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Posts Tagged ‘cool pantry’

Concealed underfloor cool pantry made with gravel bags (earthbags filled with gravel)

Concealed underfloor cool pantry made with gravel bags (earthbags filled with gravel)


Concealed underfloor cool pantry made with insulated concrete forms (ICF)

Concealed underfloor cool pantry made with insulated concrete forms (ICF)


Maybe it’s all the freakish hurricanes, tornadoes and floods that have been occurring that got me thinking about how to increase storage space for emergency supplies. There have been countless cases of hard times in the past; times of plenty don’t last forever. Why not stock up on a few things as you see them on sale? It’s better to be safe than sorry, as they say. You might want to buy basic supplies with a long lifespan in bulk – the things you’re going to buy anyway – as a hedge against inflation. Or maybe you want the comfort, convenience and peace of mind that comes from having a surplus of healthy food and other supplies to save trips to the store and be able to help others if there’s an emergency.

The most common and effective storage method for food in many cases is 5-gallon plastic buckets with sealable lids. Buckets like this can often be obtained for free from delis, bakeries and restaurants. There’s an abundance of information on the Internet for storing food in these containers, just google it. (LDS has an excellent site.) You’ll also need a safe, cool and preferably concealed place to store everything. (Looters can’t take what they can’t find.) So where do you put everything? Many homes are too small; attics and garages often too hot. Rootcellars have high humidity, are highly visible targets for thieves, and create some inconvenience if not attached to the home. A cool pantry attached to the side of your home that keeps food cool without electricity is a great solution in normal times, except this would put all your supplies in plain sight and increase the risk of vandalism during problem times.

Consider building a flood resistant, low cost, concealed underfloor cool pantry. It could be built under a new home, new addition, covered porch, free standing storage sheds, garages, shops, etc. While you could possibly adapt a crawlspace under your home, I suggest a much more water resistant and totally concealed design that’s made specifically for this purpose and I just the right size.

There are countless ways to build one of these underfloor cool pantries, so all I’ll do here is summarize the basic concepts. The first priority is keeping water and excess humidity out of the underfloor pantry. If water gets into the space for any reason (100 year flood, melting snow from a blizzard, plumbing leaks, etc.) then your whole stockpile is at risk. Because it’s in a low spot, it wouldn’t take long for an underfloor pantry to fill with water. So be sure to take all the necessary precautions if you decide your area is appropriate: build on high ground and/or raise the site well above flood stage, and be sure to totally waterproof the foundation with waterproof plaster and a moisture barrier. Eliminate any seams that might leak, such as the joint between the foundation and floor slab. In addition, you might want to add a humidity gauge in an easy to access location. Keep a close eye on things so you can react to any problems as quickly as possible.

The second priority is choosing appropriate materials for your area. Maybe you live in a cold climate and have to meet building codes. Insulated concrete forms would be one good option. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and local codes.

If you’re building with earthbags (which typically means non-code areas), then consider using a gravel bag foundation that’s appropriately reinforced. This application is different than typical gravel foundations due to the extra height. Reinforcing is needed to resist the horizontal thrust of the soil. Be sure your soil is not expansive clay. At a minimum, use opposing vertical rebar pins tied together through the wall. This works best on small, round structures such as domes and roundhouses. For straight runs, you’re better off using the reinforced earthbag method developed by Precision Structural Engineering, Inc.

Also note, the gravel bags could be filled with scoria or pumice to create an insulated earthbag foundation. This is a great way to build a frost-protected foundation, reduce labor, and save money on materials and long term energy costs.

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Completed Earthbag Cool Pantry (click to enlarge)

Completed Earthbag Cool Pantry (click to enlarge)


It’s a thrill to announce the completion of our earthbag cool pantry. As you can read in previous posts, this structure is designed to keep food cool without electricity. It’s a simple design that anyone can build on the side of their house.

Cool Pantry Update
Cool Pantries: Storing Food Without Using Power

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Cool pantry under construction

Cool pantry under construction


We’re making good progress on our cool pantry – a shed roof addition behind our kitchen. A cool pantry keeps food cool without electricity (although we’re going to use ours as a storage room). It was built during this year’s workshop. The roof is on, and the end walls (triangular areas above earthbags) are framed in and covered with tar paper and mesh. Now we’re ready for the exterior plaster and floor. It’s the most perfect earthbag structure I’ve been a part of. Everything is very plumb, level, straight and square. We tested some earthen plaster on the wall yesterday and from the experiment it seems plaster materials and labor is halved due to good workmanship.

We’re videoing every step of construction (mostly the earthbag work) and plan to create a full length earthbag video for sale. This project is very similar to building a small house and so the video should be helpful for many. It will likely take two months to complete the video, so be please patient if you’d like to get a copy. (No need to write and ask “when will the video be ready.” It will be announced here on our Earthbag Building Blog when ready.)

[Update: I’m shocked! The video is almost finished. The editing is 99% finished. There are a few details to add and then I plan to add the best YouTube videos at the end. The total length will be close to 2 hours. Stay tuned…]

Learn more about cool pantries.

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Laying a course of mesh earthbags to test their working properties.

Laying a course of mesh earthbags to test their working properties.


I finally had a chance to build with mesh bags. Previously I had made some test bags, but this week we included a whole course of mesh bags in our current Cool Pantry project. More photos coming soon.

In this post I want to describe some of the differences in working properties between mesh and poly bags. Bag properties will vary between suppliers, so your experience may be different, but with our bags the results so far are very positive in favor of mesh bags in most every way.
– 1/4 the cost of poly bags in our area! (6.5 cents versus 27 cents.) This savings would be substantial on a full sized home. The cost difference is largely due to buying recycled bags at the farmer’s market. We’re using a product that’s in perfect condition, but would likely be thrown away. Poly bags have more uses and fetch higher prices even when recycled.
– Can add an additional 1-2 extra buckets per bag (6-7 versus 5). This creates longer bags with more overlap, which creates stronger walls.
– Can tie the tops of bags with one 4” piece of galvanized wire. I twist the bag closed, insert one end through the mesh, bend the wire over and poke the other end into the contents. This means you can use half the wire and close the bag in about one third the time of our typical method. (Small improvements like this add up over time.)
– Faster plastering due to better bond. (We’ve yet to verify this, but this is what I expect.) A previous post discussed improved bonding strength, but plaster work should go faster as well.
– We pounded the mesh bags very hard because the bond beam sits on this course, and yet there was no damage to the mesh.
– There was extensive drying in just a few hours.

Other comments:
– A slightly moister mix will reduce spillage through the mesh. Only 2-3 teaspoons of fine material fall out with this method.
– Requires a smaller bucket chute. We’re using a 3 gallon (11.4 liter) stainless steel bucket with the bottom and handle cut off. It’s 9” high and tapers from 11” wide at the top to 8”.
– A plastic bucket of similar size broke almost immediately. (Anyone else getting fed up with crap tools?) Might as well pay a little extra and have something that will last for years.
– Mesh bags are stretchier and take a second or two longer to insert the bucket chute.
– Mesh can tear if hit hard with the corner of a tamper. Round the edges of your tampers and hit the bags flat. (None of our bags tore, but this is something to watch out for.)
– Someone could experiment with double bags for seismic areas and report back their results.

Refer to our previous blog posts for more info:
Hyperadobe Update from Brazil
Open Weave Fabric: Ideal Working Properties
Hyperadobe Continued

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What’s the difference between a cool pantry and root cellar? Humidity. Root cellars are very practical for storing certain types of produce, and have been a key part of sustainable households for centuries. Root cellars are kept fairly moist in order to best preserve the crops that are stored there. However, the high humidity limits their use since many food items require a dryer environment to avoid spoilage. A cool pantry with low humidity is suitable for storing a wider range of food items.

Kelly Hart and I created a simple, easy to build design to help make cool pantries a standard feature in homes. This design can be added to most new homes or retrofitted to existing houses. The idea of having a large cool storage room next to the kitchen makes so much sense to us that we think all houses should be designed this way. This facility uses no energy to keep things cool and promotes a lifestyle of fewer miles driven, along with a feeling of abundance and security. Imagine millions of homes with this feature and how much energy could be saved.

You can read the full article by buying the February/March 2011 issue of The Owner Builder Magazine.

Note: We will build this cool pantry at our next workshop April1-6 in Thailand. See our Workshops page. And I’ll add the design to Earthbag House Plans soon, so people can incorporate it into their homes right from the start.

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Kelly Hart's Cool Pantry

Kelly Hart's Cool Pantry


Another earthbag workshop is being offered this year in Sakon Nakhon, Thailand. This six day, $500 workshop includes an excellent hotel, and transport to and from the work site. Last year’s project was this earthbag roundhouse. This year’s project is a Cool Pantry that is designed for keeping food cool without electricity (although we will use it for general storage). Every home should have one of these amazing structures for storing food because they’re so practical. Complete instructions will be published in the next issue of The Owner Builder Magazine.

I first learned about Cool Pantries (which have lower humidity that root cellars) from Kelly Hart, who built one next to his home in Colorado. It worked so well that we realized every home would benefit, and so we worked out a simple to build version that could be attached to virtually any house.

For more details, visit our Workshops page.

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