When Mike Toppen built an earth-sheltered root cellar out away from his house, he designed it with four goals in mind: the access door had to be sealed from snakes, spiders, mice and squirrels; the shelter had to be located above ground so it wouldn’t fill with water; it had to be usable for cold storage of food such as apples, onions and carrots; and it had to be sturdy enough to serve as a storm shelter.
He accomplished those goals with a 1,500-gallon plastic ag liquids tank, reinforcing it with wooden structures inside and out and then covering it with 16 to 20 inches of soil to add thermal and storm protection. Tires filled with dirt are stacked 5 feet high on either side of the access door.
A pair of 2-inch-diameter PVC vent tubes keep fresh air flowing through and help reduce mold.
“I built it a year ago, and it works great,” says Toppen.
He used soap and water to clean out the tank, then used 2-by-4s to build a wooden frame inside the tank. He used 2-by-4s and treated plywood to build another frame above the tank and bolted the two frames together. He used angle iron and steel plate to build the access door and bolted it to one side of the frame. He also bolted the stacks of tires to the doorway. Then he piled dirt over the entire structure.