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Building a Cold Cellar in a dirt floor, fieldstone wall basement

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Topic by Radicalfarmergal posted 10-11-2010 04:59 PM 14872 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Radicalfarmergal

10 posts in 2867 days

10-11-2010 04:59 PM

Topic tags/keywords: cold cellar earthbag packed earth construction basement

I am interested in building a root cellar in our new England basement to partition off an area where it can be cold enough to store root vegetables effectively without freezing. I am looking into potentially using earthbags and an earth plaster for the walls, a treated wood door frame, a metal door and air ducts for ventilation using an existing window. I don’t plan any electricity or plumbing, just walls that will keep the room insulated, keep out unwanted rodents and not create a mold/termite problem due to the high humidity in our basement. I posted my idea on Garden Tenders but I thought this might be a more appropriate place to ask for advice about this type of project. Does anyone have any personal experience with this type of project?



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PaBull

701 posts in 3734 days

10-11-2010 06:40 PM

This is great, i remember my parents back in Holland having a cellar like this.

Are you building from scratch? Or is this a conversion?

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Radicalfarmergal

10 posts in 2867 days

10-12-2010 12:20 AM

Hello PaBull. I have seen some of your posts on Garden Tenders. : )

I am planning to build it from scratch. I want to use the existing outside fieldstone walls on the northeast sides of the basement because everything I have read indicates this is the best way to get the colder temperatures you want. I am learning about using earthbags as a possible building material for the two walls I will have to build to enclose the root cellar away from the rest of the basement (which is too warm to preserve most of the vegetables I want to try to keep). I like the idea of earthbags for several reasons:

1. I can join them up to an uneven fieldstone wall. Tamping down the bags should fill in the cracks between the stones.
2. I don’t have to worry about moisture related problems such as termites and mold, especially if the bottom layers of earthbags are filled with gravel with the earth filled bags are up off the ground.
3. I can build a frame for the door using treated wood and pack the earthbags around it.
4. I already have lots of earth available (mostly clay) down in the basement from a french drain that I am currently installing around the perimeter.
5. I would imagine that 12 – 15 inch walls of earth will be fairly insulating for temperature control.
6. It seems to be a type of construction I can do myself.
7. If I plaster over the earthbags, it should be quite rodent proof.

I have no practical experience with this method; however, so I will appreciate any ideas or guidance other refurbishers have.

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PaBull

701 posts in 3734 days

10-12-2010 01:18 AM

I have never worked with earthbags, sounds interesting.
Are you building underground or above? Or how deep are you in the ground?
How are you keeping the moisture from getting into the wall and into your cellar?
Are you starting with a concrete floor?
With the earthbags are you still framing to put up the mash to hold the plaster over the bags?
Will you need framing for the roof?
Can you show a picture of the current corner of the house?
There are several need website on this toppic…
http://www.earthbagbuilding.com/
http://www.networkearth.org/naturalbuilding/earthbags.html

At one point I too was hoping the build a cellar, but I would use it to make beer and wine.

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Radicalfarmergal

10 posts in 2867 days

10-12-2010 02:31 AM

PaBull, I will try to answer your questions.

Our basement is almost entirely below ground. Only the top few feet are above the soil line. The basement is about eight feet deep; I estimate five of which are underground. I suppose I can dig the area deeper if I need to. Do you think I need to? I hope I don’t! I understand from what I have read that if I use gravel on the bottom three layers (each bag is about three inches high), that eliminates water problems because any water would drain out of the bottom bags and water will not wick up into the walls. The corner where the root cellar is going does not have any leaks. The french drain I am installing is for the other side of the basement where water sometimes comes in between the fieldstones during a very heavy rain or when the ground is frozen solid and it rains. I am starting with a dirt floor, but I will probably add a layer of gravel to finish it off. I don’t want the wood, even treated wood, touching the dirt, so I would probably dig down and have a layer or two of gravel filled earthbags under the door frame.

Framing is a completely new area for me. I know I need to frame the door. I am hoping my wonderful furniture making husband will help with that. I don’t know if I need to frame the roof. I was hoping I could just slide a sheet of treated plywood with some rigid foam board insulation with a moisture barrier on top, or perhaps I would need to frame the insulation and moisture barrier between pieces of treated plywood.

I don’t envision building a large room. I want something about four feet wide and eight feet long, enough room for shelves and walking with bins along the shelves. I don’t plan on having built in shelves. I would probably use freestanding metal shelves inside.

From what I have read so far, I can wrap chicken wire around the earthbags to help hold the plaster but no extra framing is needed. I plan to use the barbwire between the earthbags to help keep them in place. I will probably have to put in one buttress along the longer side.

Thank you for the great links. I had not seen the the second one. Here is a link I found helpful. I have ordered a book from the library about earthbag construction to learn more about it before I start. Most of what is covered seems to be buildings above ground but I think it will work for interior, non-load-bearing walls in the basement. I will try to take a photo tomorrow to give you an idea of the space.

Thank you for taking the time to help me plan this project. I am not afraid to learn and get my hands dirty; I just want to think and plan as much as possible before I start.

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PaBull

701 posts in 3734 days

10-12-2010 04:29 PM

I am not familiar with your area, this is the website I am looking at http://www.visitusa.com/massachusetts/massachusetts-weather.htm it says: Massachusetts’ weather has a balance of cool, dry Canadian air and warmer, moister tropical air. The usual weather pattern is a number of fine days followed by a few wet days, which averages out to approximately 50% clear, 25% wet and 25% overcast. You probably know better than me, don’t you have problems with water getting INTO your cellar being lower than grade when you have rain? I would seal the cellar up by using a concrete floor, concrete block for a wall, filled with concrete. Seal the block wall from the outside to create a barrier to keep the water out. Once you are above grade you can go on with you earth bags.

Photobucket

I still think you should use a wooden frame to support the roof. How else do you keep the roof from blowing off?

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Radicalfarmergal

10 posts in 2867 days

10-13-2010 03:16 AM

I apologize that I was unclear in my explanations, PaBull. I am not a builder and I probably used terms incorrectly. The root cellar will be entirely inside the existing basement of our house, so the root cellar roof will only be used to keep the cold temperatures inside the root cellar and out of the rest of the basement where there are pipes that we don’t want to freeze. I am planning on putting the root cellar in one corner of the existing basement using two existing fieldstone walls and building two new walls out of the packed earthbags if I can. Our house was built in 1738 and the basement originates from that time, although granite blocks were added to the foundation sometime around 1800 – 1810. As I explained, there is some water that comes in between the fieldstones along one wall of the basement. That is why I am building a french drain to capture the water and bring it to a deep “well” that has a sump pump to empty the water far from the foundation. You have been so helpful. Again, sorry that my explanations were not clear. I will try to get a photo of the corner posted to help you see what I am trying to say.

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PaBull

701 posts in 3734 days

10-13-2010 04:38 PM

No problem. I had fun with it.
Building this contraption inside makes things a lot simpler.
Maybe instead of gravel on the floor you might like working on concrete tile better.

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Radicalfarmergal

10 posts in 2867 days

10-13-2010 11:20 PM

Here is a photo of the corner of our basement.

The opening in the wall is an old coal shute from the time when the house was heated by burning coal.

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daltxguy

31 posts in 3608 days

10-20-2010 12:29 PM

Robin, are you planning on using unstabilized clay or stabilized ie: is your mixture going to contain a small percentage of cement(stabilized)?

The problem with stabilized earth is that you lose some of the properties of the earth – the ability to regulate moisture. Concrete absorbs moisture like a wick. Either way, make sure you have a damp course under the earthbags so you are not drawing up moisture from the ground. You might want to pour a cement lip and then definitely lay down some damp-proof-course before the first layer of earthbags.

The other thing is, you may want to delay your project until the summer. It will take some time for the walls to properly ‘cure’ and you will have terrible moisture problems until then – there is a lot of moisture even in the earth used for earthbag construction.

If it were me, I would find more fieldstone and enclose that space with stone walls for 2 reasons 1) you already know it works 2) it will limit the wicking of moisture. I can see from your stone walls that you have moist stones which is not unusual in a basement. I owned a 100 year old house in Ottawa which had stone wall for the basement and this was normal ( especially since the french drain had probably long been crushed since they used to use clay drainage tiles).

PS. It looks like you might have to do some repointing on your stone work. It’s not hard, I did it – just need a good mortar mix and a pointing trowel – but it needs doing every half century or so.

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daltxguy

31 posts in 3608 days

10-20-2010 12:45 PM

PaBull,

Maybe you’ve never seen a basement living in S.Cal? :) They can be constructed not to leak. Unfortunately your drawing is still not the best possible construction ( I realize that Robin is not building from scratch but I thought I would mention this ).

Usually the wall is attached to a footing, not directly resting on the basement floor. The basement floor floats on the inside of the footing. A french drain is laid next to the footing, below the basement floor grade ( so moisture does not come up from under the floor or through the wall.. The floor rests on about 6” of gravel and a plastic moisture barrier and as a precaution, drainage pipe is laid under the floor draining to a sump hole and a sump pump.
Rigid insulation should be placed on the outside wall and best practice these days appears to be to extend the rigid board horizontally away from the wall as well.

The worst time of year for moisture is the spring when the ground is still frozen and melting snow finds its way towards the basement wall because it is the first area to thaw. This is where the french drain is crucial.

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PaBull

701 posts in 3734 days

10-20-2010 04:08 PM

Thanks for helping out here, Daltxguy. You are totaly correct on the details here.

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Radicalfarmergal

10 posts in 2867 days

10-20-2010 07:47 PM

Steve, thank you for your help. I had planned on using unstablized earth in the bags because I seem to have an optimum mix of sand and clay in the basement. (I put a shovelful of the basement floor in a jar with water and let it settle out. I estimate there is about 80% sand, 20% clay in the mixture.) I was planning to build a trench (at least three inches wider than the earthbags on each side and a foot down) filled with tampled rubble/gravel under the earthbags to stop the moisture from wicking upward. The basement floor is well below the frost line so frost heaves won’t be a problem. However, how do you tamp the top layers if there is a ceiling (the house floor) in the way? Unless I can figure that out, I probably won’t use earthbags.

Field-stones are a definite option and you are right about the repointing. We have been discussing it since we bought the house. I will finish the installing the french drain around the perimeter and start working on repointing. The cold cellar will just have to wait until I get more experience; maybe repointing will help give me the confidence to use field-stones instead.

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daltxguy

31 posts in 3608 days

11-03-2010 09:20 PM

Robin, sounds like you have the proper mix and you’ve thought of everything. I suppose the top layer wouldn’t need to get tamped. Just stuff it in to fit. If the rest of the wall is tamped I would think you’re covered. This is not going to be a load bearing wall, it’s just a partition, so probably not critical.

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branover

4 posts in 2941 days

03-22-2011 03:55 AM

wow, cool pic of the cellar. i have a cellar – for wine. the best

Los Angeles Lofts

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Vialsrao

1 post in 663 days

10-22-2016 08:10 AM

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