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Building a root cellar and ice house, pointers appreciated

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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I'm near Denver, CO, and I want to build a root cellar and ice house. It will have to be mostly above ground, but I'm hoping to bank and cover it with earth (from my pond dig and other earthworks) on the East, South, and West sides and top. I've got lots of rubble for rubble trench foundations, and dirt for earthbags. But I don't want to build a dome, too scary. I'd like the ice and root cellar to be in separate areas with separate doors, but with a way to open a partition between them in the summer to help cool the veggies. (In the winter the ice area would be run cooler then the vegetable area, obviously. )

Would it be worth while incorporating a insulated mass umbrella like the Wofati ones? How would I insulate the underground sections, and what should I build the North wall out of? What would be the best way to do the roof structure?

I'm wondering if the straw bale insulation technique used on the Low impact Round House, layering bales over one membrane and the covering with another, would work or not.

Any other problems or ideas from people who have a root cellar, especially in a similar climate, would be appreciated.
 
Nancy Troutman
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I have always thought if I were to build a root cellar, that I would make it so that it had a 6" or so depression so that water would collect on the roof.  That way the roof would be constantly cooled due to evaporation.  I would also make sure that it was heavily shaded by trees year round. 
 
eric koperek
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TO:  Gilbert Fritz
FROM:  Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com
SUBJECT:  Root Cellars & Ice Houses
DATE:  PM 6:16 Monday 29 August 2016
TEXT:

(1)  Do NOT connect ice house to root cellar.  Your ice will melt.  Root cellar and ice house MUST be entirely separate structures.

(2)  To take full advantage of natural earth cooling build root cellar and ice house 15 feet below grade.  In your climate ambient temperature of a root cellar 15 feet underground will fall between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

(3)  The best modern insulation for root cellars and ice houses is styrofoam.  Install styrofoam 1 foot = 12 inches thick under floors, around walls and over ceilings.  Overlap styrofoam sheets so there are no cracks or gaps for outside air to penetrate.

(4)  It is often easier to build root cellars and ice houses ABOVE GROUND.  Use cavity wall construction = outer and inner walls separated by a wide space for insulation (styrofoam, perlite, volcanic pumice, vermiculite, rock wool, cork, corrugated cardboard, and rice hulls are good thermal insulators).  For example:  Outer and inner walls of concrete block with a 12-inch wide cavity filled with styrofoam or perlite.  Use a 2 to 3 foot wide cavity for volcanic pumice or rice hulls.  Build a concrete pad foundation with not less than 8 inches of styrofoam insulation underneath concrete.

(5)  When I was a boy = long before you were born, ice houses were built from poles and wicker with 3 feet of straw insulation.  The most efficient ice houses are ROUND because this exposes the least possible surface area to warm air or sunshine.  Erect outer and inner walls of wicker 3 feet apart.  Fill cavity with fresh dry straw (or rice hulls).  Dig a deep hole for your ice house or root cellar foundation = 3 to 5 feet deep then fill with cobblestones = round river rocks.  Do NOT use crushed rock.  Place dry laid brick or flagstones over cobblestone foundation.  Traditional ice houses and root cellars MUST have excellent aeration and drainage under the floor.  You want lots of air under the foundation to drain away water and prevent frost heaving.  Cobblestone foundations make for nice cold floors which is what you want.

(6)  All root cellars and ice houses should have double doors.  Insulate doors with at least 6 inches of natural cork or styrofoam, or 8 inches of lightweight balsa wood (in the tropics).

(  All above ground ice houses and root cellars should have wrap-around porches not less than 8 feet wide to shield walls from sunlight. 

(9)  For best results, build all above ground ice houses and root cellars with DOUBLE ROOFS = inner weather-proof roof and an outer sun roof (which could be as flimsy as wicker or nylon tenting).  Space outer sun roof not less than 3 feet above weather-proof inner roof.  Sole purpose of sun roof is to keep sunlight off inner roof to prevent building from overheating.  Wide distance between sun roof and inner roof is ESSENTIAL for fast ventilation = you don't want hot air around inner roof.

(10)  Plant shade trees or fast growing vines (Virginia creeper will survive in your climate) to shade walls and roofs of above ground root cellars and ice houses.  Shade from trees or vines will drop building temperatures 20 degrees Fahrenheit during hot summer months.

(11)  In traditional ice houses (made from wicker & straw) 1 to 2 inch spaces are left around each ice block.  These spaces are filled with fresh, dry sawdust which is firmly rammed = tamped = compressed.  Ice blocks should be square NOT rectangular to minimize surface area.  Big blocks are best = 2 x 2 x 2 feet for traditional ice houses to minimize melting.  For modern ice houses insulated with 12 inches of styrofoam ice blocks can be smaller = 1 x 1 x 1 foot or other convenient size.  Sawdust is not needed in styrofoam insulated ice houses.

(12)  You don't need a pond to make ice.  It is far more convenient (and much safer) to build wood forms lined with construction plastic.  Fill with water and let freeze just like a giant ice cube tray.  You can even use gallon plastic milk bottles (although these are harder to stack and not as space efficient).

(13)  Traditional ice houses built of wicker and straw lose 25% of their ice each year.  Modern ice houses (insulated with 12 inches of styrofoam) lose less than 10% ice yearly even if doors are opened daily.

(14)  Use scrap I-beams to support roofs for underground ice houses and root cellars.  Alternatively, you can use really thick tree trunks (like making a log bunker).  In your area, you will probably have to buy telephone poles.  Steel web trusses are another possibility = cheaper than I-beams.  4-inch diameter gas pipe will also work if your span is not excessive.  Used gas pipe is cheap.  Sometimes you can also find used railroad line = steel rails like miniature I-beams.

(15)  It is not hard to build domes or barrel vaults for underground structures.  It just takes more time and money to erect wood centering to support masonry or concrete.  Alternatively, you can build a dome or barrel vault on top of the ground.  Bend a metal tube to make a pattern.  Pile sand with a front end loader then sculpt as necessary so sand form complies with tubular pattern.  Compress sand mold by watering gently.  Lay vault or dome over sand centering.  When vault or dome is complete = dry and cured, dig out sand.

(16)  Have all root cellar or ice house plans reviewed by a licensed civil engineer to comply with local building codes.  Unapproved structures can void your insurance coverage.

(17)  I have built many ice houses in Canada.  We use logs and styrofoam insulation or logs and wood shavings or sawdust insulation.  Termites are not a problem because winters are too cold.  In your climate, corrugated cardboard or other organic insulation should be treated with borax powder to protect from termite damage.

(1  Above ground ice houses and root cellars require VAST AMOUNTS of insulation.  Start looking for the cheapest sources of supply in your area.  If you can find a local source of pumice this might be the least expensive option in your climate.  Otherwise, save your pennies and buy styrofoam.

(19)  I recommend that you consider other technological options.  Chest freezers and chest refrigerators do not use much energy (especially if their condenser coils are mounted in shade on the north side of a building or are installed in a flume or pond for efficient water cooling).  You can buy gas powered refrigerators and freezers that run on a pilot light.  These options are cheaper than building an ice house.  If you have running water on your farm, consider building a spring house (water cooling is far more efficient than air cooled refrigerator).

(20)  I have seen root cellars in Canada made from corrugated steel sheets = Quonset Huts.  There are 2 ways to do this:  Cut and Fill (bury the quonset hut underground) or cover the quonset hut with hay bales or peat moss bales (insulation) then plastic sheeting followed by netting or sod to keep everything from blowing away.  CAUTION:  Peat moss holds 10 times its weight in water.  Keep water well away from peat or your insulation (and your root cellar roof) may fail = use lots of heavy duty plastic sheeting or pond liner well sealed.

(21)  All of my commercial root cellars are built from concrete block and styrofoam insulation.  If you have a commercial orchard or similar operation then you need to read about controlled atmosphere storage.  This technology has advanced considerably in recent decades and so building standards have changed.  For example, apples are now stored with nitrogen gas to prevent oxidation and spoilage.  Obviously, this requires air-tight construction which might be beyond your capabilities or intent.

(22)  If you have a pond, stream, or lake on your property (or a deep well) consider a water-to-water or water-to-air heat pump for cooling your root cellar (or heating or air conditioning your greenhouse or home).  Water-to-water heat pumps use 1/6th the electricity of conventional heating and cooling systems.

(23)  There are Amish vendors who build both ice houses and old-fashioned ice boxes.  Amish ice houses use styrofoam insulation.  You should read about this and think carefully before building.  The average farm family does not need a large ice house.  You can keep as much ice as needful = a full year's supply in a small structure about the size of a garden shed (provided you have good insulation).  Plan carefully as there is no sense paying for excess capacity = ice you will never use.  For example, a commercial ice house approximately 12 x 20 feet is more than sufficient to support a Canadian fishery (where lake grown whitefish is iced for transport by float planes to distant transport terminals).

ERIC KOPEREK = erickoperek@gmail.com

end comment

 



 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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Eric; why couldn't I put the icehouse inside the cooler temperatures of the root cellar? Sort of like an umbrella building technology?

I was thinking about storing ice in super insulated chest freezers, stored in the root cellar; so they wouldn't really be connected as such.
 
eric koperek
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TO:  Gilbert Fritz
FROM:  Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com
SUBJECT:  Root Cellars & Ice Houses
DATE:  PM 4:11 Sunday 4 September 2016
TEXT:

(1)  Ice is heavy and cumbersome to move.  Thus, design to make access as direct as possible.  Traditional underground ice houses often have slides to make ice handling easier.

(2)  Root cellars (especially commercial structures) are not meant to be opened frequently.  Thus, you don't want to go trekking through your root cellar to get to your ice house.  Opening and closing doors allows heat to enter which is counterproductive.

(3)  Do not build surface ice houses out of stone, concrete, or masonry.  These materials hold and radiate heat which makes them highly unsuitable for ice house construction.  I have seen wealthy people build ice houses out of brick or stone, and then they wonder why their ice melted.

(4)  There is no absolute Rule against building a combination ice house and root cellar.  From practical experience I would advise against this novel idea.  Where I come from, "new" is almost always bad.  We Austrians are highly conservative.  Old ways are usually best because they have passed the test of time.  My family has 800 years experience building ice houses and root cellars.  We build what works because this keeps us alive.  Thoughtful design and careful construction take on an entirely different meaning when your own survival is at stake. 

(  "Super insulated chest freezers" suggests that you do not need to store much ice  -- or --  that you intend to have many chest freezers.  NOTE:  Efficient ice storage requires 12 inches = 1 foot of insulation highly resistant to heat transfer.  Use styrofoam or any other material with a higher R rating.  For best results, line ice houses with stainless steel or seamless plastic to resist moisture.  Exterior walls should be waterproof -- use any convenient material.

(9)  Shop for a used walk-in freezer or cooler, as large as possible.  Erect on a well-insulated pad then surround with 12 inches of foam or similar high-efficiency insulation.  Cover with an outer shell of wood or use steel studs and barn siding.

(10)  Install insulation carefully = overlap styrofoam sheets so there are no gaps for warm air to enter.  Alternatively, use commercial sprayed foam which eliminates all possible leakage.

ERIC KOPEREK = erickoperek@gmail.com

end comment

  
 
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