Sunday, August 28, 2016

root cellar upgrade

Our home has a root cellar that the builder attached right to the house, with access through a door in our utility room. Since the house is built in to the side of a hill, the root cellar is on the same level as our main living space, and quite convenient.

Hoever, the builder did a couple things wrong, so I am finally improving the performance with some modifications this summer, in preparation for the upcoming root vegetable harvest.

Only one vent was provided in the ceiling of the root cellar. Correct design has two vent pipes, one that exits from the ceiling, and one that has a pipe extending down close to the floor. When cold weather begins, the cold air flows down the pipe, and warmer air in the root cellar exits through the top vent. this all happens automatically since the colder air is denser and stays down at floor level, displacing the warmer air.

I had to rent a hammer drill and a concrete drill bit, and cut a new hole through the top of the root cellar. The drill worked fine, and a piece of 2 inch ( 50mm) PVC pipe is now set to bring cool air in to the cellar. Please ignore that other hole, which will be filled back in. Mistakes were made.

 Existing pipe is to the right in the middle of the chives patch. The new one will be caulked in and have its return elbows glued on shortly.

The other thing I did was repair the foam insulation board that was covering the roof of the cellar. Since the top of the cellar is so close to grade level, they only had room for a few inches of soil, so they put foam on the roof before backfilling. Over time, this had deteriorated. In addition, there was a water leak between the root cellar and the house foundation wall. It was minor, but getting worse. I redid the foam boards, and used spray foam to fill the gaps. 

This style of foam board has a stucco like coating to help protect it. I'll still be covering it back up with dirt.

Our root cellar should get cold quicker, and stay cold longer, keeping our veggies in prime condition.

Finally got some sand and a couple totes to store root crops in. Those go in next.

I also bought a cheap humidity meter/thermometer, so I can keep track of the humidity, and possibly adjust if needed. 

One more summer photo- Our Roma tomatoes have produced fairly well, but we got some early blight ( I think) that is slowly killing the plants, causing some of the tomatoes to fall off before fully ripening. We're just letting them redden up a bit more in the sun room before canning.


  1. Hi Steve,

    I've never seen or heard of a root cellar before. I was having a bit of trouble getting my head around the dimensions of the cellar and I assume that it is large enough to fit a reasonable quantity of produce in it?

    Down under, the old timers used to have a dark cupboard to keep their root vegetables in - mainly potatoes, pumpkins/squashes and onions really from what I can recall as a kid. I wonder why we don't have them down under?

    Those roma tomatoes are looking good! Yum! Are you planning to use a hot water bath to can the tomatoes?



    1. Hey Chris,
      Root cellars were once quite common here, but nearly all have been abandoned or filled in as electricity came to the nation, and people migrated to the cities. There is a small resurgence occurring amongst homesteaders, off gridders, and locavores, of which I am one. I did a brief post on our root cellar a few months ago,
      but I did not give the dimensions. Ours is roughly eight feet by eight feet by seven feet high ( 2.4m x 2.4 m x 2.1m). Sizes vary, and with good shelving layout, you can get a lot of food in there. It's a good, low energy food preservation method.

      Here is a good reference book on root cellar designs, root cellar operation, and optimal conditions for the various fruits and vegetables you can preserve.

      Tomatoes : We both water bath and pressure can tomatoes, just increasing the cooking time if water bathing.