Why You Should Consider a Root Cellar

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Food preservation and storage is a large part of being a prepper. For most of us, our very first action as a prepper was to buy some food (probably rice and beans) and put it away in our basement or pantry. We instinctively recognize our need for food and the fact that we are dependent on a fragile supply chain in order to keep eating. Those first purchases can easily come out of that, without even a passing familiarity with the idea of prepping.

But food storage has its problems. If all we do is buy a couple of bags of rice and beans, hiding them in the corner of our basement, there’s a good possibility that when we go back for that food, it will have been attacked by insects and rodents.

Of course, that problem doesn’t exist with canned foods, as canning is still, in many ways, the ultimate food preservation technique. But canned food is heavier and takes up more room than dried food does. Cans can become damaged or rusty as well, destroying their integrity.

The other problem with stockpiling food is that of space. Modern homes are not designed with an overabundance of storage, regardless of how much we need it. Unless your home has an unfinished basement, chances are that you don’t have enough storage for the things you’ve accumulated over the years, let alone having space that you can set aside for stockpiling food and other survival supplies.

In the area where I live homes don’t have basements, due to the high water table. So even though I have a large home, it is very limited in the available storage space. We have an attic, with a pull-down ladder to get into it, but that’s the wrong place to store food. It can easily top 130°F up there in the summertime, which is hard on many food products.

For many, the solution is to buy a shipping container or rent one of those mini-storage spaces. But those solutions both have problems. Shipping containers can get as hot as my attic in the summertime and cold enough to freeze in the winter. And a rented storage space isn’t a whole lot better; besides being off-site, which carries its own risks.

So what do we do? This is where it might be a good idea to turn back to the solutions of our ancestors. For them, the obvious answer to their food storage needs was to go underground, either using pre-existing caves or excavating their own to make a root cellar.

A root cellar is nothing more than an underground pantry. The name comes from the fact that they were primarily used for the storage of root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, onions, etc.). Keeping these underground extended their shelf-life, much like keeping them in a refrigerator does. But the root cellar doesn’t require electricity as it is naturally cooled by being underground.

Adding a root cellar to your home or homestead does two important things for you.

First of all, it provides you with an area which you can dedicate to food storage, as you build your prepping stockpile. No longer would you have to stack five-gallon buckets of rice and beans behind the sofa or hide them in the closet. They would be in an out of the way place; and more importantly, out of sight of nosy friends and neighbors.

In addition, you would have natural refrigeration for use when the power goes out. While root cellars don’t typically get as cold as a refrigerator, they will get down to about 55°F, which is good enough to keep a lot of food from spoiling, especially vegetables.

However, before grabbing your shovel, I’d recommend counting the cost. Building a root cellar isn’t exactly a cheap undertaking. The one prefab root cellar that is on the market costs several thousand dollars; well beyond what many people can afford to pay. While building your own is considerably cheaper, you can still expect to invest a couple of grand and a lot of backbreaking labor in the project.

There are a few makeshift options that I’ve seen, which would work. The best of these is to install an old refrigerator (non-working) into the ground, laying on its back with the door facing up. Roughly the same thing can be done with a large, heavy-duty storage bin. While not far underground, when covered with a layer of insulation, such as straw, these options will keep your food cool. But that’s only going to give you limited storage space.

One of the best options I’ve seen is to build a root cellar in the corner of your basement, assuming you have a basement to use. Basements enjoy the same advantage of being cooler, because they are underground. Properly built, with the right ductwork to let the cool night air in and vent the warmer air out, a basement root cellar will work fairly well.

The other advantage of a basement root cellar is that it is contained within your home. In a post-disaster scenario, where you would be trying to hide your food from prying eyes, runs to an outdoor root cellar might be noticed, but runs to your basement would be concealed from sight.

While that’s a great investment in your family’s security, don’t count on it raising the value of your home. Few will understand the true value of having a root cellar in their backyard, and so would most likely just close it up and keep it closed.

survival farm

So consider building yourself a root cellar. The added storage space, as well as the ability to have refrigeration without electrical power is well worth the cost and effort. You won’t have to can all the produce from your garden either; you’ll have someplace to keep it cool and ready for use.

Sounds like a good fit with keeping your powder dry and your survival equipment close at hand.

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Mark W.

I often explain to people people that prepping has no more to do with a financial collapse, end-of-the-world event or a zombie apocalypse than it does with a simple power outage, earthquake, fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, or even a long-term lay-off.

It is about having plenty of food, water and emergency gear on hand that would be necessary to sustain you and your family when you need it most, because it won’t be available otherwise.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Root Cellar. How do I vent to let hot air and and cool air in? Need more detail in actual building. You do not want me to insulate the basement wall, but want me to insulate the root cellar??? What about the gravel floor to the root cellar (guessing in is for drainage)? Should I dig out the floor to the basement?

    • No you do not remove the concrete floor. Hydraulic pressure would flood your basement. Use gravel outside only.
      Run a vent pipe out the side wall above the ground level. You may have to go through the floor to get high enough, be careful not to ruin flooring or hit pipes, power lines or wall studs. Most basements have about 18″ between the ground outside and the floor and siding. About 6″ below the floor is about right. I suggest you consult a local contractor to do this but with help and the right tools it can be done without a contractor.

  2. T Rhod, I was just wondering the same thing. I live in Texas where the water table is a bit shallow, preventing us from having basements. Root Cellars are a great idea, though. I would have to opt for an outdoor structure.

  3. Here are some things to consider. In high water table areas if you have a high spot on your property it can be used with some modifications. Build a concrete or cinder block structure, on or shallow in the ground (about 18″ to get below the freeze line) and then cover the structure with at least 2-3 ft of dirt. Plant grass on the dirt. consider a sump pump hole if you do but it in the ground to pump our unwanted water. If you are on a rise, consider a drain pipe of any kind, running from the floor to the outside several feet from the structure and with a down slope angle. Plug the end of the pipe with screen wire or something similar to keep critters out of the pipe and storage area. Do not forget a air vent at the top to vent heat and give some ventilation.

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