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Sepp Holzer root cellar

 
paul wheaton
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I have lots more pics to add to this, but for now, here is the first.

Rocks stacked.  Logs on top.  Then felt, then pond liner, then more felt and then a meter of dirt.

He normally makes these with logs on the sides instead of rocks.  I'm trying to see if I can get a picture of that.

sepp_root_cellar_small.jpg
[Thumbnail for sepp_root_cellar_small.jpg]
 
Leah Sattler
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that is just freakin sooooo cool!! can I buy one? I'll pay shippping
 
paul wheaton
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paul wheaton
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Inside.

You can see the vent stuff.  It is that vent stuff that makes this a root cellar instead of an animal shelter.

Sepp says that you could, later block off the vent stuff and have this be an animal shelter when it suits you.

The bottom vent goes pretty deep - from the back (where you can see it poking up) to about 15 or 20 feet in front of the opening.  So the air ends up nice and cool from the earth.

sepp_root_cellar_3_small.jpg
[Thumbnail for sepp_root_cellar_3_small.jpg]
 
paul wheaton
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paul wheaton
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A layer of felt, a layer of pond liner, a layer of felt.

The layers of felt are to protect the pond liner from getting stabbed and getting a hole.

Total cost of roofing materials here:  About $1000.  !!!  Ouch.  mike oehler's stuff is very similar.  Mike's book says to use visqueen (black plastic) which would cost maybe $20.  But I read something where Mike is also using some pond liner these days. 

sepp_root_cellar_6_small.jpg
[Thumbnail for sepp_root_cellar_6_small.jpg]
 
paul wheaton
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Sepp has built a lot of these, so I should keep my pie hole shut and just bask in the glow of the master ....  but ...  I look at this and I think about water getting between the log and the liner.  Then following the liner back to the middle of the roof ...  Mike's design very specifically acknowledges that problem and provides a solution.

 
paul wheaton
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The top vents coming out of the top. 

Before they did this, one of "Team Sepp" told me that they would make a small round hole in the pond liner and then pull the pond liner over the pipe.  That sounded like a damn good seal to me.  This looks like they made X's in the liner - that doesn't seem as good to me.  That makes me think that the X might continue to tear over time.

Another thing to note:  Mike Oehler is adamant that you should never do anything like this (poking a hole through your membrane).  This could be because his designs use black plastic.  But as I was studying this, I thought that having the upward air intake toward the front would be cheaper, easier and wiser.  But maybe there are bits and bobs i don't yet understand. 



sepp_root_cellar_7_small.jpg
[Thumbnail for sepp_root_cellar_7_small.jpg]
 
paul wheaton
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This shows the half log on the rocks and the notches put into each of the top logs so the structure remains stable.

sepp_root_cellar_8_small.jpg
[Thumbnail for sepp_root_cellar_8_small.jpg]
 
paul wheaton
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paul wheaton
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While it probably took Team Sepp about three to five days to build this one, they say it normally takes just one day to build the all-log shelter.

 
                                      
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Does Sepp indicate any species preference for his underground logs ?
 
paul wheaton
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Yes!  Tamarack (western larch) seems to be his favorite.  Although he does prefer black locust if he can get it.

 
                                      
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No luck on the tamarack....central Illinois here.
But, black locust we have in abundance.

Where is Sepp located ? I've not read enough about him yet to see mention of that.
 
paul wheaton
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Sepp is in the Austrian Alps. 

But he travels the world bringing his genius to all sorts of places.

 
paul wheaton
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So I made this stuff a big part of my new Sepp Holzer's Permaculture article.

I added some stuff to the article.  Specifically, a drawing I made to attempt to clarify what was seen in the pics:



And my ideas for possible improvement:



 
paul wheaton
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I've been studying ice caves recently.  Some ice caves claim that they get cold and stay cold because cold air sinks and warm air rises and the cave is deep and the opening is high. 

Hmmmm .... seems unlikely ... anybody have more information on this sort of thing?


 
                            
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Sepp has an amazing mind for design. I wonder, does anyone know of a material that could be used in placed of the tarp (or lake sealer or what ever it is) between the logs and the dirt, that isn't made from oil? or is the water protecting layer even necessary? i'm not sure but it seems to me people must have been building root cellars with nothing but dirt walls for ages, also, wow those are huge rocks! i guess rocks like that are easier to find where hes from, here that many rocks that size and moving them in would be quite the expensive job
 
Michael Radelut
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Housing animals, this is called 'Erdstall'.

And as it turns out, the exact same term has been used for mysterious underground cavities for centuries:
http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,775348,00.html

Could it be that sepp holzer knows something we don't (rhetorical question) ?
 
Fred Winsol
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skepchar wrote:
Sepp has an amazing mind for design. I wonder, does anyone know of a material that could be used in placed of the tarp (or lake sealer or what ever it is) between the logs and the dirt, that isn't made from oil? or is the water protecting layer even necessary? i'm not sure but it seems to me people must have been building root cellars with nothing but dirt walls for ages, also, wow those are huge rocks! i guess rocks like that are easier to find where hes from, here that many rocks that size and moving them in would be quite the expensive job


I'm using EPDM single ply roofing material - will last longer than most plastics, but it is oil based.

I think most anything these days has resins, oil-based products in it... even expanded polystyrene, etc.  Metals will rust/disintegrate.  I guess you could use thin slab rocks/stones, but that's a WHOLE bunch of work.
 
Rebecca Beidler
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Has anyone built a sepp holzer root cellar that might share their experience? Is there a tested life span for it? I really want to try it, but there are many nay sayers about using wood underground. I am wondering about high humidity inside the cellar affecting the logs even if water coming from outside of the shelter is diverted/not allowed to enter because of the pond liner. I can't view the picture that Paul Wheaton posted of an all log root cellar, I'd like to see how the front wall is enclosed. Thanks!
 
Zach Weiss
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Hello Rebecca,

I have my first root cellar in the schedule for once the weather warms up a bit. Below is a picture of the new kind of root cellars Josef has been building at the Krameterhof. The one that I will build for a client this spring will be this style. So I have not built one myself yet but I have seen several different types and through multiple workshops with Sepp understand the process well. I will also be teaching a workshop on Holzer style earth stables later this year in Wisconsin.



These are made with timbers stacked similarly to a log house and then lined with EPDM pond liner and a dimple shield membrane. This style is used predominantly as a root cellar.

Below are two pictures of the log style that are a bit quicker and cheaper to build and typically used as earth stables. These are both 10 years old and it was clear that they will last for several more decades while I was there visiting.





It is very important to note that Sepp is only using very rot resistant species such as Black Locust and Larch, this is the primary reason that these earth stables last so long. I would expect a structure like this to last around 50 years, potentially much longer in drier climates.
 
Mike McAdam
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Zach Weiss wrote: Below is a picture of the new kind of root cellars Josef has been building at the Krameterhof. The one that I will build for a client this spring will be this style. So I have not built one myself yet but I have seen several different types and through multiple workshops with Sepp understand the process well. I will also be teaching a workshop on Holzer style earth stables later this year in Wisconsin.

These are made with timbers stacked similarly to a log house and then lined with EPDM pond liner and a dimple shield membrane. This style is used predominantly as a root cellar.
Zach,
Thanks for the pics of these cellars. Reminds me a lot of the old stone sheds that I grew up with, but one thing I am not clear about is whether Josef insulates and / or gets a good seal on the doors to keep both weather stable and critters out and how that holds up over the years. Any insight on that from what you've seen?
 
Zach Weiss
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Hey Mike,

Yes the doors are both sealed very well and insulated in order to keep the cellar stable at earth temperature (4.5 degrees C at the Krameterhof or your mean annual temperature for a given location) and to keep critters out. These cellars look like they are built to last, I would expect 50 or more years of use.
 
Mike McAdam
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Does he use a type of natural material for the insulation or something else?
 
Rebecca Beidler
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Thanks for the insider info and pics Zach Weiss. In the log cabin style root cellars are the logs still round or cut to fit into each other? Are they mortared or filled with something? What is the advantage of the horizontal vs vertical arrangement of the logs?
 
Zach Weiss
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Mike,

I am not sure what the insulation for the wall is, I believe the door is EPS but I'm not positive about that either. Staw bale insulation would certainly work so long as you manage the permeability of the plasters appropriately. The interior plaster should be less permeable than the exterior plaster. This way the staw bales are always balancing to the outside moisture content rather than the high humidity inside the cellar.

Rebecca,

For the log cabin style root cellar they actually use timbers, or slabs milled flat on two sides. With this technique the timbers fit together perfectly and there is no need for mortar. This style is for a very sealed structure that would be used for a permanent root cellar. The vertical arrangement is easier to build, and un-milled logs are used so they require less tools and time. They each have their benefits and appropriate times of use. As stated before the vertical arrangement is predominantly for earth stables and the horizontal style for root cellars.

With these two pictures you can see more of the differences between the two different types of earth integrated structures. Below is a shot of the interior of the timber, log cabin style earth cellar.



And here is a picture of the vertical log style earth stable.



 
Daniel Kern
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Im in one of those pictures

I have been considering the use of cedar in building structures such as these. There Is so much of it growing on the land here, but most of it is not old enough to use for this style of shelter yet since the whole thing has been bull dozed multiple times.

Here is a bit of a different perspective on Josef's root cellar.





I thought that the cellar door was very cool. By the way "cellar door" is a most beautiful phrase in the English language. But anyway the lock is very interesting. As seen from the outside there is a round hole which leaves you wondering. A key is inserted which is just a dowel rod with a small rectangular piece of metal dangling on the end. The key turns, just as a normal key would, and then the door opens to reveal.



The metal rectangle is inserted straight into the door, but once it is inside the rectangle falls down and into the proper place to lock or unlock the door. So simple, yet so effective. A truly beautiful cellar door.

Then there is also a section below the main room for extra storage.



The foundation is gravel and large rocks. and there is a tube running in the root cellar from under one of the large rocks in the front to allow air to flow through to be cooled by the earth, and then there is the vent hole on the ceiling which Zach showed. This helps to keep the temperature, and humidity constant.
 
Becky Proske
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Zach Weiss wrote:... I will also be teaching a workshop on Holzer style earth stables later this year in Wisconsin.

Hi Zach, just curious...where and when might this workshop be?

Thanks,
Becky
 
Josephine Howland
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I understand that this may be a silly question, but...here goes....are these cellars all dug into a hill, or is the structure built then back-filled? Our land is very flat in a hollow at the base of a mountain range. The water table is very high so no underground cellars are possible. Also, are there preventions to protect from critters (mice, bugs). Thanks for all the information shared.
 
Maria Brown
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From an old-timer who was telling me about root cellars:

The air environment of a root cellar is not supposed to be humid, not built in damp soil. And a "dry air" home is not what mice and other rodents are fond of. They prefer moister places.

He was speaking of the Colorado Mountain (heavy snow) and also NM arid climates. I do not know if he had experience with root cellars in any other areas and imagine there is not such a thing as dry earth in some places! Just passing along what he had reported about those in the West he had seen/used.

A thought about something to use instead of pond liner is to oil a piece of heavy canvas or even a more tightly woven cotton fabric to make it impervious to moisture. Animal or vegetable fats can be used for the oiling. We had an old camp tent that was made of a heavy oiled fabric and it was pretty durable for many, many years.



 
Joy Banks
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Zach Weiss wrote:
It is very important to note that Sepp is only using very rot resistant species such as Black Locust and Larch, this is the primary reason that these earth stables last so long.  I would expect a structure like this to last around 50 years, potentially much longer in drier climates.


In the arid southwest and California, eucalyptus might be a great alternative. They are common in urban areas and grow fast. Many old trees need severely cut back /taken down as they threaten power lines, homes, etc. and the wood is probably free for the taking. Anybody have experience using eucalyptus underground? I will experiment when time allows.

Edit: Just found this helpful PDF comparing 19 species in above-ground rot-resistance trials held in Wisconsin and Mississippi. Eucalyptus ranks as one of the 'most resistant'.
http://www.fs.fed.us/eng/bridges/documents/tdbp/decayres.pdf
 
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I really, really, really want one of these! Has anyone else built one? How did it go? How is it working?

Pretty cool stuff.
 
Leah White
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Great info and photos, thanks for sharing.

I'm hoping to build a Sepp style cellar as a first structure on my land but I keep bouncing a few question around my head...
1. Can this be built into a steep slope and if so could the back wall be used as a retaining wall? How would surrounding drainage work so as not to create a damp structure?
2. Could a cellar like this be designed into a basement cellar? Again, thinking of building on a slope so the house will probably step up the slope in small sections with the cellar being the first and lowest.

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