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.