Exactly the “shelf-stable” preservation argument. I’d love to get rid of ours now that it’s just me & the hubby, but I LOVE frozen seasonal fruit especially blueberries, and canning and drying takes something away from it.


20 Will

True Colleen, I know I could not live without my freezer. Half of what I grow in the summer goes in there to eat all winter!


21 aardvarkk

I think the Point of the comment has been lost on everyone here. And this IS the point. It sounds like a joke. And it really is. I heard a few comments saying “if they were sustainable they wouldn’t have a freezer” but that really isn’t the case. I think that what was meant was that – since the most efficient substance at heat retention (and therefore heat exclusion) in the known universe is water, then it is utilized in the freezer in place of anything else which is not nearly as efficient. When the water is frozen and packed in a super insulated container along with food, the food is kept cool for as long as it needs to be. Assuming, of course, that one will use this food within a reasonable amount of time before it becomes unusable. Also, avoiding use of said freezer when no food is available for short term storage, or when the food is stored already in the separate insulated container.
I guess my thought would be to the efficiency of the material used to carry the absence of heat. Just as water is best for storing heat, it is also best for storing the absence of heat.
In order to receive the benefit of every Joule of energy or BTU of heat, insulating to an R-factor of R-40+ along with a radiant heat shield like “reflectix”(bubble wrap and foil layered twice), will retain most of that energy for a very long time. Remember to make sure there is a hermetic seal in any device, because infiltration of outside air is an energy waster.


Don’t be afraid to IMAGINE possibilities, it is super efficient!


22 Will

Thanks for that and the links. I wonder if the price of the Aerogel is anywhere near what is affordable for everyday usage?


23 Colleen

Yes, the science is sound so if you must have a freezer keep it full. Water is best for science but not much nutrition, so we compromise and fill ours with berries, high water content, so help keep freezer ops efficient, and also yummy to eat.


Cancel reply

Thank you for your comments

CommentLuv badge
My full comment policy is linked here, but please do not use a keyword as your name. For great referrrals and backlinks, link to your site in the box and by using CommentLuv

Previous post:

Next post: