Our Root Cellar Construction

This the construction progress of our root cellar. We wanted to share with you how it went from start to finish.
We have a pretty good size garden and each year we find ourselves trying desperately to eat up all the food
at harvest time or end up giving a lot of it away before it goes bad. Really sucked I got to tell ya.
But then we re-discovered the root cellar. Something pretty much forgotten in the better part of the US,
since the refridgerator anyway.

The idea is to bury your cellar in over 2' of dirt.
The cool earth will stay at a constant 52 degrees or
so throughout the year. Add some ventilation and you
are set. They say the door needs to be facing South
to keep from getting direct sunlight and causing a
change in the cellar temperature.

So here we have the beginning of our cellar. I have
a backhoe so digging out the hill was little work. Our
hill is only 3' tall so we had to dig down 3' below grade to
make sure the whole thing was deep enough and would look good
after it was done. The hill had some big bolders used to retain
the dirt, which had to be moved but will be used to either
side of the doorway after done.

After digging out the side of the hill and down a couple of feet
we dug a little deeper around the edge for a french drain and
filled it up with drain rock. Then we built the forms for a
8.5'x 8.5' pad. The cellar will be 8x8 with steps down from
the front door.

We also layed rebar around the inside edge and in the middle
of the pad to give it some strength. Didn't take a picture
of the rebar but trust me we used a bunch.

We layed 6 mil plastic in the forms before laying out the rebar.
The idea was to have a vapor barrier under the concrete and enough
excess plastic to bring it up the sides of the finished walls. This
will help keep all moisture out of the cellar. We also plan to paint
on some foundation sealant on all the brick and rail road tie roof.
Once the roof is done we'll paint it too as well as drape plastic
over the whole thing so it's completely sealed.

So on these photos you can see the cement is poured over the
plastic and smoothened out. We let it dry for 3 days before
starting the brick work.

Laying out the brick was not fun. Seemed to take forever. Trying to keep each course straight and level took some doing.
I was able to stay pretty straight and level but if you looked close you could tell it was done by an amerature. But after
two solid weekends and a few hours after work each night I finally got it done.

I used my backhoe to place the railroad ties on the walls. The ties were really heavy 8' long tar-covered timber, not easy
to move around. With the thumb on I can pick the ties up and lay them in position and then move them into place by hand
once I got them there. Had to cut 4 of them in half for the span across the doorway. Four cuts and my chainsaw chain was
duller than a hoe.

To make sure no water comes through the brick, we used
stuff called Henry 101 foundation sealer. 3 gallons did
the whole thing. I found out you have to stir it up
really well to get it to spread right. It separates
and the thin oil-like stuff is all at the top and the
thick tar stuff is at the bottom. So you have to mix
it well before you get started.

I used a cheap 3 inch wide brush and painted on a pretty
thick coat. It went on nice, took 1 day to do it. And as
you can see in the picture on the right, the brick soaks
the stuff up. Looks like I didn't put enough on. But even
after 2 coats, the brick still soaked it in, so I called
it good.

For the rail road ties on the roof I found some plastic straps used
to bundle wood together, like 2x4's or 2x6's. But the strap has
reinforced fiberglass strands in it making it very tough. So it
worked well for me to nail it across the top of the ties and sinch
it all together. In this picture you can see 4 strips of strap on
the top ties and 2 strips on the ties for the doorway. I used long
roofing nails to nail it all down.

Then came the expandable foam to seal up all the cracks. I
thought about how to secure the ties to the top of the brick.
Originally I was going to use metal angles on the inside and
screw it to the ties and then drill and secure it to the brick with
some kind of anchor bolt. Then I thought about using mortar but
as a test I tried this foam and it worked pretty well.

Sealed every crack and every crevice with lots of the expanding foam. I'll go back over and cut away the excess after it's
thoroughly dry. Probably used too much but I definitely didn't want any leaks or vent holes. Speaking of vents, I still need
to drill 3 inch holes through the ties on the roof for the 4 vent tubes. Haven't quite thought that out yet.

From a distance you can see how it should look and how high it will be after I pile on the dirt and bury the whole thing. That
will be an exciting day I am looking forward to. The bolders will be placed to either side of the door and used to help hold
back the dirt from the hill. From the road I'm hoping it will contour nice and not be too noticable. From the house it will
be pretty obvious.

The above picture is looking from
the house toward the road. The
bolders to the right will need
to be slid in close to the walls.
Pretty big rocks but no match
for the backhoe. Just need to be
careful not to touch the walls
while I'm positioning them.

The picture above here is from
the front of the yard and off
to the left some. But as you can
imagine the dirt won't be too
much higher than the existing
hill and should blend into
the yard and not be noticable.


Vent tube holes drilled through the rail road ties and the 2 inch PVC pipe installed. The front 2 next to the door will go
to the floor and the 2 back ones will be just below the ceiling. I'll cut them to length once I'm ready to pile on the dirt.
The door I got swings in, which there is not enough room to open the door before it hits the ties in the ceiling so I'll have
to modify the whole thing to swing out. Which will make the hinges face out. Complicates things a bit but to get the
right kind of door costs twice as much. So I plan to weld the hinge pin and put a metal cover over them to keep from
having them removed. I'll think of something.

I pulled the lower plastic up and nailed it to the ties and then drapped a new piece of plastic over the top, and then
a thick plastic tarp over that. It ought to be completely sealed from the outside and last for decades without rotting
the wood or leaking in any moisture.

Got the rock walls up on both sides of the door. We finished piling dirt on top of the whole thing today.
What a job. I smashed the same finger twice in between bolders. Oh my did that hurt. Anyway, we're close to
being done. Made a wooden ramp on the inside versus steps so we can roll a wheel barrel in and out. We also
put in 2 metal racks to hold the food. We still have room for 3 more 6' racks.

On the top of the cellar we have the dirt pilled just below the vent tubes. I'll have to take another
shot of that for the site. I still need to add the PVC T's and screens for the vents. I also need to add mortar
to the rocks to keep them in place. I did some mortar at the bottom rocks but found that while I was adding more
stone to the wall it was breaking the mortar away. So I figured I'd wait until I was done with the walls first.