Should I Consider Constructing A Root Cellar?

Discussion in 'The Green Patch' started by Asia-Off-Grid, Apr 14, 2018.

  1. Asia-Off-Grid

    Asia-Off-Grid RIP 11-8-2018

    Greetings Fellow Primates:

    I've never had a root cellar on any property where I resided. So, I know about as close to nothing about them.

    Also, let me preface this with, I had not even considered this until recently. Now that I have, I can see having goods stored for future consumption, or to be bartered for other goods and services.

    You see, I have been trying to decide if I wanted a home on stilts with a monolithic slab under it to use for parking, hanging out away from the direct intense sunlight, and having a covered area for bar-b-ques and such. Alternatively, I would construct a home at ground level, with a root cellar underneath it. We are still some time away from breaking ground. So, it isn't like we are in a major rush here. But, this is something I wanted to ask you folks about, to get an idea as to which direction I should possibly go.

    Heck, I hadn't even considered a root cellar, until a friend mentioned it to me during a recent discussion. In fact, this idea really only came up, due to him being a CLC (Cellular Lightweight Concrete) block manufacturer, here in the province.

    He mentioned he could pour solid walls with the mixture, and as thick as I want them, just as easily as he could pour individual blocks in forms, which is how they are typically made. He said that, although they are resistant to water penetration, he could add waterproofing to the mixture for the root cellar.

    If you aren't familiar with CLC blocks - and I had no idea of this even existing until I met him, they offer very good thermal protection. They are also considerably lighter than standard concrete cinder blocks. They will float in water.

    Anyway, the soil at the farm is clay, and is much deeper than the root cellar would be. The climate here is tropical, offering only two seasons - hot and very wet, and very hot and very dry, with each season lasting roughly six months of the year.

    So, my questions are:
    • What actually determines where one constructs a root cellar?
    • Can they be constructed just about anywhere, in any region?
    • Would it be something to even consider in Southeast Asia?
    • Does the local climate dictate whether it is feasible to have a root cellar?
    Thanks in advance, for any assistance you may provide.
    sec_monkey and Ura-Ki like this.
  2. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    Purpose of one is a cool, humid location to store vegetables that like a cool, humid location.....i.e. generally 'root' crops like potatoes, etc. We use ours to also store eggs until sold the months it is cold enough to do so. So really it depends on what you want to store, and what your ground temperature gets too during your cold months.

    IF you want to store canned goods/etc....anything with metal including glass jars with metal don't want the humid part of a root cellar. You need a cool, DRY place for that (we also have a well insulated dry storage pantry on the north side of the house that stays below 70 degrees even during hot months), not a root cellar as such.

    Our ground temps here don't get below mid 40's even during dead of winter once you get 2-3' below ground....the depth at which most such cellars are built. So to get down into the 30's, the temps at which stuff stores best, is a hard trick to pull off. I do so with a timer on a fan that sucks colder outside air into my ventilation system in the cellar....couple of in/out 6" PVC pipes. That lets colder air in at night, but that is constantly being buffered by the fact the ground temps are higher. This time of year, I really watch the forecast night lows....for example, last night it was in the mid-40's for low, so I'd still let the fan run. Next couple nights, lows predicted in the high 50-low 60 range (62 degrees as of now, 4am) due to warm front moving timer shut off....because the cellar temp is about upper 40's right now.

    Air intake on the left...runs thru another 90 outside inground, up above ground to an "S" type weather head with insect screen. Air exhaust on right. 6" duct booster fan (Home Depot) mounted in pipe which slopes down and out the lower bank below the house. Timer in ceiling receptacle above not in photo.

    We typically use ours to store our potato crop, on some home made screens that allow good air flow. Bags on wall hold next year's seed potatoes. Shelves we use to store various things like stone crocks, stainless pots, eggs, some times apples in the fall.....though w/o good ventilation, the off gassing of apples will cause potatoes to sprout so watch that.
    (older photo....redid the shelf arrangement later to some that worked better). You can also store anything in plastic that the humidity doesn't affect. Reason my floor is dirt with gravel is to allow for more humidity.

    I've had this discussion online before, and, of course, some know-nothing keyboard commando says "WELL, if you BUILD IT RIGHT, you can have near freezing temps year round" which point I referenced him to a USDA soil temperature map that shows even to the border of Canada, the ground temps at 5' of depth ain't gonna allow're not getting a free ground refrigerator unless you live where there is permafrost.

    SO my questions back to you are: What is it you want to store, and how cool can you expect it get when you want to store this stuff. That will answer whether you should, or if it's even possible, to build one.
  3. Altoidfishfins

    Altoidfishfins Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    I'll be paying attention to this one as I'm pretty much in the same boat - no broken ground yet, but considering a root cellar under a house. Also could build one into the side of a hill. But the soil is sandy and rocky - real rocky, like Volkswagen-size boulder rocky.
    sec_monkey, Ura-Ki and Gator 45/70 like this.
  4. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Totally agree TnAndy and envious of your organizational skills. Am old enough that I still believe in a multipurpose root cellar, weather and radiation protection as well as food storage. No one condition will cover all storage needs, some need dry conditions, others wet, some only work with below 0 cold, others need controlled atmosphere, some work best with seeds and livestock to create the next generation. No single silver bullet and each individual has to make the decision that suits their needs and personality.
  5. techsar

    techsar Monkey+++

    You also need to look at your water table. Where I am, a root cellar is known as a swimming pool. ;)
  6. Lancer

    Lancer TANSTAFL! Site Supporter+++

    I will throw in one additional consideration - do not build long term, hidden, or secure storage under your house. If the house burns you lose it as well. May also apply to shtf and your house gets occupied by others Nice to have your resources accessible in that case.
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  7. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    Paul, I can't see any reason why you couldn't put a "root cellar" under the slab beneath the house on stilts. However, methinks that using floating concrete might not be the best stuff. I've seen even regular concrete vaults float in high water table conditions. I'll leave it to locals to let you know how cool the earth stays in your location, but methinks it might not be cool enough for long term storage.
    Zimmy, sec_monkey, Ura-Ki and 4 others like this.
  8. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    There is, of course, the option of a heavily insulated structure in the being used for additional insulation buffer.....then mechanical refrigeration in the form of a solar powered heat pump. They make one now that runs off as little as 900watts of panel and has a SEER rating of 75 !! Not the cheapest solution, for sure, but a possible IF you need cold space bad enough.
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  9. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    Yeah....the ground on the north side of my garage wall where I built mine is sorta rocky too....not big hard boulders, but tight shale, but it can be grubbed out with enough machine power:

    The boulders are back down the driveway 150.....draw just full of them that has broken off a cliff on above the house. They come in handy too....say you need to build a snake condo....I mean, retainer wall.....someplace to overcome the fact flat ground is about unknown where you live...


    Or you need an entry sign....well then you're glad to have rocks....ahahhaaaaa
    (and there is about 6' of that rock down in a trench below ground)

    (Plywood is a temporary work platform for my sign painting crew, keep 'em out of the mud)
  10. ochit

    ochit Monkey+

    Where I live you cannot have anything below ground level, too close to sea level. each region has it's challenges here we use smoke houses pack food in salt boxes dehydrate pickle and can in jars similar to other regions just some does not hold as long or you have to start immediately processing or you loose your window it is seldom below 70 and up to 100 with considerable humidity. Here I know I need power to keep anything below grade dry with sump pumps since we are all prepping for some problem if you think a power outage will allow your root cellar to fill and that includes by local flooding you may need to look at other methods to long term store your goods.
    Another way is to have thick stone walls in a shady spot or hill I saw a lot of that in Europe.

    Local construction methods and contractors know the limits more than any outsider get a few quotes and plans from more than one vetted local contractors and you will know.
    Gator 45/70, Ura-Ki and chelloveck like this.
  11. azrancher

    azrancher Monkey +++

    Swimming pools will float out of the ground after a flood if you pump the dirty water out of them, people in Calif learned that once in Hollyweed, I think they even make ships outta concrete.

    I didn't know you were moving in next to me, I have boulders that I have named, bertha, and baby bertha, thought I was so smart, I was going to move bertha with chains attached to the hook on my frontloader (CASE 580 backhoe), way too heavy, and that's when I learned you want 4X4 with a frontloader.

  12. Altoidfishfins

    Altoidfishfins Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    So noted for future reference on the front loader, az.
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  13. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    Way off topic, marginally relevant, but ---

    That they did, as early as the mid 1800s. There was a concerted effort in WW1 and there was a fleet built in support of WWII.

    There was one beached on the shore in NJ when I was a kid. Still there - S.S. Atlantus: Concrete Ship and Lead Balloon | Weird NJ

    More useless info on concrete boats, barges, ships ---
    Concrete ship - Wikipedia
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  14. Ura-Ki

    Ura-Ki Grampa Monkey

    In my AO, I have the most problem, freezing temps in the mountains and the added issue of high altitude with low o2. Our root cellar was constructed using 2 48 foot shopping containers with a be able and sand backfill. The back fill allows humidity in, while not effecting temps very much! The nice thing about the containers is that the metal pulls heat and moisture through inversion, so we are actually able to generate humidity some what. It' also nice to have the dividing wall which created additional support and can be sectioned off if needed. We keep one deep freezer and a cold box down there, and have inside the house access through the kitchen pantry. Outside access is a poured concrete ramp that is wide enough to back my pickup down to load or unload should we have a fire and need to boogy! Drainage was really the only issue, when we dug out the pit, I had a track how for several days use and dug a trench down hill about 100 feet to which we laid 30 feet of pipe, then filled with 12 inches of coure gravel, then back filled.
  15. sec_monkey

    sec_monkey SM Security Administrator

    the Mulberry harbors were also made of concrete

    they were floated across the channel
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  16. Asia-Off-Grid

    Asia-Off-Grid RIP 11-8-2018

    Wow! Okay. Um, talk about replies. :) As always, I truly appreciate it, folks.

    So, the long and short of it is, this would not be a very good choice to make, constructing a root cellar in Southeast Asia.

    I will sort something out. Or, will just focus on doing as I have since I first came abroad, many moons ago. Just always get fresh foods. Many crops here are grown year round, anyway.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2018
    sec_monkey likes this.
  17. hot diggity

    hot diggity Monkey+++ Site Supporter+++

    If you have the land, and the drainage, the clay soil would be ideal for a root cellar site away from the main house. Look at it as the beginnings of a fallout shelter, and a defensive fall-back position if someone tries to take you, or your stuff by force. I can't help imagining a moat around the perimeter of your house on stilts, and a zip-line to escape to the root cellar after you've pulled up the ladder.

    I miss having a basement. I grew up on a hilltop, and we had drains in the basement floor that ran out into the valley. Now I bury cats in watery graves in the back yard, (water at 12-18") have to go inland to find stones for a sling shot, and have seen new homes with empty septic tanks that floated right out of the ground. Water tables matter.
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