Build Your Own Coolroom

coolroom
Image by Gina and Peter Silis

When we bought our 1.2 hectares in Old Warburton, east of Melbourne, Victoria, our aim was to grow the majority of our vegetables and fruit, enabling us to eat fresh food in season and to preserve our requirements for the rest of the year. In recent years production reached our target. Quality, quantities and food miles were under control, but storage became an issue. We had been using the laundry cupboards, supplemented by recycled cupboards removed from an old house, for storage.

We needed a coolroom: a space designed to store fresh and processed products to eat later. We selected a site under the existing insulated back verandah, incorporating an existing light fixture and using the thermal mass of the rear mudbrick wall of our ownerbuilt house. The walls of our coolroom are non-load bearing. The internal shelves are built sturdily.

MATERIALS

Walls

  • bricks
  • cement mix
  • damp course film
  • timber
  • insulation batts and foil
  • wall sheeting and decorative panels (e.g. fibre cement), and plastic connecting strips
  • extruded flexible gap filler
  • external vent
  • paint (exterior and interior).

Door

  • a section of double skinned aluminium insulated material
  • L channel, to length for three sides of the door
  • adhesive-backed rubber stripping
  • door handle
  • door hinges.

Shelves

  • timber
  • fixings
  • 2.5 cm steel mesh
  • thermometer with long probe.
coolroom

CONSTRUCTION

Here is how we went about building our coolroom.

  1. Marked out the site.
  2. Laid out the bricks in the shape of the room; allowed for two courses, and interlocked the corners. Cemented the bricks into place. [You step over these to enter the coolroom.]
  3. Placed damp course film on top of the brick courses, between the brickwork and the frame.
  4. Measured the distance from the brick courses to the verandah roof – this determines the size of the three timber wall frames; one frame needed to allow for the door. [The size and arrangement of walls/door depend on your site.]
  5. Constructed frames, checking measurements as we placed them.
  6. Insulated the wall frames, between noggings, with insulation batts, using insulation foil inside and outside the walls. Lined inside with wall sheeting, using connecting strips. Used decorative panels outside, cut to length and fixed to the frame.
  7. Filled in ALL the gaps, inside and out, with extruded flexible gap filler.
  8. Cut in and placed the outside vent, high up in an external wall.
  9. Painted.
  10. Measured and fitted the insulated door. Fixed aluminium L-shaped lip to the inside frame, top and both sides. [The door sits up against this frame.] Attached adhesive-backed rubber to provide a seal.
  11. Measured and built timber shelves, considering depth and distance between each, to allow for clear vision of stored produce and containers to be used. Installed shelves and fixed to timber frame at several points, ensuring safety. Cut and fixed steel mesh to timber shelf frames, as shelf bases. [Mesh allows ventilation and maximizes internal light.]
  12. Placed thermometer through the door or wall. [Enables checking temperature without opening the door.]

RE-USE

coolroom
Image by Gina and Peter Silis

Our frame timber was harvested from a large messmate we’d left at the front of our house. It was time for it to go, sadly: fire hazard distances had been extended, and the tree’s location also caused issues with winter sun and solar power collection. The tree was felled, and leaves and small branches were mulched for later use in the garden. A skilled Lucas Mill operator managed to harvest plenty of great construction timber, in a range of dimensions: the tree provided timber for the coolroom and several other projects.

A friend provided the second-hand small commercial coolroom door, cut down to size. This made a sealed door much easier to achieve. You may be able to find something similar.

We also re-used cupboards from the original kitchen, with slats inside and vents in the top and bottom. We use these to store appropriate produce, such as pumpkins, lemons and chillies. There was even room underneath them for a small wine rack.

Cane baskets gathered from op shops are also used, along with various sized jars. The top – high – shelves store boxes of unused jars, keeping them sorted in size, and the barrels for olive production.

The coolroom project used up many short ends of materials that owner-builders always seem to have sitting around. The coolroom has now been in use for a year and is working well.

Peter and Gina Silis have lived off the grid for many years, and are ready to share their experience and knowledge with others. Short courses, providing hands-on experiences in a range of areas, are available. Email Jarra339@gmail.com for more details

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