Root Cellar Update
with Khoke and Ida Livingston
I am in the process of researching how to build a root cellar underground and came across your article. I have to say that is an impressive root cellar and I would love to build one like yours.
I’m not going as deep as you did but I wish I could.
I’m wondering if you could provide me some photos of the inside. I’d love to see how the interior turned out.
Hello Mr. Nichols,
Great to hear from you. Building a root cellar is a great home improvement project. Here are a few pictures of the inside of our cellar. It was difficult to take good pictures because of the cave-likeness of the cellar. We hope these show what you wanted to see.
We learned a few things while building ours. We have some observations made in hindsight and suggestions to offer those considering building one.
Once our cellar was done, meaning the shell, floor, doors, etc., then it needed shelves. The shelves needed to be rot or rust resistant (due to the natural cellar humidity) and strong. That set of shelves on the right, when completely full, would be holding over 2,000 lbs in jars and food, not counting the lumber itself. There is also a very finite amount of working space in that cellar for the construction of those shelves.
Khoke used rough cut but dry white oak lumber to make our shelves. White oak is both rot resistant and strong. The downside is that it’s very difficult to nail through when dry. I have known of people who used pine or cottonwood for shelves which did not hold up at all.
Each side of the aisle has 4 sets of support frames, a rectangular frame built out of 2” x 3” oak lumber. The top of the frame is notched to tie it in better and be stronger. Khoke cut 1” x 3” boards for spacers as he built up the shelves. A 10 inch spacer would be placed on either side of the support frame at the bottom so it was easier to nail in place the 2” x 2” ladder rung that the shelf floor would be nailed to. The 10 inch spacer gave us room for crates under the bottom shelf. The rest of the spacers were 1” x 3” x 6” to make an 8 inch tall shelf for our 7 inch tall quart jars to sit on.
The shelves had to be built in the cellar because there was no way to construct them and carry them in. Khoke did build the support frames outside and carried those in, as well as cutting the 1” x 12” boards to length that became the shelf floors. The ‘ladder rungs’ on the support frames were put in one shelf at a time as he built the shelves from the bottom up.
We have 2-3 more shelves to build on the left, but we haven’t entirely decided on the height we want. We also want plenty of room for crates for apple or vegetable storage. So our shelves on the left are incomplete.
Khoke also stresses the importance of that 4 inch gap between the wall and the shelves for air flow. If it is blocked at all, it interrupts air flow and moisture will condense on lids and jars.
One really important detail is the balance of intake and outtake vent pipes. On paper, our four 4-inch intake pipes balanced the two 5-inch outtake pipes in the cellar pantry. What we didn’t calculate was the fact that the intake pipes, which are at floor level, have much better draw (pull air better) because the pipes are so much longer than the outtake pipes in the ceiling.
Since the draw (caused by pipe length) was not balanced, we had some trouble with reverse circulation. The outtake pipes were pulling in instead of out and the intake pipes were taking air out. This did not circulate the air through the cellar as it was designed to do and tended to pull warmer air into the cellar. This was corrected when Khoke added extra pipe length to the 5 inch diameter outtake pipes to match the length of the intake pipes.
The doors need to be airtight if at all possible. Again, all materials need to be rot resistant. Khoke used 2” x 12” fir to frame his doorways. Fir is said to be rot resistant, but it needs to be able to air dry sometimes to accomplish that. Our cellar has too much consistent humidity. The Eastern Red Cedar that Khoke used to make our doors is working much better.
Another thing we would have done differently is made a longer entryway. As ours is, the stairs are very steep.
Mike and Nancy Bubel’s book Root Cellaring is a great resource when researching root cellars. It was very helpful to us. They give a wide range of ideas and stress good drainage and air circulation which are both very important. Excess moisture causes all sorts of problems.
We are both very happy with our cellar and encourage others to build one too. We wish you the best on your upcoming project.
– Khoke and Ida Livingston