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Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Root Cellar

I showed a Preview of the hole for the Root Cellar in the last post. Now I am going to give you an In Depth view of what we built. I know I had told people that I was going to put the cellar under the cabin but that changed once we started digging and discovered the conditions of the sub soil. If I had dug a hole big enough under the cabin the cabin would have fallen into it. This soil has no compaction, it is all sand and rocks and caves in very easily.
The first thing I must say about the process of digging the hole got very much easier and I must give out a big Thank You to my neighbor that got a new (used) excavator this summer. Thank You ERIC, you saved me weeks of labor.

How neat is it to live 65 miles from a road and have a neighbor show up to the cabin with this.

Now that the big shovel showed up I got to show you a few more pictures. I had just recently cut down 3 trees that were right next to the cabin on the south side. I was originally going to dig the hole for the cellar on the north side of the cabin but once the trees were down and the yard was cleaned up it just looked like it made a lot more sense to dig on the south side.
This is the side yard the day before the excavator showed up. I had cut the big tree near the back door and the two trees near the fuel oil tank at the front of the cabin. The roots of the front two trees are still under the leaves near the fuel oil tank. The trees here grow very different than in Ohio. The roots of even the biggest trees only go about 2' to 3' down, they just spread out very very wide and thick just under the surface of the forest floor. I had cut a bunch of roots from the back tree and tilled the yard preparing it for grass seed next spring. This was a finished project, just before Eric had offered to bring over his machine. I was going to start hand digging the root cellar hole on the north side with-in the next few days.

It took me about 5 hours to cut and dig the roots from the back tree stump to make the root ball as small as you seen in the last picture.

It took Eric about 20 minutes to dig up both root balls on the front trees and carry them away.

Take a good look at this picture. We are digging exactly where that back tree was at. There is no sign of any roots going out of the hole, they were all on the surface. I had cut the roots to the point that when Eric got to the stump with the excavator he literally just grabbed the top of it and picked it up and carry'd it away.

This is (what was) my groomed side yard that was ready for grass. This was just a couple of hours after Eric showed up.

Now for the Building of the Cellar. I had bought the treated plywood but all other wood had to be made. This picture is of the "Alaska Mill" attachment on my chainsaw. I cut trees, pulled the logs to the yard or milled them where they laid in the forest depending on the situation. You see an example of slabs coming from a log.

In this picture you see logs stacked in the background, slabs of wood leaning up against the front of the wood shed, the table saw and circular saw set up and cut finished boards laying on a rack to the left.

The process; cut the tree trim the branches and take what is usable for firewood, cut the log into required lengths for the length of boards I need to make, decide what thickness of slab is best suited (and needed) to calculate how many boards I can get out of each log then cut the next log as needed, cut the starter flat side on the log using a guide, then Mill the slabs off of each log. Repeat the process for the next log. Now take the slabs, cut the first straight edge on the slab, set the table saw for width of boards and cut the actual boards. Now, sort and stack the boards until all are accumulated to do the job. For this job I had to apply a treatment to a lot of the boards that were going to be in direct contact with the ground. You will see "Green" color on boards in later pictures, this is the preservative.

Now I have made all of the boards and start building the cellar.

Notice the floor is built inside of the walls instead of on top of the walls. This is so the floor pushes out on the walls for counter pressure against the dirt that will be pushing in. The roof trusses are also cut to set on top of the walls but also down inside the walls. The roof trusses are 8" deep and notched down 3" inside the walls to push against wall studs. (I forgot to take a picture of that.)

The box is built and the roof trusses (joist) are in. We are wrapping it with Ice and Water Shield to try to stop moisture penetration.

Eric came back over, (he had left the machine here) and picked the box up and put it in the hole.

I am helping the machine, lol

This sure beat trying to build it down in the hole.

Notice how deep it is below the surface of the ground as it sets now. You will see the mound over it later.

We set it in here then I put a couple of temporary sheets of plywood on the top. Eric back filled a few feet around 3 sides of the box and kept setting dirt on the top that I hand shoveled into the side under the edge of the cabin. Once we have it set and filled so that it won't move I have a lot more work to do.

I had to build the ladder shoot and finish water proofing.

Sure looks pretty in this picture huh!
It rained for 3 days straight after I got it all buried.

I found that it leaked like a sieve around the ladder shoot. I had to dig it back up, wash it down, torch down the water shield and add more, then covered in visqueen and re-buried it.

No more leaks as of yet, but it froze shortly after this.

I have the roof finished over it now.

I have working lights and an outlet in the cellar now.

It has been sub-zero temperatures for several days now and down to as low as -30 below and is currently -15 as I type this. I just went to check the temperature inside the cellar so I could be very accurate. It is 33 degrees in the cellar. I have 150 gallons of water in there and no signs of ice anywhere right now.

It will be interesting to see if we have a refrigerator or a freezer before winter is over.
The cellar is over 42" under ground and no frost has gotten that deep yet, I am not sure where the cold temps are coming from inside. I have some insulation on the two trap doors and the roof inside the ladder shoot. I think I am going to have to add more and maybe keep blankets on top of the inner trap door.

I have more pictures of other projects that I will post in the near future. We have taken out many trees with Eric's help,and I put in a gray water drain system outside. We still have to do the drains system inside plus we are going to try to do the kitchen remodel this winter. I still have not gotten the outhouse built, just using the pit and we have other things to do.

Thanks for visiting, now go build your own root cellar!
See You soon,


  1. Hi Roger,
    I stumbled across you website while doing a google search for freight hauling. I have really enjoyed reading about your adventures out in Skwentna. I live her in Houston (AK) and am interested in hauling freight to earn some extra money this winter. I noticed that you have been hauling freight with your new Skandic. Can you give me some tips on who I might contact to haul freight out to some of the lodges? Any info would be very appreciated. You can email me: eric.lee@matsuk12.us

    Eric Lee
    Houston, AK

  2. I enjoyed learning through your process. My girlfriend and I are planning on putting a root cellar in in McCarthy. The land is leftover from a receding glacier and is very rocky as a result. I was thinking that after we buried it to maybe bring some sand in and put it on top cause it's probably lighter than all the rock fill currently there. We haven't figured out how deep to go down there yet but know some people who did a root cellar similar to yours there and they went down 6' to the top of their cellar. I'm curious if you insulated the inside or outside of your cellar with blueboard foam (or any other method like hay bails). Also, after reinsulating the ladder hatch did you have a freezer or fridge lol? Any hindsight comments would be good to hear also.

    Thank you for sharing your adventure.... Jette