How To Build A Root Cellar: A Wise Inexpensive Bunker

By Will Brendza | Updated: 10/16/2023

How To Build A Root CellarToday I’ve got something really exciting to share…

A Complete Guide To Planning (& Building) And Underground Food Storage (a.k.a. root cellars)

Because building a root cellar doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated .

IF you know how to do it properly.

And if you follow my advice…it won’t cost you an arm and a leg:

TOPICS IN THIS GUIDE…    ↓(click to jump)
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Root Cellar Sign

Why Root Cellars Are Still Important

Building storing food underground is NOT a new trick.

It’s an ancient one.

In fact, it’s one of the oldest survival tricks in the book.

But is utilizing the earth for refrigeration still necessary?

Doesn’t our $3,000+ stainless refrigerators take care of ALL our food preservation needs?

Plus, we have an overabundance of reliable power to run those things forever; everyone knows that, right?


I CARE, and YOU should too.

Because it was a revolution when humans starting increasing the shelf life of their food by storing it underground

Suddenly, humans could preserve grains, nuts, fresh fruit, and root vegetables for longer periods.

Immediate food consumption was no longer necessary.

Instead, we could stockpile and preserve our harvests for lean winter months.

It’s a technology frontier families used to maintain a healthy diet and avoid starvation.

But wait, don’t refrigerators do that nowadays?

Yes, but with one big difference – refrigerators depend on electricity!

This makes refrigerators very convenient but NOT resilient.

So convenient, in fact, our society has nearly lost this old food storage technology.

This is a damn shame.

Because there are so many reasons why a backup supply of food is useful – and, dare I say, life-saving.

Be it from a:

Having a backup food preservation system may evolve from a hobby to a survival necessity.

And while having a backyard root cellar is not a guarantee of survival success…

NOT having one may lead to starvation.

This ancient survival technique may separate those who thrive from those who perish in a “SHTF” scenario.

So a cellar is an excellent off-grid food preservation system.

If you’re serious about being prepared for anything, you need to add a one to your lifestyle.

But building a cellar is not a quick project and one you shouldn’t rush.

You need to take your time for proper planning.

Because if you don’t, chances are good that you’ll make mistakes.

And food storage mistakes can jeopardize all of your food stockpiling efforts.

Here’s an excellent introduction video on building one from scratch:

↓ The Building Of Our Root Cellar

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How Underground Food Storage Works

Root cellars ALL have one thing in common.

They take advantage of stable underground temperatures!

Why underground?

It all has to do with the seasonal variation in temperatures.

As you dig down into the earth, the layers of soil between you and the surface act as an insulator.

For example:

  • In the hot summer, underground temps are much cooler than the surface.
  • In the winter, a few feet underground is much warmer than a howling blizzard outside.

And you don’t need to dig far to get the benefits…

In fact:

In most U.S. regions, at just 10 feet under the surface, you’ll constantly find cool 50-60 degrees, soil temps.


Approximate Soil Temps At 10 Feet Underground

An underground cellar takes advantage of these stable, cool temperatures.

But you’ll want to get below the frost line at a bare minimum.

Temperature control is an important component in prolonging the shelf life.

Because we all know that cool temperatures extend our perishable food’s shelf life.

For proof of this:

Leave your milk out on the counter all afternoon in the summer.

Near-instant spoilage.

While that same milk will last weeks in a cool refrigerator.

It’s nature’s refrigerator.

Without the need for chemical refrigerants or electricity.

And THAT’s the simple beauty of underground food storage.

It extends your food’s shelf life without modern technologies.

But there’s a bit more to it than that…

Using the earth’s lower temperatures is smart.

But there are unique challenges you’ll need to overcome to do so successfully:

↓ Everything To Know About Root Cellaring

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2 Main Types Of DIY Root Cellars

Depending on your time, energy, and funds, there are two main types to choose from:

  • Small
  • Large

Small systems primarily consist of buried containers, while larger setups typically include a separate building.

So let’s start with the quick, down, and dirty option first:

The Small Buried Container

This option is similar to burying a survival cache.

But instead of storing gear and equipment, with this option, you’re focusing on storing food.


Anything stored underground will stay at a consistently cool temp between 50-55 degrees F (regionally dependent).

So the best containers are the ones not susceptible to water damage or degradation.

Naturally, that eliminates wood crates or cardboard boxes.

Instead, using metal garbage cans, plastic drums, or plastic storage totes is best.

  • Just ensure the container is made of strong materials to prevent collapse.
  • And won’t degrade when in contact with moisture for extended periods.

This straightforward method of food storage is the easiest on a tight budget.

It’s also the closest method to the original root cellar!

When Indians and native Australians buried their food in clay pots.

But they would have used waterproof plastic containers if available.

NOTE: If you live in freezing climates, expect your buried food container to be inaccessible during the cold months.

When the ground freezes, it becomes difficult or nearly impossible to dig it up.

Also, extremely low temperatures present a liability for sealed containers.

Anything stored in a jar, can, or bottle will likely freeze and burst its container.

Here are a few really ingenious smaller ideas worth considering:

↓ Cool Ideas For Inexpensive Cellars

The limitations of these smaller containers become obvious once you want to expand.

Plus, it will be a royal pain to dig them back up regularly to check on your food.

So if you want a single large cellar instead of many smaller ones, you need a larger walk-in backyard root cellar.

One you can fill to the brim with food and wait for the worst.

Image Source

Root Cellar Drawing 1

The Backyard DIY Root Cellar

A walk-in-style, traditional root cellar is a step up from buried food caches.

But they do require a bit more time and money.

Here’s a good introduction video to this type of cellar:

↓ How To Set up A Root Cellar

Easy Cellar

Note: One of the most affordable backyard cellars I’ve come across is called Easy Cellar.

It’s one you can build for only $400!

The good news is:

Constructing a backyard cellar is a project that supports you during a large-scale disaster.

Because if having a couple of barrels full of buried food is good, having a large room full of survival food is MUCH better.

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Want a free family-first food planning guide?

Click here to instantly download this Complete Checklist PDF. No purchase necessary.

Underground Root Cellar Schematic 1

How To Build One (Root Cellar Plans)

With so many kinds of cellars, there are plenty of great instructional videos online.

We spent time reviewing them to find the best ones to get you started.

It’s worth checking out how to build several different kinds.

Then take the best ideas that fit YOUR particular situation.


There are no absolutes in the design of a root cellar.

Feel free to mix and match styles, sizes, and construction techniques.

With that said, let’s go for the gold right off the bat!

This “hobbit hole” cellar is a work of art.

This video shows off some of the craftsmanship that went into building it:

↓ Building A Cellar From Scratch

In particular, I like the vaulted ceiling and the detailed work in the door and door frame.

Not only will it store a HUGE amount of food.

But it also looks great, nestled into the landscape at the edge of your yard.

O.K., perhaps the hobbit hole in the ground is a little too decorative for you.

If so, check out this “earthbag” construction method instead:

↓ Earthbag Cellar Build

This setup can produce a similar result with a much more utilitarian design.

Besides the excavation, earthbags don’t require as much specialized knowledge to build.

It’s not a skilled trade like masonry or bricklaying.

This is all pure function with no fancy arches.

Of course, not everyone has space for such a large one.

In fact:

An array of smaller cellars can keep your produce separated.

This also helps reduce the risk that one event can take out your entire supply.

Imagine having a few of these simple garbage can cellars on your property.

They can also act as secret food caches and make sense around a bug-out location!

↓ Our Simple Inexpensive Root Cellar


If you have an unheated basement with plenty of space, you can always build an indoor basement cellar.

This is often the most convenient option out there….

Why? You don’t even have to go outside to get your produce!

↓ Build Our Root Cellar In The Basement

↓ Insulating The Cellar To Keep The Cold IN


You can tweak any design to fit your specific needs.

Such as:

  • How many people do you need to supply?
  • Which types of products you’re most likely to use?
  • How much total volume do you need for storage?
  • Your build costs.
  • DIY skills?

You get to find a realistic solution for YOU between all these variables.

This can help narrow down the best design.

To successfully build a root cellar, you must start with the end in mind.

You can’t just grab a shovel and start digging.

Well…actually, you can, but trust me, you’ll regret that approach.

Instead, you’ll meet your goals with the right plans!

Here are the issues you need to think long and hard about before breaking ground…

Consider Your Budget

Obviously, the size of your wallet will play a large role in determining the size and quality of your food storage cellar.

If you can go “all-out” then go for it.

Purchase the best materials, build it on your own land, and make it as big as possible.

What better way to spend your money than on important survival projects?

But, if you are like me and severely confined by your bank account, you’ll have to make compromises.

So I’ll do my best to suggest some cheaper alternatives.

Some “corners may be cut,” while others are not.

Keep this in mind as we move forward:

Digging The Hole – Excavation

Underground storage is, by definition, buried in the ground.

So the first step to building your big survival pantry is digging a hole for it.

This hole can be:

  • Underneath your house
  • In your backyard
  • Out in the woods
  • Or even in a secret spot in the middle of the desert.

But wherever it ultimately ends up, follow this advice: the deeper, the better.

Not only are deeply dug cellars easier to conceal, but they provide cooler food storage temperatures.

So decide how large an area you want and start digging!

Use a shovel if you must.

But ideally, an excavating machine will do the heavy lifting.

Again, your budget will determine what’s possible.

Laying The Foundation

IF you have the money pour a concrete floor!

Otherwise, use the flattest stones you can find in the surrounding area.

One rock at a time, and you’ll eventually have a rustic-looking floor.

Wooden boards can also be used to achieve the same effect.

The reasons you want a solid floor are twofold:

  1. First, having a solid floor helps prevent rodents from burrowing through the floor,
  2. Second, it makes a smooth surface to set up racking or shelving systems.

Also, make sure to keep your floor level at all times.

Building The Cellar Walls

Once again, if you can afford bricks or cinder blocks for walls, that’s ideal.

Otherwise, similar to the foundation, look for the materials for your wall in the surrounding area.

Stacking stones is a straightforward task (although it often requires some heavy lifting).

You can use mud or clay as a natural mortar to hold each stone in place.

Strong stone walls prevent unwanted pests from entering your food storage facility.

And it also helps keep the place as cool as possible.

You’ll also want a add a plastic sheet between the soil and the walls for moisture control (more on this later).

Adding A Ventilation Pipe

All cellars require ventilation, no exceptions.

You must turn over the air within the room to prevent ethylene gas buildup.

The good news:

This is relatively straightforward.

Add a vertical PVC pipe within the structure that sticks above the roof.

Then add a second pipe near the floor to draw fresh outside air into the storage space.

Capping The Ceiling / Laying The Roof

The best way to cap your cellar is to pour a concrete slab over the top.

You’ll need to support the roof fully from underneath before you pour.

However, pouring concrete will set you back some dollars.

An alternative option is to lay treated 2x4s across the top of your cellar.

And then bury them under the dirt you dug out of the hole in Step 1.

Of course, using materials that won’t degrade is preferable.

But it will undoubtedly cost more.

If you go with the 2x4s, make sure you use treated lumber, as it will hold up to rot longer.

Just know it’s definitely a shortcut.

But it’s simple, cheap, and effective at camouflaging your structure.

Sealing Up Your Cellar

Make sure you fill and seal all door jams and ceiling gaps.

Gaps allow bugs, insects, and vermin into your food storage space.

Not good.

Installing Doors and Locks

The reasons for these are obvious.

You need to be able to close and lock the place up when you’re not around.

So invest in a quality Rustoleum hanging lock to keep your food stockpile yours.

So now it’s time to begin the actual building of your own DIY root cellar.

But having a set of proven blueprints will make your life much easier.

That’s why we recommend you check out The Easy Cellar plan.

It’s the easiest backyard root cellar build we’ve come across.

Sure it’s a bit of an investment.

But you’ll save a bundle with the right set of DIY cellar plans.

Why? By preventing you from making costly mistakes!

EZ Cellar Plans Video:


What You Should Store In Your Cellar

What you store in your cellar depends on your goals.

If your goal is to stash long-term survival foods, build a large cellar.

One that can handle what you have today and what you want to add over the years.

But what about fresh produce and vegetables from the garden?

You should also make certain to design enough room for these seasonal items as well.

Non-perishables Are Your Friend

The further away from the expiration date, the better.

The more foods that are non-perishable that you can afford to store in your cellar, the better off you will be for future emergencies (big or small).

Add Some Fresh Stuff Too

You can store fresh produce if you’re willing to maintain them regularly.

You’ll need to humidity and temperature level.

And you’ll need to consume the produce each year (before the next crop gets stored).

There’s a particular technique for storing these kinds of foods…

Why? because of the chemical byproducts they release.

Here’s a helpful chart that provides ideal storage temperature and humidity levels for various varieties of produce.

Root Cellar Vegetable Temps and Humidity Levels

Survival Food vs. Fresh Garden Produce?

I think it’s safe to assume if you’re interested in underground storage, then you’re interested in self-reliance.

Preserving your food harvests all winter long without electricity is about as self-reliant as it gets.

But there’s a conflict of interest between long-term survival food kits and stored fruits and vegetables.

Any guess on what the conflict is?


Otherwise known as moisture in the air.

The last thing you want with long-term dry survival foods is humidity in the air.

You should do everything possible to avoid moisture in your freeze-dried survival food.

Even going so far as to add a high-quality dehumidifier to your food storage area.

But with harvested fruits and vegetables you’re trying to keep fresh through a single winter season, you want the opposite.

You want a relatively high humidity (as much as 90%).

This high humidity keeps your produce from drying out.

Helping to keep your stashed harvest both fresh and nutritious.

As discussed in the previous section, all foods last longer in cooler temperatures.

So the cool air is ideal for both survival food and garden produce.

So what’s a self-reliant person to do?

The way I see it, you have three options.

1. Don’t Store Your Freeze Dried Foods In It

Whether you bought it or used a freeze-drying machine, freeze-dried food is not cheap.

You may not want to store it in your underground cellar.

Instead, only store your annually harvested produce there.

That way, you can crank up your humidity levels without fear of affecting your freeze-dried survival foods.

But you’ll have to find a separate location for your long-term survival foods (like your basement).

2. Create Separate Areas Within

Create separate containers or areas within your root cellars:

  • One specifically designed for high humidity
  • And one for low-humidity

This eliminates having two separate storage locations.

But complicates the construction and storing process, especially for a single large underground buildings.

Option 3. Use Mylar Bags For Your Survival Food

Put your survival food in sealed Mylar bags with desiccants, and then put these bags into food-grade sealed buckets.

This double-seal setup should keep the room’s high-humidity environment from ever touching your long-term survival foods.

I think Option 3 is the best, but ultimately it’s up to you.

How To Control The Humidity

First of all, relatively high humidity is essential in cellar storage.

A refrigerator produce bin holds the humidity somewhere between 90 and 95 percent.

This high humidity is ideal for leafy greens and root crops.

This prevents these foods from drying out and wilting.

Now underground soil temps in your area; are what they are.

So there’s no way to control THOSE.

But you can control the humidity levels using ventilation and adding moisture as needed.

If you have good ventilation and airflow, you can keep the humidity of a room relatively stable.

Ventilation controls the flow of air and, thereby, the room’s humidity.

Now regardless of whether you want high humidity (for produce) or low humidity (for long-term dried foods and meats), your storage system must have ventilation.

Without ventilation, a room with fresh produce will fill up with a gas called Ethylene.

Ethylene is released naturally from stored produce; without ventilation, it will build up and accelerate spoilage.

So the best way to control humidity is by installing ventilation.

That way you can control moisture as needed.

One way to add moisture is to plan the floor with gravel instead of a full concrete pad.

This allows you to take a hose or buckets of water and dump them on the floor.

Another way is by spreading damp burlap sacks over the produce.

Either way, the additional water will slowly evaporate up into the air.

This evaporation process adds humidity.

However, I highly recommend using a hygrometer to ensure that it doesn’t become TOO humid.

Why? If the humidity approaches 100% and the temps fall, moisture will condense.

Wet produce is far more susceptible to spoiling.

So there you go.


You install a simple PVC vent pipe to create ventilation.

And then bring in water to add humidity.

The PVC vent system consists of two PVC pipes.

One is installed close to the floor and goes through the wall to the outside.

While the other one is installed near the top of the cellar and exits through the roof.

The natural chimney effect will pull air out of the room from the roof pipe.

And the floor pipe will bring fresh air in.

Simple ventilation without electricity.

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Organizing The Interior

An efficient and usable space requires a fair amount of forethought.

You can’t just toss your food supplies in a haphazard heap and expect good outcomes.

Believe it or not, there is actually a science to packing your food.

First is deciding how to keep everything organized.

Are you going to use boxes, plastic tubs, or shelves?

Let’s discuss each option further.

Food Shelving Racks

These are easy to build and fully maximize your available space.

You can get premade shelving kits online.

Just buy and assemble.

Or you can buy the raw materials and build them yourself.

The biggest benefit of building them yourself is customizing them to fit your space.

Food Boxes and Tubs

Storing your food on the shelf is a good first step.

But organizing them gets easier when you use boxes or tubs.

I like to use clear plastic bins to see the food and produce in them without emptying them.

Under no circumstances use cardboard.

This due to humidity breaking down the paper.

Note: make sure you don’t seal up your fresh produce bins.

You can put veggies in boxes, bins, or tubs; just don’t put a lid on it.

Otherwise, the ethylene gas will get trapped.

Here’s a tour of a very well organized cellar worth checking out:

Cellar Tour

Food Organization

This step is often overlooked but is paramount to extending the life of your underground cellar.

Keep everything elevated (on shelves or supports or pallets) to prevent any unwanted water damage.

But beyond this, it’s really important to store vegetables and fruits in specific places.

Fresh fruits and vegetables produce a ripening agent called ethylene.

This chemical byproduct speeds up the decomposition of other produce.

Basically, it makes everything fresh start to rot faster.

And it’s a major problem that can result in a lot of food waste.

The easiest way to mitigate this issue (besides avoiding storing fresh produce to start with) is to:

  1. Keep the foods that produce ethylene at the very top of the cellar. The higher, the better. This will help prevent the chemical agent from infecting your other foods.
  2. Make sure to install a good ventilation system (as we discussed earlier).

Also, some produce stores better when it is cured at 80-90-degree F temperatures for 10 days before being placed in storage.

A few examples of these foods are garlic, winter squash, onions, and potatoes.

If you plan to store these, consider curing them before adding them to your under ground root cellar.

Food items that require colder temperatures should be stored at the bottom of your cellar.

Amazingly, there will be a significant temperature difference between the top and bottom of your cellar.

Often a big enough difference to keep food cold when it is stored flat on the ground.

Any canned items or jars with metal lids are in danger of rusting.

Even if you monitor the temp/humidity very carefully, rusted cans are bad news.

Rust can compromise the seal on lids and thereby compromise the food inside.

To prevent this, store all-metal containers in sealed Mylar bags (vacuum seals are ideal).

Food Planning Guide eBook Cover - with dried foods and grains spilling out onto a wooden table

Want a free family-first food planning guide?

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5 Dangerous Cellar Enemies

Every survival project has its own unique obstacles.

And when it comes to storing food underground, there are 5 such challenges.

You must prepare to deal with these obstacles before putting your food storage to the ultimate test.

1. Bacteria

Some bacteria are good for you, like the stuff in probiotic yogurts.

But when storing your food underground, bacteria are always the bad sort.

If you allow any bacteria to fester in your stockpile, it will introduce food rot.

However, you can mitigate bacteria by storing your food in clean containers and removing any food showing the first signs of decay.

2. Fungi

Many mushrooms are delicious, while others are used for a “good” time.

Still, others are poisonous (and potentially deadly).

But all varieties are bad if they spontaneously sprout on survival food.

You need to keep a careful watch on your food for any fungal growth.

3. Insects

Food with insect infestation can be a horrible and even traumatic experience.

Not only is it totally gross, but it may require you to throw everything out.

Once ants, beetles, maggots, flies, moths, or any other creepy crawly get in, they quickly infest everything they can.

So keep these insects away at all costs.

We’ll get into insect repellant and eradication methods later…

4. Vermin

Rats, mice, raccoons, squirrels, or any animal with a nose and appetite for garbage; loves free food.

So use traps and hard-sided containers with tight seals for your food storage site.

Otherwise, a significant portion of it may get snatched by uninvited pests.

5. Other People

Perhaps the most frustrating challenge of all is other humans.

People love food, and they love buried treasure.

It is a combination that puts your underground stash of food in severe danger.

How awful would it be to visit your root cellar to find it’s been completely raided?

Talk about brutal.

So it’s important to keep the location of any survival cache (be it full of food, equipment, or relevant documents) a secret.

So, lets discuss a few camouflaging techniques to prevent this from happening.

How To Keep Your Root Cellar Hidden

This is an essential step!

Just dropping off a bunch of food in the middle of the woods is NOT ENOUGH to protect it from motivated intruders.

Camouflaging helps keep your food hidden from people and animals alike.

Depending on which method of food storage you choose, different levels of work will be involved in hiding your food.

If you just buried a big plastic drum, it might be as easy as laying dirt, grass, twigs, pinecones, over the top.

But if you have one that needs disguising, you may need to get more creative.

For bigger structures, you should plant trees, shrubs that grow in the area around your structure.

On top of this, make sure you bury it well.

Bigger storage facilities are harder to camouflage.

But as I said at the beginning of this section: this step is essential!

So do not skimp out.

If your food supply is out of sight of thieves, it is certainly out of mind too.

Food Planning Guide eBook Cover - with dried foods and grains spilling out onto a wooden table

Want a free family-first food planning guide?

Click here to instantly download this Complete Checklist PDF. No purchase necessary.

Maintaining Your Cellar Food Supply

Fresh foods that expire quickly need regular use and rotation.

Keep an eagle eye on your expiration dates.

So make sure you trade out expiring food for new food.

Why? Because contracting a severe case of food poisoning in an emergency can get you killed.

Food poisoning makes it difficult to ingest the nutrients you need.

And can lead to severe dehydration and starvation.

S to prevent spoilage, build a spreadsheet and label EVERYTHING.

Then keep the info handy inside your cellar.

And you may want to invest in a good labeler.

Regular maintenance also includes:

  • Checking seals on doors and walls to ensure they’re not broken or cracking
  • Monitoring temperature and humidity
  • Restock food that’s been used or thrown out
  • Checking the locks for rust and degradation
  • Cleaning out triggered mouse/rat traps and flypaper

However, this regular maintenance can compromise your camouflage efforts.

Make sure after multiple trips to your food storage site, you’re NOT carving out a trail.

So always take unique routes to your food storage location.

And consciously work to cover up your own tracks around the site.

Final Thoughts

Burying food is a survival method humans have been employing for thousands of years.

This way of preserving food has saved countless lives from starvation.

And it’s still applicable today.

Building your own survival food cache is useful in times of calm.

AND essential in times of chaos.

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