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Rainy PNW Underground Root Cellar Ideas

 
Lindsey Jane
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Location: Kitsap Penninsula, WA
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I really just want to gather people's opinions about what to build our outdoor, underground root cellar out of.

I'm drawn to earth bags for all the obvious reasons. But I live in a very rainy part of the state - close to the actual rain forest and I'm concerned about the probability of water wrecking an earth bag construction.

We will be building the cellar into a north facing hill.

I've considered using french drains on top of a gravel foundation and then laying plastic sheeting over the construction before back filling.

Curious about several things:
1) Has anyone on here actually built an earthbag cellar in the PNW - and how successful has it been for you?
2) Has anyone used those giant plastic septic tanks (uh - NEW, of course) and how was that experience?
3) I do NOT want to do the cinderblock/ poured concrete route so am looking for other alternatives that can be long term sustainable in our climate.

I've got some books coming to help me figure out all the details but nothing comes close to talking with people who have first hand experience.

Thanks, everyone.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I honestly have no idea, but I also live in the rainy PNW, and also want to eventually make a cellar. I'd love to see if anyone has any suggestions, so I'm BUMPING your thread .
 
Daniel Schmidt
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Wofati? It seems like the wofati construction method could be a good candidate for a root cellar. If someone has different plans then they could probably still recycle many of the ideas of wofati building since underground structures in general will likely have similar dilemmas to overcome. You could also look into thermal storage to augment the temperature of a root cellar to last through warmer seasons. I am interested in using earth for mediating temperatures, but things are quite different for me in Florida.
 
Devin Lavign
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You might want to check out this youtuber's underground earth bag build there are 17 videos to date, so I will embed a few then give a link to the full playlist. While it is a build in a desert location it might answer some of your questions on suitability of earthbags for rootcellar as building underground no matter what location needs to solve many of the same problems.









Full playlist can be found here https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqweMXveARYCalRJRxdO-8ETdi3DnQIMr
 
Devin Lavign
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Some further investigation and I have found http://www.wildernesscollege.com/earthbags.html Who did an earthbag root cellar in the PNW. So very likely a good resource for looking into this concept. While not perfect, it does give a decent amount of info, as well as you could contact them and find out more info if you really want to get serious about this build concept.

Something worth noting though. What sort of natural resources do you have on site? While earthbags might be your preference, available site materials might offer other alternatives. Being in the PNW, it is likely trees could be your most likely resource. Would a Wofati type root cellar make more sense as Daniel Schmidt suggested? Something like Sepp's animal shed/root cellar could easily be converted to a root cellar idea for you. Sepp knocked this one pictured below together in a single day. Though with the help of heavy equipment of course. Hand work might extend the time frame.



Or if you have rocks



Rocks are another valuable resource you might have on site. You don't necessarily need to be limited to giant rocks like the picture above. Rock walled root cellars are a long standing tradition. Both dry stack and mortared rock walls can make for a wonderful root cellar and have been used for hundreds of years. Dry stack tends to take more work in rock prep, as you need to have better fitting stone and so either need to sort or work the stone before stacking. Mortared rock makes for easier stone selection and quicker building.
 
Mary Wilson
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Lindsey, what are you planning on storing in the root cellar? I wonder if that makes a difference?

I'm not far away (on an island in the Salish Sea) and it seems that here a lot of roots store best in the soil, especially if they are mulched.

I was recently reading "gardening at the dragon's gate" and Wendy Johnstone's story of potatoes rotting in carefully-prepared underground storage made a big and sort of horrifying impression on me!

We're planning to add an insulated, unheated, vented-to-outside section to our pantry (kind of like a little closet with drier vents) as our root cellar equivalent. Haven't done it yet but I will let people know how it turns out.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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We have just been through our usual 2 hard freezes for the year. So again consider what kind of storage and how much do you really need. On the farm at Horse Head bay in the 1950's the cool cabinet worked really well. Just an insulated cabinet against an outside wall with a hooded screened opening at the top and bottom through the wall. The openings were shaded by a vine so the air exchange was even cool in the summer.

I have a box off a box truck for storage of canned goods and the freezer. I was able to furnish it with repurposed kitchen cabinets and counters with drawers in them so it also serves for tool and supply storage. I could have put the pumpkins in there if I had left enough room on the counters but they are in my bedroom right now.

I stagger my potato plantings for frequent harvest. So the small ones were replanted in the greenhouse for an early spring harvest.  They survived this week of freezing outside with a ruby red heat lamp shining on the tops.

A recycle yard here has wind generator shipping containers that are 10 feet wide for 10 feet then 15 feet wide for 10 feet then 10 feet wide for 10 feet but the rounded ceiling rises to 10 feet. They are made of fiberglass and resin. probably with two cross walls inside strong enough to bury. Big enough to use for a wofati. Has one small door on the small end but could accommodate a sliding glass door on the large end if that was exposed to the south. Light does penetrate the fiberglass resin so if not buried it doesn't need windows to see inside.
 
Rocky Fletcher
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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Hey Lindsey!

This is my first reply on Permies though I've been lurking for years now.

We have built a earthbag root cellar here in the Southern Willamette Valley two summers ago. This is the second winter. It is still a work in progress. We dug about 8 feet down at the highest point on our property. Last fall the rains came before we could put a roof/floor (we put a pantry/shed above it) and it was flooded halfway up. A great time to see first hand that earthbags would make a great pond! The water eventually seeped back into the ground as it just had a clay floor. This past summer we put in the skeleton of the pantry above including the roof, but once the rains came it was flooded again but not nearly as bad as before. We pumped out the water and it has yet to come back nearly a month later. We'll be putting a concrete floor (we'd prefer not to but we hope that it will help with the water issue ) in there and finally stuccoing the bags as soon as it's feasible. Our next root cellar with definitely be build into a hill on our property. We would put in a french drain and keep the floor angles downhill for water runoff and just make the shelves level. Our earth bags are still very much intact and doing much better than we expected with all of the flooding. So if you build on a hill with the drainage you described, it should do very well. Ours is wonderfully cool in the summer and has not frozen these 2 winters.

Good luck, and I hope you post some pics of your progress.

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Root Cellar in progress with help from some local PDC students
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Pantry shell
 
Thelma Mc Gowan
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Location: Snohomish county, WA
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We also live in the PNW. This last summer We dug a 6 foot deep pit to use for a root cellar .....luckily, we got behind on building and even though the pit stayed dry during the early fall rains, we discovered a wintertime underground stream that flows generously into the pit filling 2 to 3 feet deep.

We are very sad to see all of our summer digging  for no reason. But, like i said luckily we did not finish the structure we planned over it. We live on top of a knoll and could not have for seen such a high water table.

My advise to the original poster......test  out a full year before you commit to a space.
 
Devin Lavign
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Thelma Mc Gowan wrote:We also live in the PNW. This last summer We dug a 6 foot deep pit to use for a root cellar .....luckily, we got behind on building and even though the pit stayed dry during the early fall rains, we discovered a wintertime underground stream that flows generously into the pit filling 2 to 3 feet deep.

We are very sad to see all of our summer digging  for no reason. But, like i said luckily we did not finish the structure we planned over it. We live on top of a knoll and could not have for seen such a high water table.

My advise to the original poster......test  out a full year before you commit to a space.


Sorry to hear about all the digging to only find it was not going to work, but great example of the permiculture principal of observation. Taking the time to watch and see how things happen before committing to an action can really save you some headaches. So great advice testing for a year, observing the different seasons and how things might change during them.
 
Shane Kaser
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Location: Portland, United States
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I live in Portland, and have had good experience with sinking lidded trash cans into the ground. Maybe throw some hay bales over the lid(s) for extra insulation. Excellent cave-like environment for smallish fermentation projects (and maybe ripening cheese?). Keeps the water and rodents out.  Maybe too limited/small if you've got acres of food to cellar...

Good luck,
B
 
Davide Honey
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Location: Lugano, Switzerland
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Lindsey Jane wrote:I really just want to gather people's opinions about what to build our outdoor, underground root cellar out of.

I'm drawn to earth bags for all the obvious reasons. But I live in a very rainy part of the state - close to the actual rain forest and I'm concerned about the probability of water wrecking an earth bag construction.

We will be building the cellar into a north facing hill.

I've considered using french drains on top of a gravel foundation and then laying plastic sheeting over the construction before back filling.

Curious about several things:
1) Has anyone on here actually built an earthbag cellar in the PNW - and how successful has it been for you?
2) Has anyone used those giant plastic septic tanks (uh - NEW, of course) and how was that experience?
3) I do NOT want to do the cinderblock/ poured concrete route so am looking for other alternatives that can be long term sustainable in our climate.

I've got some books coming to help me figure out all the details but nothing comes close to talking with people who have first hand experience.

Thanks, everyone.


Hi, This may or may not help you along.

As with most building projects it depends on your budget. From a permaculture standpoint we try to use local materials as much as possible. If you have trees available you might want to consider sepp holzer's Root cellar and/or underground animal shelter. He lives in a cold and wet climate in Austria. See this Youtube link for further information: 


If you live in a rocky area and have a lot of stones laying around you might want to consider making the walls from a gabion structure. Here is one of the many Google links about gabions: http://web.mst.edu/~rogersda/umrcourses/ge441/online_lectures/retention_structures/GE441-Lecture6-3.pdf

The roof construction could be wood or metal, again depending on your resources and your budget.
 
Bryan Beck
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As others have noted, you're probably going to have water seeping in unless you have your walls and floor well sealed in some way.  Something like 70% of basements in this area leak, even though they are well encased with concrete.  In a very wet environment, concrete, earth bags, cinder blocks, natural stones, and most other materials will seep water into your storage space. 
 
Pearl Sutton
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Thelma Mc Gowan wrote:We also live in the PNW. This last summer We dug a 6 foot deep pit to use for a root cellar .....luckily, we got behind on building and even though the pit stayed dry during the early fall rains, we discovered a wintertime underground stream that flows generously into the pit filling 2 to 3 feet deep.

We are very sad to see all of our summer digging  for no reason. But, like i said luckily we did not finish the structure we planned over it. We live on top of a knoll and could not have for seen such a high water table. 


Cool, you have a winter well!!
 
Julia Winter
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Rocky Fletcher wrote:
We have built a earthbag root cellar here in the Southern Willamette Valley two summers ago. This is the second winter. It is still a work in progress. We dug about 8 feet down at the highest point on our property.
. . .
This past summer we put in the skeleton of the pantry above including the roof
. . .
Our earth bags are still very much intact and doing much better than we expected with all of the flooding. So if you build on a hill with the drainage you described, it should do very well. Ours is wonderfully cool in the summer and has not frozen these 2 winters.


Rocky, I'm curious - is there a ladder or stair under the wooden floor to the 8 foot down part?
 
Rocky Fletcher
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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Rocky, I'm curious - is there a ladder or stair under the wooden floor to the 8 foot down part?


Yes, we have cinder block steps going down.
 
ronie dee
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Location: NW MO
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I have property where the ground is wet from water that comes from uphill as well as from rain. Every time that I plan anything underground, the answer keeps coming back as 1. Use the recycled tires and form a dome or circle walls or 2. Build on top of ground and berm heavily. I know there is controversy as to the used tires, but there are a lot of people that swear by it.
 
thomas rubino
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Location: latitude 47 N.W. montana zone 6A
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I have seen several successful root cellars in the north wet made with 20' shipping containers (conex's), both had an entry way that allowed using the original metal doors . Both used a vent pipe at the back. One was then sprayed with shot crete  , the other was just buried.   Neither had any water issues no matter how wet the spring.  I haven't seen either one in many years now but the concrete covered one i'm sure is good as the day it was installed... the other most likely is as well but i'm sure is slowly rusting .
 
ronie dee
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thomas rubino wrote:I have seen several successful root cellars in the north wet made with 20' shipping containers (conex's), both had an entry way that allowed using the original metal doors . Both used a vent pipe at the back. One was then sprayed with shot crete  , the other was just buried.   Neither had any water issues no matter how wet the spring.  I haven't seen either one in many years now but the concrete covered one i'm sure is good as the day it was installed... the other most likely is as well but i'm sure is slowly rusting .


Do you have any idea what it costs for the Gunite? That is the best idea that I've heard, However, there is a lot of info on internet that just burying a container can fail.
 
thomas rubino
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No, I never did know the cost , I was just visiting when the shotcrete went on , I was young and never thought to ask.  I'm sure a concrete spraying company could give an estimate with the known size.  The other one will rust someday... but will it be a sudden problem  ...  no, whoever owns that land at the time will see it happening long before it would cave in .
 
ronie dee
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thomas rubino wrote:No, I never did know the cost , I was just visiting when the shotcrete went on , I was young and never thought to ask.  I'm sure a concrete spraying company could give an estimate with the known size.  The other one will rust someday... but will it be a sudden problem  ...  no, whoever owns that land at the time will see it happening long before it would cave in .


OK thanks. Do you remember what he did to the bottom of the container?
 
thomas rubino
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Rock, he set it on large flat rocks . I don't think it was a full "foundation " just some thing to keep it supported and slightly elevated .
 
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