The Window Refrigerator, Modernized From the Last Depression - a Green Money Saver




Unplug the most expensive item in your house and save $$ by keeping food fresh the old fashioned way. I asked my dad how he saved money during the depression. VOILA! The Window Refrigerator! Here is a modern version you can make for under 10$ in less than an hour. The ultimate green, non polluting appliance.
In the winter to cut electric bills (or ice bills for those still using ice boxes) people used a number of different contraptions to harness nature. In the depression, metal window boxes with sliding doors sprouted from tenement windows. People had been making them out of wood for over a century. Also known as the window shelf, this version combines the experience of the past with modern materials.

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Step 1: Assemble Your Materials

Baling wire
4 eye hooks or screws
picture hanging wire
a piece of styrofoam or cardboard
planks of wood-optional

The perfect window would be in your kitchen, north facing, and inaccessible to burglars and evil doers. most of us will have to compromise in some way. Another factor is the type of window available. Every style and size of window will need a slightly different installation process. I chose a window with an outer storm window, allowing me to pull the storm window down to the top of the box locking it into place. If you have a different type of window , adjust my instructions to suit. Some windows will need a few boards placed on the window sill for extra support, just like some air conditioner installations.
There are many types of boxes you can use .I chose a storage bin re-enforced with baling wire.

Step 2: Poke and Stick

Take an ice pick stick it in and poke holes as indicated in pictures.

Step 3: Getting Wired

Cut a 6 foot piece of wire, pre- bend it and insert as shown in the pictures by the lime green lines. The dotted lines represent where the wire goes under the plastic. Twist the wire into loops where it emerges. Note that the wire goes in and out the bottom for strength.
If you think you need to, add a second wire as shown by the pink lines. This wire starts connected at the loops and goes around the outside intertwining with the original wire. Loops are made at the bottom corners of the box so you can attach it to your window with picture wire.

Step 4: More Wire

Insert a 4 foot piece of picture wire into the holes in the handle. Twist it back to itself as shown in picture.

Step 5: Hinges

Follow the cat's instructions and insert shoe laces into hinge holes. Tie off securely. Open and close several times. If it is catching anywhere, trim back the plastic, till it moves freely .

Step 6: Get Screwing

Install first set of eye hooks on the outside wooden window frame 2 feet above the the level of where the top of your box will be. If you are using screws install them angling upwards and and outwards. attach 3 feet of picture wire to them. Install the second set of hooks/screws even with where the handle wires would be when the box is in place. If your window needs wooden supports , place your boards on the windowsill to a height that will help support your box.

Step 7: Install in Window

Put box in window, placing the rim between the storm window sill and the inner window sill. the box should be in one corner, so that you only have to block one side. Attach side picture wires straight out to side screws. Attach upper wires to loops on outer edge of the box.Check to make sure your box is slanted slightly downward so that rain will run away from your window. Tighten wires. Close storm window to help hold into place. Cut out styrofoam to cover opening in window. Tape in place. I prefer packing tape, it's clear so it won't show outside, and removes easily. Tape other gaps.

Step 8: Decorate and Fill With Food

Since you have to look at it , put a picture or poster on the lid. Since everyone else has to look at the outside, decorate that also. I thought about pandering by putting "" on the outside, but since the election is only a coupla days away.....
Put your food in. Close window .TA-DA!
P.S. if you have any free space in your fridge, put in bottles of water which will help moderate the temperature.
P.P.S. if you want to find out about more elaborate versions check out these two links

larger carbon free fridge

commercial window refrigerater

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    19 Discussions

    Seth Black

    8 years ago on Introduction

    ...I like this idea. Thanks for sharing it. :)

    With some careful planning, this idea could also easily applied to creating a viable window-mounted solar oven.

    Place the refrigerator in a Northfacing window, and you've got optimum free refrigeration in the winter.

    Place a solar oven in a Southfacing window and you've got free solar cooking in the summer.

    Great possibilities.

    Thanks again, Anima! X


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I did this in college in Boston in the wintertime. Just nailed a milk crate to the windowsill and boom, ice box/refrigerator for my 5th floor dorm room.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I think this is one of the "true" instructables!!!!

    Because it's explained well and doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out or you don't have to have to have TONS of technical experience "like some of the other ones" on here... [not that they don't serve their purpose]...

    I think I would build a box , insulate it and use l brackets on the bottom [no one would know if it was an air conditioner or what???

    I live in Canada [ North of Grand Forks] so this would be great for spring, winter and fall!

    Thanks, great ideal!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    We used to make em out of plywood out in the Aleutian Islands and hang em in the windows of our barracks. We could make ice and with the addition of a little insulation just keep things cold.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Definitely not a bad concept, just probably not good for ground floor in urban areas (potential for forced entry). Anything you can do to cut off an electrical device and save some $$ is worth thinking about. :)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Good idea and I was thinking that if you used clear plastic box it could serve as an over-wintering spot for outdoor plants that must come in if you have a small space. Also, i keep thinking about designing the frig so that the motor's hot air blows out in summer to reduce need for AC and in for winter, and somehow uses the outdoor air in winter to help keep food cool. Seems sensible, but i don't have the engineering brain for that I guess.

    When my mom was very poor, this was the only way she had to keep her little bit of food cold in the winter.  Thanks for the helpful suggestion.  In these difficult economic times, (example: my husband was out of work for a whole year, ) money saving ideas are especially appreciated!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    When I was living on long island on my sailboat I used to put food under the snow on deck. Since the snow never got colder than 32, it took a while for things like hamburger to freeze. Drinks and stuff I just kept one or two outside the hatch where I could grab one quick. I only kept what I was going to drink soon.

    smokin joe

    10 years ago on Introduction

    The loss of heat from the instrucable pictures would negate any cooling effect. Besides, I have room in my fridge for more than 2 sodas. Keep trying! I like it.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Good idea. It would be nice if modern refrigerators used cold air automatically, during the winter.

    Very Keri

    10 years ago on Introduction

    Very "cool" idea, but I don't know if I would keep my milk in there... Then again, I live in the subtropics where this would be useless anyway. :P