Sand in the cellar

We woke up early today and headed out to move some sand in our storm/root cellar before rock goes into open areas in the floor this week.

We designed this space for shelter from storms, but also to keep garden food fresh all winter and to hold a 1000 gallon rain water collection tank. Water from the well will come to the house through this space, too, so the water softener will set in a corner under the stairs.

The cellar is practical. Part of the floor is concrete, but two large open areas covered with rock will allow the natural coolness and humidity of the ground into the room. A simple, manually-controlled air flow system will keep the underground space between 34 and 40 degrees in fall, winter and spring—the ideal temperature for preserving potatoes, other root vegetables and apples.

Our house is built on a river plain with many feet of sand under the topsoil. Today we moved some of that sand into a corner of the cellar where we’ll eventually build a 20″ wood wall to hold it in place. In early November—in years to come—we’ll pull endive, kale, and brussels sprouts plants out of the garden and bring them in to “replant” in the sand. There in the cool, dark dampness they’ll stay fresh all winter and we’ll be able to harvest them when we need them.

I’ve always known about root cellars because my grandparents kept produce in a cellar under their Walnut, Iowa kitchen, and the “cave” was an important place on my great aunt’s farm near Leon, Iowa. John’s Italian grandparents in Benld, Illinois transplanted endive and cabbage to a sandy area under their back porch every fall, then reached in to harvest from a basement window in the winter. But until we visited David Cavagnero’s root cellar a couple of years ago I didn’t realize that plants in the cabbage family stay fresh and ready to pick for months inside, in the right conditions.

We finished our job in the hot cellar then headed to the river, waylaid by blackcaps again. They are amazing right now and we stuffed our mouths, knowing they’ll be gone in a week. The water was beautiful.



Lanesboro, Minnesota
Climate Zone 6 (cold/moist)
Latitude: 43° 44' 18'' N
Longitude: 91° 54' 48'' W

House Size

Net Treated Floor Area: 1,514 SF
Gross Square Footage (House only): 2,210 SF

Building Envelope

Roof: R-99
Wall: R-61
Ground: R-53

Windows & Doors

Glazing: U-0.10 BTU / hour / sq. ft.
Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC): 0.48”
Frame: U-0.19 BTU / hour / sq. ft.

Modeled Performance

Specific Primary Energy Demand (Source Energy Demand): 12.1 kBTU / sq. ft. / year

Specific Space Heat Demand: 7.0 kBTU/sq. ft. / year

Peak Heating Load: 7,047 BTU / hour

Space Cooling Demand: 0.44 kBTU / sq. ft. / year

Peak Cooling Load: 3,625 BTU / hour

Pressure Test Goal: Whole House Air Changes Per Hour (ACH) = 0.4 ACH 50


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