Non-Operating Refrigerated Container as a Root Cellar?

Discussion in 'Back to Basics' started by Bandit99, Apr 4, 2015.

  1. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    I am searching for information before I move forward on this project. I am new to the Forum (first day) so please excuse if this was not the correct place for my post.

    We recently moved to Northern Idaho and are putting in a good size garden. My wife is a gardening and canning fanatic mainly because where she grew up (third-world) if you didn't garden and can then you went without. She's an expert in the art so she has her end of the project well in hand. I, on the other hand, have to produce a place to store these canned goods but with the high-water table here - well - dicey to just dig a root cellar. I have thought and heard many ideas but came across a chance to purchase a non-operating refrigerated container. These containers have a insulation factor of R-31 (at least that is what they told me), are stainless steel/Aluminum inside (I think aluminum outside), 40 feet long and cost $5000-$6000 which would be much cheaper than having another building put up. I have not went to inspect them yet but been inside them in my travels but never thought of using them.

    I am not worried so much about the winter but about the summer. I haven't spent a summer here yet but think they get into the 90's so I am wondering how this would work. I figured at the worse case I could put a roof over it and even spray the exterior with a closed-foam adding to the insulation factor but haven't found anything that I could cover the foam with yet like spray-on stucco or something.

    We built a house in Central Asia and used external solid insulation and it truly is amazing the difference it provides.

    So, I am asking the forum for any thoughts, ideas, comments and especially experience concerning using these reefer containers as a storage for canned foods, an outside root cellar.
  2. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Ok, I deal with old Refer Conex Vans, here all the time, and the biggest issue they have once the dead Refer Unit is removed, is venting Humidity during the summer, while holding the internal temps down. If water is as available as you suggest,, then I would suggest Evaporative Cooling might be used to cool the exterior of the Conex, and use a Ground Source Air Heat Exchange System to provide a cool venting positive Pressure Air Supply for the Conex. To winterized the system, you just blow Air thru the Cooling Soaker Hose, to flush out all the water, and you don't have to do much for the Venting Air System, other than turn the Fan off, when the Outside Air is below Freezing. Just my thoughts...
  3. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    You might also cob up an over roof with an air gap between it and the top of the conex, and put a coating on it as is frequently done with house trailers, that would help a lot in the summer at least. Winter, well, you'll need to guard against freezing. With a well insulated box as conexs tend to be, you'll still need to circulate air above freezing temps between the "cans" and the outside walls.
    Tully Mars and BTPost like this.
  4. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Heat will be a problem, in the summer, unless there is a cooling system of some kind. Some of my work is inside refer trucks. And unless the cooling system is on, it can be very hot to work.
  5. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++

    So to get stable temps winter and summer you need to connect to the thermal mass of the ground below. That is the whole premise of root cellars. Ok, so you have a high water table that prevents going down. Are you at risk of flooding? If not, I think your answer is obvious if you have the space and no problematic building codes. Construct a small strong building ideally out of concrete but you could even use old railroad ties or similar. Do NOT insulate below the structure but insulate the sides on especially the roof with extruded polystyrene on the outside then berm and cover the whole thing with lots of dirt; make a bigass mound. Essentially you are constructing a small hill and putting your root cellar into the side of it. You should be able with adequate design to get temps somewhat close to going underground and not be too hot in summer or freezing in winter. You will need a good recessed entrance with well insulated wall and door.

    Tully Mars and ghrit like this.
  6. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    Hmmm... maybe a modified soddie? Cut pieces of sod and place over hay bales to build thermal mass around the conex?
  7. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    We have some friends near Amarillo Tx that use an old refer trailer for a pantry. They store canned and dry goods in it. Seems to work pretty slick. To my knowledge the only heating/cooling is simply roof vents that he installed. Again, seems to work for him. YMMV.
  8. Gator 45/70

    Gator 45/70 Monkey+++

    Put a roof over it as suggested.
    Blow a hole in the backside and install a 8000 BTU ac. Set at desired temperature.
    Couple of lights in the winter should keep it from freezing.
    john316 likes this.
  9. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    WOW! Lots of good ideas here and lots of knowledge. Looks like I came to the right place...

    BTPost, Okay, I will look into "Evaporative Cooling and Ground Source Air Heat Exchange System" but admit I don't have the slightest idea what that is; however, I have a very strong technical background (electrical/electronics) and...the internet.:):) Please don't be offended if I come back to pick your brains about this.

    ghrit, Yes, I would leave an air gap on the roof and sort of planning to shoot the entire exterior with Closed-Foam but can't seem to find what to shoot over it to protect the foam and make it a nice looking structure...they must make some stucco or something.

    Kellory, I knew the shipping containers got hot and thought the reefers would also but wasn't sure. Thanks for confirming it.

    Airtime, Actually, that has been my plan since day one to cut into a hillside and place a shipping container in it with some downward slope to drain water away, brace it, etc. I really did the homework and know how it is done and even know someone who has done it but...the land I purchased is level, really level so I would have to haul in the dirt but it is an option. Hmmm...need to think on this...maybe pour a concrete/rebar 8' x 10' (think bunker) then cover it with dirt, need to do the math to see cost.

    Tully Mars, Could you drop an email to your friend and ask specifically what he does to keep it cool and confirm he is using a reefer container? I think he must be doing something because it gets hot in that part of Texas.

    Gator 45/70, That does seem to be the easiest solution. 8000 think that would be enough to cool a 40 foot well-insulated container? I do. Need to do the math on electric charges during summer.

    Maybe I could find an old diving bell and bury it. :):):)
    Tully Mars likes this.
  10. Gator 45/70

    Gator 45/70 Monkey+++

    Don't be a coona$$ and talk with the doors open! Yeah its plenty IF you keep out of there, You could install a long stem thermostat just to walk by and check the daily temperature.
    john316 likes this.
  11. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++

    Couple follow ups:
    1. If the water table is never within 5-6 feet of the ground surface, you could go down 3-4 feet with your cellar and use the excavated dirt to cover the structure.
    2. Maybe you need to construct a pond. It provides a source of water, especially to irrigate. You can raise fish for food requiring not much effort and they are harder to steal than livestock on the hoof. And then the excavated dirt is available for the cellar.
    3. Shipping containers are really bad ideas for something buried. They do not have the structural strength for the load on top nor the compressive side loads, even floors over time can buckle in them. And by the time they are adequately braced and beefed up (the only thing that doesn't need to be heavily reinforced are the corners) you could have built something better with concrete or timber.
    john316, Tully Mars and kellory like this.
  12. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Evaporative Cooling is as simple as a "Soaker Hose" that you turn on when the skin temp of the Top of the Conex is higher than the Temp of the Water used. You use just enough water to keep the top and sides MOIST, and no more. The cooling comes from the "Heat " it takes to evaporate that moisture, from the Skin of the Conex. Works best in Low Humidity environments. Ground Source Air Heat Exchange, is where you build an Air Path in the Ground, below the Frost Line, (under the Conex) that all the Air used to vent the inside of the Conex, runs thru. That Air is then at Ground Temp, and would be similar to the temp of a Dug Root Cellar. On Hot Days the Air carries off any accumulated humidity from inside the Conex, and on Cold Days the ground heats the Outside Air to Ground Temps, and stabilizes the internal Air Temps. The only power required is a pump for the water if you do not have water pressure, for your local Water, AND a small Fan to pressurize the Outside Air Intake to the Ground Source Air Heat Exchanger Path, that then leads to the interior of the Conex, and keeps a slight Positive Air Pressure in the Conex, that then is vented to atmosphere, thru Small Vents at the Top of the exterior Walls.
    Tully Mars likes this.
  13. -06

    -06 Monkey+++

    Bud dug into a hill, put up telephone poles with old bridge timber(treated 2Xs would work) on the outside, heavy timber above, 2" insulation every where, tar paper over that, plastic sheathing, then recovered w/excavated dirt. It is very cool inside, will never freeze, and easy to build--cheap too as he used salvaged bridge stuff from the state.
  14. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    I've had to think about what to post on this thread.... lots of ways to go
    Not sure why you would store canned items in a refrig/freezer even an inoperative one. Put can goods on a shelf and display them so you can see what the heck you have.

    Root cellar is by definition a cool dark place with air circulation. They were originally designed to store potatoes, turnips, carrots, beets, you know root veggies for long term storage rather than canning them as canning used to be quite expensive.

    Root cellars do not have to be in the ground. I was raised on a ranch and we had buildings made of stone that the walls were 3 ft thick at the bottom and were great root cellars for potatoes, carrots, turnips etc and even apples if the apples were individually wrapped in newspaper.

    Many people found it convenient to also store canned goods in root cellars as the temp is consistent.

    Idk if that answered your question but unless I didnt have room to store canned goods in the house somewhere... I just wouldn't go to the trouble of using an old refrig/freezer.... you still have heat build up from them in the summer. Don't believe me... try turning yours off and leaving it closed while on vacation for a week ;)
  15. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    I have become wiser since I started this thread in April 2015 (now it's July 2016) over a year ago. I think now the best thing is to dig into side of hill and reinforce it with railroad ties, etc. but since I have no hills on the property then I would go with @Airtime idea of digging into the ground 3-4 feet then use excavated dirt to cover the structure, maybe make a pond while I am at it. Luckily, I have found that my crawl space in this house works wonderfully as a storage with a constant cool temperature. And, it is much deeper than normal, at least 5 feet. Problem is temporary solved. It's not a perfect solution but workable for now as I have many other projects in the works.
    Homer Simpson and Tully Mars like this.
  16. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    There are big cautions about putting trailers under ground, without retaining walls.
    I have toyed with that my self and wish I had the money to do it.
    Salted Weapon likes this.
  17. john316

    john316 Monkey+++

    An evaporative cooler is used in the drier parts of the American West to provide economical cooling. It does not work in florida as well

    “The cooling potential for evaporative cooling is dependent on the wet bulb depression, the difference between dry-bulb temperature and wet-bulb temperature. In arid climates, evaporative cooling can reduce energy consumption and total equipment for conditioning as an alternative to compressor-based cooling. In climates not considered arid, indirect evaporative cooling can still take advantage of the evaporative cooling process without increasing humidity. Passive evaporative cooling strategies offer the same benefits of mechanical evaporative cooling systems without the complexity of equipment and ductwork.”

    look for an old used truck body
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