Everything You Need to Know About a Root Cellar

Olivia Elsher

May 22, 2023

Everything You Need to Know About Root Cellars

We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Homeowners sometimes pride themselves on using their land to grow food that lasts months in the proper storage conditions. If you have a thriving garden or love preserving fresh food from local farmers markets, a root cellar could be a great addition to your home. Read this guide to learn more about them and decide if they’re your next big project.

What Is a Root Cellar?

When you picture a root cellar, imagine a cold, underground storage room with containers of preserved groceries. The soil pressing against the walls insulates the cold room to stay at the right temperature to keep food fresh. Sometimes root cellars are directly underneath houses, but people can also build them elsewhere on their property.

How Much Does a Root Cellar Cost?

Unless one came with your house, root cellar projects get customized specs to fit each homeowner’s needs. The average cost varies between $200–55,000 so it’s easy to make your plans work within any budget. The project will become more costly if you increase the cellar’s square footage, hire multiple contracting teams and pick high-end materials to finish the interior or exterior.

What Can You Store in It?

Root cellars are like refrigerators. You won’t have electricity guaranteeing a constant temperature, but the underground space remains cool enough to store many foods when preserved properly. You could save groceries like:

  • Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and beets
  • Fruits like apples or pears
  • Canned or jarred foods
  • Flower bulbs
  • Beer or wine
  • Leafy greens

It depends on what you eat most often and how you store each food. A head of cabbage would go bad if you chopped it and saved it in a plastic bag, but you could leave it on a root cellar shelf for up to six months due to the humidity and cold air.

Factors You Need for Great Food Storage

Every root cellar needs the right environmental factors to maintain your food’s quality. When your project ends, your root cellar should meet these standards to keep your preserved food safe to eat:

Whether you’re starting a garden and growing easy plants like radishes or bringing produce home from the grocery store, your food will stay fresh under these conditions. The cold, circulating air will prevent ethylene gas from releasing and making your produce rot. It also keeps microorganisms from growing, which would lead to mold.

Reasons People Want Root Cellars

You don’t have to be a homesteader or gardener to enjoy having a root cellar. You can also appreciate these benefits after adding one to your property.

1. It Saves Money

If you need more food storage, you might invest in another refrigerator or freezer. It would become another appliance that uses electricity around the clock, ultimately increasing your utility bill. A root cellar doesn’t need electricity, so you’ll save money monthly when your electric bill arrives.

2. It’s Sustainable Food Storage

Using less electricity is another way to reduce your home’s carbon footprint. Anyone who lives a sustainable lifestyle will enjoy the root cellar’s carbon-neutral approach to keeping food fresh.

3. It Maximizes Storage Space

A refrigerator can only fit so much food. The standard sizes limit how much you can store at any given time, but a root cellar is a large room. You could make your future cellar extra big to save enough food to last through the winter with minimal grocery runs.

Standard Root Cellar Maintenance

Although root cellars are self-sufficient, you still have to add a few maintenance steps to your to-do list. They’re quick and easy, but they’re things to consider as you weigh your options.

1. You Need to Keep the Room Moist

Most root cellars have dirt floors to retain their temperature and moisture. You could install traditional flooring if that suits your project better, but you’ll need to keep the room moist. Dry air spoils produce, but too much moisture creates the same result.

A humidity monitor and humidifier can be excellent solutions for this issue. Monitor the temperature daily and adjust as necessary to maintain the recommended 80–90% range.

2. You Have to Watch for Mold

Although moisture is a root cellar necessity, it also creates the best conditions for mold growth if the room gets too warm. Do a visual mold inspection whenever you visit your root cellar. You’ll catch microorganisms before they multiply and destroy your food storage.

3. You Must Monitor the Temperature

Storing food underground will keep it cool, but the weather can still affect your root cellar’s temperature. In warmer spring and summer months, check the room’s temperature daily. You may need to install HVAC ductwork if you live in hot-weather areas or only use the cellar in the fall and winter.

Tips for Building a Root Cellar

1. Consider Hiring a Contractor

Building a root cellar by yourself might feel tempting if you love a project, but it could damage your foundation’s structural integrity if you dig beneath your home. A contractor would estimate the best location for your cellar and know how to build one. They’d also have professional contacts for any other work you might need, like installing piping or electrical wiring.

2. Investigate Prefabricated Options

Some companies sell prefabricated root cellars that arrive ready to use. You’ll only need to know the dimensions and dig a hole large enough to contain the unit. It sits in the hole with an attached stairwell and doorway. Cover the unit with the same dirt you removed to finish the job in a day.

3. Pick the Right Location

A thriving root cellar always depends on the location. You wouldn’t install one next to a river in case it flooded above and underground. You also wouldn’t want to destroy your finished basement to get the dirt floor and walls of a traditional cellar.

Your contractor can help you determine the best spot for a root cellar on your property. They’ll analyze your property’s water table and point out options like converting a corner of your finished basement into a furbished root cellar room.

Consider Making a Root Cellar

Root cellars are incredible tools for homeowners and homesteaders. All you need to do is understand how they work and pick the best location on your property. Monitoring the temperature and humidity levels is the only thing you need to do to gain a sustainable food storage solution.

Did you enjoy this post? Join the Renovated community!

A house is more than just where you live. It's where you build a community. We'll give you all the latest trends you need to make your home your haven. Subscribe and never miss out!
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

About The Author