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building directly on the ground.

 
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The dick proenneke cabin intrigues me, im wondering about building directly on the ground.
What steps need to be taken to avoid wetness issues. His cabin seems to have a gravel floor, and what I was thinking was an earthen floor, with a few inches of gravel under, for water flow...I dont know much about this sort of thing.

How does this work once the floor becomes compacted to the point of being like tile? Is the floor going to be cold like tile in the winter, or is the temperature of the earth going to keep it somewhat warmer, and cooler in the summer?

Im going to be building a small primitive cabin soon, and I figured I could save a good portion of the money if I didnt build the floor, I also like the idea of earthen floors. I do understand it may not be much cheaper after the cost of gravel, or whatever may be needed.
I also understand that it will shorten the life of the wood directly in contact with the ground.

thoughts, threads, info?
 
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Can you give us some more details?
https://www.nps.gov/lacl/learn/historyculture/proennekes-cabin.htm



I would encourage you to add a bit of hindsight and improve the foundations, even if its just rocks to keep the logs from rotting.
 
aurora sev
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John C Daley wrote:Can you give us some more details?
https://www.nps.gov/lacl/learn/historyculture/proennekes-cabin.htm



I would encourage you to add a bit of hindsight and improve the foundations, even if its just rocks to keep the logs from rotting.



Most people build off the ground, im wanting to build directly on the ground. I just priced gravel, and its extremely cheap... The proenneke cabin doesnt have a floor, and its directly on the ground...Im wondering what issues come with that, etc.

Im thinking a few inches of gravel, with a few inches of high clay content dirt on top, would suffice.
 
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climate will influence this, building directly on the ground in a dry and / or warm climate is a lot more feasible.
it also depends on your tolerance levels, what are you going for. a glamping spot tiny rustic cabin, that seems more possible if your expectations are low. yes the earth thermal mass effect is definitely a factor. but keep in mind in terms of ground temperature....if its 55-60 degrees at the level of the soil mass thats actually warm for earth. it will not feel warm to human toes though.

one quick floor option is with soil crete. you would want to dig down to the subsoil, the top soil would be more useful for garden beads/landscaping...and 6-12 inches down or so you will come to a deeper harder layer of subsoil. once you get to this and then make it as level as you can....you throw around 4-10 bags of cement - dry. then use a rototiller or human powered with a digging fork, mix it together by mixing it all up dry.
then wet it lightly in areas and smooth it. once it dries its something close to concrete, suitable for glamping out on or a subfloor to build an earth floor on top.
 
aurora sev
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leila hamaya wrote:climate will influence this, building directly on the ground in a dry and / or warm climate is a lot more feasible.
it also depends on your tolerance levels, what are you going for. a glamping spot tiny rustic cabin, that seems more possible if your expectations are low. yes the earth thermal mass effect is definitely a factor. but keep in mind in terms of ground temperature....if its 55-60 degrees at the level of the soil mass thats actually warm for earth. it will not feel warm to human toes though.

one quick floor option is with soil crete. you would want to dig down to the subsoil, the top soil would be more useful for garden beads/landscaping...and 6-12 inches down or so you will come to a deeper harder layer of subsoil. once you get to this and then make it as level as you can....you throw around 4-10 bags of cement - dry. then use a rototiller or human powered with a digging fork, mix it together by mixing it all up dry.
then wet it lightly in areas and smooth it. once it dries its something close to concrete, suitable for glamping out on or a subfloor to build an earth floor on top.



Well it seems like a good idea then. it does get cold here, but with a small efficient woodstove, in a small house, I think it would be fine. I was more worried about moisture, than cold. Worst case scenario, I need to put a rug down once its compacted well.

im not sure about the soil crete, why would I go through all that trouble to end up with the same floor, with a layer of concrete under it? I guess structurally it would be a bit more consistent?

Im just planning a dirt cheap cabin build. the bare minimum. I will record the process when i get there.
thanks for the info.
 
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If you live in a climate with sub-freezing temperatures, a thermal break between your earthen floor and the infinite heat-sucking depths of planet earth is worth many, many cords of wood. My 2c.
 
leila hamaya
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aurora sev wrote:

Well it seems like a good idea then. it does get cold here, but with a small efficient woodstove, in a small house, I think it would be fine. I was more worried about moisture, than cold. Worst case scenario, I need to put a rug down once its compacted well.

im not sure about the soil crete, why would I go through all that trouble to end up with the same floor, with a layer of concrete under it? I guess structurally it would be a bit more consistent?

Im just planning a dirt cheap cabin build. the bare minimum. I will record the process when i get there.
thanks for the info.



it's a good idea, its cheap and its easy and if you are ok with rustic it can work.
i've done this twice, but in california, northern california, but still california zone 9. and like youre going for - tiny raw simple cheap tiny build.

you really can dig down to the subsoil and level it, for starters anyway. nothing else, youve got an old school dirt floor. tamp it down and and wash it together and then smooth level it for a bit. this will get cold and depending on your overal landscaping (like is it on a hill? bottom of a hill? in the path of a water shed would obviously be bad!) - it may be moist.
thats why the cement add, although soil crete may wick some moisture, no where near like earth soils...could wick water and collect moisture from your living space.
adding in the cement and making soil crete with the subsoil thats already there...makes a harder much more solid layer and solidifies it as a floor.
you could look into using a moisture barrier of some sort.
mixing the gravel in is a good idea. making an earth floor on top of the gravel layer is also good.
i have done it using lime and cement and the subsoil thats already there...in the way i outlined above. mix it dry and then water it, then smooth it. and stuck some nice pretty bigger rocks in it for design.

another thing is....to zoom out on your design. you have to gently slope the land around it so water always wants to shed away from the structure. but the water moves around. so if its wet a few feet outside your building the mositure will wick over to under your building. but with good design overall you can minimize how much water is a few feet away from the structure...that will mean less water under your structure
 
aurora sev
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:If you live in a climate with sub-freezing temperatures, a thermal break between your earthen floor and the infinite heat-sucking depths of planet earth is worth many, many cords of wood. My 2c.


I was under the impression the earth was always going to be warmer than the air. I suppose it would be worth some insulation if that wasnt the case.
 
aurora sev
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leila hamaya wrote:

aurora sev wrote:

Well it seems like a good idea then. it does get cold here, but with a small efficient woodstove, in a small house, I think it would be fine. I was more worried about moisture, than cold. Worst case scenario, I need to put a rug down once its compacted well.

im not sure about the soil crete, why would I go through all that trouble to end up with the same floor, with a layer of concrete under it? I guess structurally it would be a bit more consistent?

Im just planning a dirt cheap cabin build. the bare minimum. I will record the process when i get there.
thanks for the info.



it's a good idea, its cheap and its easy and if you are ok with rustic it can work.
i've done this twice, but in california, northern california, but still california zone 9. and like youre going for - tiny raw simple cheap tiny build.

you really can dig down to the subsoil and level it, for starters anyway. nothing else, youve got an old school dirt floor. tamp it down and and wash it together and then smooth level it for a bit. this will get cold and depending on your overal landscaping (like is it on a hill? bottom of a hill? in the path of a water shed would obviously be bad!) - it may be moist.
thats why the cement add, although soil crete may wick some moisture, no where near like earth soils...could wick water and collect moisture from your living space.
adding in the cement and making soil crete with the subsoil thats already there...makes a harder much more solid layer and solidifies it as a floor.
you could look into using a moisture barrier of some sort.
mixing the gravel in is a good idea. making an earth floor on top of the gravel layer is also good.
i have done it using lime and cement and the subsoil thats already there...in the way i outlined above. mix it dry and then water it, then smooth it. and stuck some nice pretty bigger rocks in it for design.

another thing is....to zoom out on your design. you have to gently slope the land around it so water always wants to shed away from the structure. but the water moves around. so if its wet a few feet outside your building the mositure will wick over to under your building. but with good design overall you can minimize how much water is a few feet away from the structure...that will mean less water under your structure



hmmmm. perhaps a straw layer, then gravel, then dirt? I figure I will end up just doing a dirt floor at first, maybe a layer of cement underneath. I definitely dont want a mud floor. It will depend on the land/budget, whim.

Perhaps having a decent overhang on the roof, and being on a hill, would keep it nice and dry?

Im not too concerned, life is short, have to have some fun with it.
thanks again.
 
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aurora sev wrote:

hmmmm. perhaps a straw layer, then gravel, then dirt? I figure I will end up just doing a dirt floor at first, maybe a layer of cement underneath. I definitely dont want a mud floor. It will depend on the land/budget, whim.

Perhaps having a decent overhang on the roof, and being on a hill, would keep it nice and dry?

Im not too concerned, life is short, have to have some fun with it.
thanks again.



i would put the straw in the earthen subfloor, on top of the gravel.

as to the earth being warmer than air, not quite. the earth is so massive it takes tons and tons of heat to even shift it a few degrees either way. and thats only the top layer of earth, in warm places with tons of sun heating the ground it may be some 10- 15 degrees warmer in that first foot down..... than in a cold place.

so its the first foot or so  down thats fluctuating, but it takes an extreme either way, extreme cold will shift it ten degrees colder or so...an extreme hot day will maybe shift it ten degrees warmer. but its constantly consistent, does not change much. i would only be giving vague estimates....but the earth keeps a stable temperature of something like 50 degrees...some 3-4 feet down everywhere all the time. no matter how much the top 2 feet fluctuate some 5-15 degrees either way.
50 degrees is very cold on the toes. and because theres no thermal break it would be sucking up your heat source very very slowly rising to like 55 say....still cold on the toes!
again i am just using vague estimates. there are people and places online you can look up exact info location secifics and all sorts of math for annualized geo solar /thermal mass calculations.
it is great for cooling in a hot dry place. still useful in other climates but different factors involved.
 
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leila hamaya wrote:

aurora sev wrote:

hmmmm. perhaps a straw layer, then gravel, then dirt? I figure I will end up just doing a dirt floor at first, maybe a layer of cement underneath. I definitely dont want a mud floor. It will depend on the land/budget, whim.

Perhaps having a decent overhang on the roof, and being on a hill, would keep it nice and dry?

Im not too concerned, life is short, have to have some fun with it.
thanks again.



i would put the straw in the earthen subfloor, on top of the gravel.

as to the earth being warmer than air, not quite. the earth is so massive it takes tons and tons of heat to even shift it a few degrees either way. and thats only the top layer of earth, in warm places with tons of sun heating the ground it may be some 10- 15 degrees warmer in that first foot down..... than in a cold place.

so its the first foot or so  down thats fluctuating, but it takes an extreme either way, extreme cold will shift it ten degrees colder or so...an extreme hot day will maybe shift it ten degrees warmer. but its constantly consistent, does not change much. i would only be giving vague estimates....but the earth keeps a stable temperature of something like 50 degrees...some 3-4 feet down everywhere all the time. no matter how much the top 2 feet fluctuate some 5-15 degrees either way.
50 degrees is very cold on the toes. and because theres no thermal break it would be sucking up your heat source very very slowly rising to like 55 say....still cold on the toes!
again i am just using vague estimates. there are people and places online you can look up exact info location secifics and all sorts of math for annualized geo solar /thermal mass calculations.
it is great for cooling in a hot dry place. still useful in other climates but different factors involved.


thank you, you said that in a way that is easy to understand.
I knew that sort of thing works well in hot environments. It really isnt worth digging 3-4 ft by hand, for me at least. 50degrees is very cold on the toes!  I think putting the straw above the gravel makes more sense, since the gravel is there for moisture control, it makes no sense to put your straw where it would be getting moist and broken down.  

Im trying to do a more natural build, its why im avoiding vapor barrier plastics etc. Im really just now diving into all of this, I figure im going to build something a bit odd, and learn the hard way all about the basics of construction. Im confident I can build a house, but I dont understand all of the moisture prevention layers, etc. kind of a fun test to see how necessary they are.

thank you!

 
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i think thats a good basic plan. digging down to the subsoil is a good idea no matter what, but thats just the very top of the soil, and anyway that top soil is useful for growing things. but then gravel, maybe sand if you can get it and making a layer or two on top of an earthy floor, this might be decent with the huge over hangs on roof and proper site design ( all land gently slopes away from structure/maybe even a french drain at bottom of slope, french drains to move water away).
 
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Im confident I can build a house, but I dont understand all of the moisture prevention layers, etc. kind of a fun test to see how necessary they are.


It seems a pity to ignore all the collective knowledge since mankind discovered timber rots when placed on the ground.

Thats why I suggested rocks under the walls.
There is a web site which may give you great information, its called , "Natural Building" and I am certain there will be a collection of examples to study.
Good luck with it.
http://naturalhomes.org
I place listing homes where volunteers can go and help and learn.
 
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I loved the Dick Proenneke documentaries! Seriously looking forward to seeing this build, assuming it gets posted for us to see.
 
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Jonah Bassman wrote:I loved the Dick Proenneke documentaries! Seriously looking forward to seeing this build, assuming it gets posted for us to see.


The reason It may not be filmed would be a camera issue, or just a time issue. Really excited, next paycheck I should have a downpayment. Im looking much smaller than I was before, 2-3 acres $10kish
 
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If you can afford to spend a little extra on the floor, I believe perlite or vermiculite (either the landscaping stuff or a type designed for insulation) can be good as an insulating layer over the gravel layer and under a poured earthen floor. Not too expensive, and lower embodied energy than cement.

Also, i'd definitely consider what Leila said, make sure the drainage outside the house is taking water away from the house by using french drains. Good roof overhangs and making sure the land slopes away from your walls will make a big difference to the comfort levels in your house.

Excellent attention to drainage will also reduce the speed wooden walls will decay if directly on the earth rather than lifted off it with stone foundations, as well as reduce the need for a vapor barrier under the earthen floor. Some natural building experts don't recommend vapor barriers at all for earth floors.

IMO, it's wise to read up on this stuff and watch lots of natural building videos now, but wait and see what the land you end up on has to offer before making any definite decisions.
 
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Luxor was built on the ground. There was a special preparation of the ground first.
 
aurora sev
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Jane Mulberry wrote:If you can afford to spend a little extra on the floor, I believe perlite or vermiculite (either the landscaping stuff or a type designed for insulation) can be good as an insulating layer over the gravel layer and under a poured earthen floor. Not too expensive, and lower embodied energy than cement.

Also, i'd definitely consider what Leila said, make sure the drainage outside the house is taking water away from the house by using french drains. Good roof overhangs and making sure the land slopes away from your walls will make a big difference to the comfort levels in your house.

Excellent attention to drainage will also reduce the speed wooden walls will decay if directly on the earth rather than lifted off it with stone foundations, as well as reduce the need for a vapor barrier under the earthen floor. Some natural building experts don't recommend vapor barriers at all for earth floors.

IMO, it's wise to read up on this stuff and watch lots of natural building videos now, but wait and see what the land you end up on has to offer before making any definite decisions.


I will look into perlite and vermiculite.

Im definitely going to keep looking into it, I still dont have the land. I will need to look into french drains as well. Im thinking instead of the walls being on the ground, I will have them on cement, but the floor would still be earth.

I have no intention of using vapor barriers, as they seem completely unnecessary, mr chickadee said something similar.

This isnt going to be drywalled or anything modern, its a very primitive build.
thanks for the info.
 
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they may be boring and involve some indrustrialized weirdness, but for being straightforward and easy to use concrete blocks are useful for this purpose. just a few rows of blocks will pick everything up that few feet. then anything on top of that, well you arent deal with the moisture issues. theres definitely a good reason why they are commonly used for that purpose, making a quick stem wall to lift up the house a bit, and DIY friendly, not hard to figure out.
 
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Concrete blocks are fast, easy and relatively cheap, but will wick moisture unless stacked a few high above grade. Stone in a few layers above grade will more likely break the damp wicking path. If you have a good supply of flattish or jagged angular rocks you can make a fine foundation with no artificial materials. As long as you can tolerate heaving and uneven settling of the whole structure, you can dispense with a deep rubble trench and have an easy base. This is more likely to work on a small simple cabin shape.
 
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I know of a house and barn built in the ground that are still standing. The barn was built in the late 1970s, and the house was built much earlier. As others have indicated, much depends upon the moisture transferred to the sill plates.  In the case of the barn, the sill boards on the bottom were designed so they could be easily replaced as they decayed.  I think there was a stack of 3 boards with the bottom one not nailed. I suspect they were Tammarack.  The barn was protected from the wind by a thick stand of trees.  The house, I suspect, was built in the 1930s.   I have no idea what it was sitting on.
 
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I'd also recommend a thermal break in the floor, if you dig down to solid subsoil then you can put in gravel to prevent moisture wicking up, then a vapor barrier which will also hold up say 2-3" perlite/vermiculite and finally several inches of cob or equivalent earthen floor. The Hardcore Sustainable has several videos where he rebuilt his cob floor and goes into detail as to what he did and shows the process.
 
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leila hamaya wrote:they may be boring and involve some indrustrialized weirdness, but for being straightforward and easy to use concrete blocks are useful for this purpose. just a few rows of blocks will pick everything up that few feet. then anything on top of that, well you arent deal with the moisture issues. theres definitely a good reason why they are commonly used for that purpose, making a quick stem wall to lift up the house a bit, and DIY friendly, not hard to figure out.


I will probably do this. Its not that its a huge time crunch, but I would rather throw the floor together, and have a house, rather than waiting another month or two messing with it. much planning to be done, I will at the very least make a gravel foundation.
the faster it becomes livable, the better. It really sucks having to build, then leave, when the house isnt secure, and people know when you come and go. :/
very excited though!
I figure I will redig the floor up, and make a better, more labor intensive choice. Im more than happy to rough it, thats basically what this whole thing is about anyways!

Im going to try to do the whole thing and have less than 3k into it. Well see how that goes
I will definitely do a drain system
 
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John F Dean wrote:I know of a house and barn built in the ground that are still standing. The barn was built in the late 1970s, and the house was built much earlier. As others have indicated, much depends upon the moisture transferred to the sill plates.  In the case of the barn, the sill boards on the bottom were designed so they could be easily replaced as they decayed.  I think there was a stack of 3 boards with the bottom one not nailed. I suspect they were Tammarack.



Im curious about the replaceable sill boards. I dont really understand how that would work, how would you lift the structure to change the bottom board?
 
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There is treated wood that can be used for foundations. "Modern" wood treatments come from very old technologies. Most I saw came from15th/16th-century barns and shipbuilding techniques - seems you could research and use treated wood as the foundation. https://www.nachi.org/permanent-wood-foundations.htm

Of course where you live/climate would need to be considered with other drainage, stability issues, etc.

When I lived in the desert I considered a cured earthen floor.

Earthen floors can be very beautiful and durable. best of luck with your plans.
 
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I never saw the ground contact boards replaced. My understanding was the plan was to replace them  by digging a couple of holes to put car jacks in. Jack the barn an inch or so.  The old board would be removed and the new one put in.
 
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Andy John wrote:There is treated wood that can be used for foundations. "Modern" wood treatments come from very old technologies. Most I saw came from15th/16th-century barns and shipbuilding techniques - seems you could research and use treated wood as the foundation. https://www.nachi.org/permanent-wood-foundations.htm

Of course where you live/climate would need to be considered with other drainage, stability issues, etc.

When I lived in the desert I considered a cured earthen floor.

Earthen floors can be very beautiful and durable. best of luck with your plans.



Id like to avoid pressure treated woods. I figured I would use my chickadees method of charring the wood, then using an oil to seal it.
I will look into older methods of building, because building directly on the ground was common, not too long ago.

The desert certainly does have its benefits....It seems like the best materials to build with are present in each environment. Quite interesting.

The old ways of living make places like the desert far easier than the newer ways seem to.

I may go for an earthen floor and put carpet over it once its nice and compacted.

I appreciate your thoughts.
 
aurora sev
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John F Dean wrote:I never saw the ground contact boards replaced. My understanding was the plan was to replace them  by digging a couple of holes to put car jacks in. Jack the barn an inch or so.  The old board would be removed and the new one put in.



I was thinking of this, and different ways to deal with changing the bottom layer. It actually seems very plausible and effective.
I will definitely remember this for the future
 
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Greetings! I am building a pole barn and I’m incorper an area for a shop. Instead of putting down Concrete as flooring I want to have a cob/earthened floor.would I need to build forms before I apply the cob, and the existing ground has some grass etc, do I need to remove this before I put down the cob material ?
 
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Ben, I believe the usual process if you're doing poured cob is  to remove the grass and all the topsoil layer. Even for a barn or workshop, if you want a good solid floor that preparation will make a difference.  Mark gave a good reply to another comment further up the thread about the best way to lay a cob floor.

The floors in some rooms of my Bulgarian cottage are just plain beaten earth with lino over the top. It looks to be high clay content soil with no organic matter in it. After fifty years, apart from where the roof leaked and water damaged some areas, the floors are surprising hard and solid.
 
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Well, far too late for Aurora, but maybe for others.

Early American settlers in the new lands of the West, would lay out an area for the cabin they wanted to build. They'd either dig out the topsoil or add clay to the area scribed, then build a really big fire. The fire would bake the clay and form a long lasting hard floor surface. Build your cabin quick, and there you go.
 
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leila hamaya wrote:

aurora sev wrote:

hmmmm. perhaps a straw layer, then gravel, then dirt? I figure I will end up just doing a dirt floor at first, maybe a layer of cement underneath. I definitely dont want a mud floor. It will depend on the land/budget, whim.

Perhaps having a decent overhang on the roof, and being on a hill, would keep it nice and dry?

Im not too concerned, life is short, have to have some fun with it.
thanks again.



i would put the straw in the earthen subfloor, on top of the gravel.

as to the earth being warmer than air, not quite. the earth is so massive it takes tons and tons of heat to even shift it a few degrees either way. and thats only the top layer of earth, in warm places with tons of sun heating the ground it may be some 10- 15 degrees warmer in that first foot down..... than in a cold place.

so its the first foot or so  down thats fluctuating, but it takes an extreme either way, extreme cold will shift it ten degrees colder or so...an extreme hot day will maybe shift it ten degrees warmer. but its constantly consistent, does not change much. i would only be giving vague estimates....but the earth keeps a stable temperature of something like 50 degrees...some 3-4 feet down everywhere all the time. no matter how much the top 2 feet fluctuate some 5-15 degrees either way.
50 degrees is very cold on the toes. and because theres no thermal break it would be sucking up your heat source very very slowly rising to like 55 say....still cold on the toes!
again i am just using vague estimates. there are people and places online you can look up exact info location secifics and all sorts of math for annualized geo solar /thermal mass calculations.
it is great for cooling in a hot dry place. still useful in other climates but different factors involved.



The biggest caveat to this that I know of is that dry earth is significantly more insulative. So if you make sure to build on a well-drained spot, divert all surface water away, divert all roof water and pave or put roof extensions over the ground around the cabin, the warmth you add to the earth should stick around a lot more reliably.
 
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