Archive for the ‘Home Building’ Category

Facilities for Storage (from a USDA bulletin)

A variety of facilities can be built or adapted for home storage. The type of storage built depends upon the climate and the choice of the individual. Elaborate facilities for home storage are not practical unless outside temperatures during the winter average 30° F. or lower to permit proper cooling. The size of the storage space will vary according to family needs.

The principles for successful storage apply to all facilities. For example, the cooling of the storage space and maintenance of a desirable temperature depend upon the outside temperature, the manipulation of the ventilators, and the extent of insulation against undesirably high or low temperatures. Proper drainage and the exclusion of light and rodents are also important.

Storage in a Home Basement

A well-ventilated basement under a modern house with central heating can readily be adapted to home storage needs. The furnace room is an excellent place to cure sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and squashes. After curing, however, these commodities should be moved to a cooler part of the basement. Temperatures in ordinary basements vary in different parts of the country. In basements, temperatures ranging from 60° to 70° F. in winter, when the furnace is in operation, and 70° to 80° in summer are perhaps average. While too warm for most commodities, the regular basement is satisfactory the year around for holding potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions for short periods, and for ripening tomatoes.

If the basement is to be used for winter storage, a corner should be partitioned off and insulated so that the storage space can be kept sufficiently cold. The storage room should be located preferably on the north or east side, and should not have heating ducts or pipes running through it. At least one window is necessary for cooling and ventilating. Two or more windows are desirable, especially if the room is divided for separate storage of fruits and vegetables. The windows should be darkened to protect the produce from light. They should also be boxed or shaded in such a way as to prevent the entrance of light even when they are open.

Bins may be used for storing certain commodities, but crates and boxes are preferred, as it is possible to remove them for cleaning. Equipping the storage room with shelves and a shitted floor keeps the containers off the floor and provides free air circulation. It also permits the use of water or wet materials, such as dampened sawdust, on the floor to raise the humidity.

Storage Cellar Under Home Without Central Heat

The old-fashioned cellar beneath a house without a central heating system has long been used successfully for winter storage of fruits and vegetables in the colder parts of the United States. The cellar usually has an outside entrance and a dirt floor. The outside doors serve as a means of ventilation and to regulate temperature. Some cellars have no windows, but if present they aid in ventilating and in temperature control. Windows are especially needed if the cellar has a partition to separate the fruit and vegetable compartments.

The precautions regarding light, drainage, and insulation described under “Storage in a Home Basement” also apply to the cellar under a house without central heat.

Outdoor Storage Facilities

Outdoor storage facilities can be constructed above ground or partly or entirely below ground. Cellars constructed below ground are superior because they can maintain a desirable temperature longer and more uniformly than any other type of home storage.

Outdoor storage facilities may be attached to the house or located in the yard or under an outbuilding. They should be convenient to the kitchen, and have proper drainage and insulation.

Underground Cellars

The structure of an underground cellar must be strong to support the weight of earth over the roof. Stone and masonry block in combination with concrete can be used, but a structure made entirely of reinforced concrete is best. A variety of plans can be developed. In the plan illustrated in figure 1, the cellar is attached to the house basement. This structure can also serve as a storm cellar or protective shelter against radioactive fallout in case of an emergency.

The whole structure, with the exception of the door, is covered with earth to prevent freezing. The thickness of the covering varies according to geographical location. In northern sections of the country, 2 to 3 feet may be necessary. Straw or fodder may be used for additional insulation if necessary. Wire screen over the outside ends of air intakes and ventilators will keep out birds and small animals.

Partly Underground Cellars

One type of cellar that can be used in certain northern sections of the country has walls of masonry that are partly below and partly above ground. Earth from the excavation is banked around the walls that are above the normal ground level and one end is left exposed for the door (fig. 2). As in other storage houses, an air inlet and a ventilator should be provided for each compartment, if there are more than one. Proper provision for ventilation is illustrated in figure 1. The double door is insulated.

Figure 1.—Longitudinal section and floor plan of concrete storage cellar that can also serve as a storm and fallout shelter.

Figure 2.—A partly underground storage cellar with stone walls and insulated frame roof.

Storage Above Ground

Aboveground storages can be built of masonry or lumber, but must be well insulated. Even masonry walls, regardless of thickness, have little insulating value. The following discussion is applicable where the climate is consistently cold, but where the average temperature- does not drop below freezing. Even in these climates the minimum temperature may drop to zero or below, and supplemental heat may be needed on very cold nights. Thermostatically controlled heat can be used if electricity is available. Only a small amount of heat is necessary to prevent subfreezing temperatures, and the storage temperature should be watched closely when low temperatures are predicted.

Hollow masonry construction such as cinder block provides the simplest means of installing insulation. Vermiculite, or some other dry granular material, can be put in the vertical channels formed by the alignment of the blocks as each course of block is laid. If cinder block is used, the inside and outside surfaces should be scrubbed with a cement grout to make them less porous. After the walls have been scrubbed with cement grout, the inside of the walls should be painted with aluminum paint to serve as a moisture barrier. Tar paper should be placed between the ceiling and joists as a moisture barrier, and at least 12 inches of dry sawdust or other granular material should be spread in the attic above the ceiling.

A frame building can be built of 2- by 4-inch studding and rafters. “Walls can be made tight by sheathing both the inside and outside of the frame with matched lumber. The space between the inside and outside sheathing should be insulated with loose fill or mineral wool blanket. Laminated kraft paper with asphalt between the layers, aluminum foil, or polyethylene should be placed between the insulation and inside sheathing as a moisture barrier. Building paper over the sheathing in the roof and outside walls is of great assistance in making the structure tight. The interior can then be painted with aluminum paint or whitewashed.

Ventilation for any aboveground storage building can be provided by the same type of roof flue and floor inlet that is recommended for concrete cellars (fig. 1).


The concrete house is an interesting, and in my mind, likable design for any survival homestead. The safety and security features provided by its non-flammable and destruction resistance construction far outweighs the aesthetics of a conventional wood frame structure. In most cases these buildings can be much easier to build, and less costly provided you can live without the advantages a standard stick built provides for. Interior layouts are not dependent upon structural beams for support of the inside walls, and can therefore be laid out in ways that better suits the preparedness mindset. However, as they are not conventional, they do take some getting used to. I have picked out a few free Google e-books on the subject that you may wish to read over, and perhaps you will come to see these structures in the same light as I do. Simply click the title links to go to the book mentioned.

The first is The concrete house: an explanatory treatise
by G. W. Hilton, an English architect from 1919. This man built a concrete home to his liking during the wartime years.

The second is Concrete houses, how they were built…
by a Harvey Whipple. This one is a collection of essays relating to concrete home construction.

The third is Concrete houses & cottages… by the Atlas Portland Cement Company. This one is a plan book published by a concrete supplier and gives photographic images as well as line drawing of many different designs and layouts of different concrete homes, both solid and block construction. It starts out with a few grand and lofty mansion designs, but there are a good many more homes as well that will more than suffice for the average homeowners needs.

the next book is Concrete for house, farm, & estate…

By Fred Ballard. It is a short book describing many of the features of various buildings and other concrete structures of value on a farm or rural property where agricultural pursuits may be followed.

And finally, we have Small farm buildings of concrete
by the Universal Portland Cement Company. This one is a veritable textbook on concrete construction for the farm, and well worth your time to read it if you are interested in concrete construction.

So, why do I like concrete so much? Because the benefits outweigh all other factors. For one, concrete is fireproof, so your insurance costs can be substantially lower. It is a much more secure building against wind and storm damage. Repair and upkeep to the structure is minimal. It retains heat in the winter and repels heat in the summer, thus lowering your heating and cooling bills. There are more benefits, but you get the idea.

Perhaps the greatest argument against concrete homes regards the appearance they have. In an unfinished, or simply a sealed and painted surface, the home looks more like a commercial structure. This can be overcome by adding vinyl or aluminum siding to give it an appearance of having regular clapboards applied to it. Another solution is to layer stucco over a secure mesh lathing to the walls. Or you can even apply a fieldstone to the outside walls to give it a look of having been built by actual fieldstone.

No matter how you finish the project, a concrete home can be just the solution for most prepper and survivalist needs in housing and keeping your family safe. And you can incorporate a fallout or survival shelter into the building with ease.

If you haven’t purchased or built a home yet, I would suggest you at least investigate the possibilities provided by concrete construction. You may be pleasantly surprised by your thorough analysis of this type of construction. I will be having more discussion on concrete homes in an upcoming episode of Survival Homesteading, which you may find at my Blogtalk page here.

Back in November(2010) I had done a post on what I call the SaWaFo pyramid to shed a little light on that particular anchor point on your preparedness planning. What is the SaWaFo pyramid? Basically it puts your three basic needs into a pattern of building blocks with your survival, or preparedness plan at the center. We need all three of these things to survive. Safety, Water and Food. We can survive for a short while with just one of these three, and maybe a little longer with two of these three. But to be able to survive indefinitely, we need all three of these elements to be in place. Always.

As you begin your search in earnest for a piece of property to create your survival homestead, you will need to make these three elements part of your search parameters. But just how do we utilize our resources as we search, while keeping these three things at the forefront of your mind? Let us look at them one at a time and see how this may be done.

  1. Safety

Safety encompasses a lot more than what many people think it does in this situation. Safety includes more than simply being safe. Safety and security actually affects everything you do. When you obtain water, you want to make sure it is safe to drink. You want to make sure that your long-term food storage is kept under conditions that will maximize its lifespan. When you buy a piece of property, you want to make sure that there are no hidden dangers that may sneak up behind you and bite you in the butt.

Some of the things you will want to check for are the usual resources related to safety and security for most homeowners. Does the community have a local police department? If not, do they rely upon a county sheriff’s department for law enforcement? What is the relationship to the state police force, and do they patrol the area? What is the history of crime in the area you are looking to move to?

Wild animals, such as bear, and in a few locations, wolves, can present some safety problems to you and your family. You will need to inquire as to the presence and if there have been any problems from these animals, or others. Raccoons and other small animals can carry rabies, and thus present another source of problems. Generally, if you are in a true rural area, and you stay on top of the trash and waste accumulation you will create you should not have any problems. However, if you are in a built up area you may find that there is a problem with animal and human interactions.

One of the drawbacks of human expansion into the woodlands is that we reduce the habitat of the animals that live in those woods. As that happens, some of these animals learn to adapt to our encroachment, and begin to raid out trash cans, eat from our gardens, and sometimes see our pets and children as potential food sources. A high incidence of problems in an area with any species indicates that there are in fact at least some animals that will invariably threaten your safety and security. If these incidents seem to have an unusually high occurrence rate, you may want to look elsewhere for a piece of property.

Other safety and security factors may be, but are not limited to, the presence of industrial chemical plants in the area that may create a hazmat situation. This could be through groundwater contamination, or possibly an accident that may release hazardous chemical clouds into the atmosphere. You should also investigate whether there are any large scale commercial farming operation that could also cause problems for your water source.

The list is long, and some people may claim too exhaustive and maybe even a bit much, but always remember that anything can happen at any time, and in any place, often with no warning. Proper analysis of your potential homestead property can prevent a lot of surprises from popping up and destroying your dream come true, turning it into a nightmare.

  1. Water

Water to drink is an absolute necessity. However, that water needs to be safe to drink. Following the recommendations above can help you to locate a homestead with safe water, but how do you find a homestead location that can provide you with water in the first place? One way to check on the potential of available water is to simply examine a topographic map of the area. Take a look at this clip from a topographic map to the left. It shows plenty of water available, but it is at or very near the surface. That could cause you some problems with the quality of your water supply.

A better indication of water is this clip found to the right. It shows a stream, with some relatively high ground on either side of the stream. You should have a safe shot at a clean well, even if you have to drive a shallow point well for financial reasons. You may not always be able to find property with such a clear indication of water availability, and in that case you will actually have to visit the area to see what is present for foliage.

An abundance of willow trees, ferns, moss, cattails and other marsh type grasses indicate a good source of water on your property. Another excellent source of clean water is the presence of a spring, especially one high above your home site.

The safest way to extract water from the ground is from a deep aquifer through a drilled well. That can get pretty expensive, especially if you have to go hundreds of feet deep. A shallower driven well can be installed for much less cash outlay, but generally can only be driven down to a depth of 20 to 30 feet as a maximum. There are exceptions, but 30 feet of pipe makes for a pretty tough time with a sledge hammer. You can also hand dig a well, although this is not the best alternative. However, there are cases where this is the only viable alternative.

  1. Food

Food is obviously a cut and dried necessity, or is it? We need food, and part of the concept behind homesteading or farmsteading is to be able to grow your own crops. One of the things you will want to watch for is the presence of large-scale commercial growing operations. Many of these businesses utilize genetically modified seed, and the potential for cross-pollination with your own garden is very real. The quality of the soil is paramount in your search for a homestead location. Scrubble land, or land where plants grow sparsely, has a PH that is too high or too low, too high a gravel or sand concentration is generally not worth the work it takes to get it into prime growing condition. It takes time and money, sometimes lots of it, to modify some land. Also, be aware of the drainage quality of the land you want to grow crops on.

You may need to install a drainage tile system, which can add thousands of dollars to your costs, or you may find that there is simply too much drainage causing a shortage of ground level moisture for your crops to feed on. In that case, you will need to modify the content of your soil by adding more clay or loam, again creating additional costs to your final expenses.

Do you need to clear large swaths of woodland to create adequate space for fields in which to grow your crops? If so, is there some sort of easement or restrictive covenant that would prohibit you from doing so attached to the bill of sale and title of the property? Again, you could wind up in an expensive position in which you could end up spending thousands of dollars, and still end up with a nightmare, instead of your dream come true.

Always remember the SaWaFo pyramid. Safety, water and food. You need all three of these things, no matter what your final plans for the coming times will be. Careful planning and thorough analysis of your situation can alleviate many of the potential problems you would be facing if you had not planned carefully in advance. Decide now what your goals are going to be for the future. Then make a plan of how you intend to achieve those goals. Once you’ve done your analysis and planning, you can deploy your plan with confidence of success.

Beaver Mat Shelters by DAN BEARD

The Outing magazine, 1904

Ever since our aboreal ancestors with prehensile toes scampered among the branches of the pre-glacial forests men have built brush shelters for camps or temporary refuge, and I make no claim to inventing this time-honored style of forest home. The truth is that no contrivance of any description is ever invented at once in its entirety, but everything is evolved from something else, everything grows. Not only is this true of plants, animals and men, but it also holds good with men’s clothes, tools and houses, all are products of evolution.

Our birds never invented their wonderful nests, they have but modified and improved the cruder nests of their more undeveloped ancestors.

So the brush huts here given are evolved from the shacks and camps familiar to everyone who visits our north woods, but the application of the beaver-mat and the mat itself is new.

These camps are shingled with birch bark, spruce bark or covered with brush. Even a novice can cut birch bark, but might fail to get the same results from the spruce tree. Let the beginner hunt through the wood for a comparatively smooth spruce tree, and when a suitable one is found, cut a ring around the bottom and another about five feet above the first; then cut a perpendicular slit connecting the two rings; it is now a simple matter to peel off the section of bark by the careful use of the hatchet and the help of a comrade to hold on to the edge of the bark.

In this way enough pieces can soon be secured to roof the shack, but it is to be supposed that you know all this and also how to lay the bark, beginning at the bottom and working up, so that each layer overlaps the lower one and breaks joints with the ones below it; also, it is to be supposed that you know how to weight down the bark with poles laid from the ground at intervals so that their top ends protrude over the open front of the camp. Loose brush is used in the old-time camp to set up against and inclose the two ends of the shack, leaving the broad front open. This is the well-known Adirondack camp of former days, now generally superseded by structures of similar form built of logs, but unless logs are used a much neater, more durable and a better protection from the rain and weather can be obtained by building

A camp of beaver mats similar in form to the one shown by Figrs. 1, 2 and 3. The roof, by the way, should be much steeper than Fig. 1 and more like that shown in the profile view of Fig. 3. After you have erected the framework or skeleton of the camp, shown in the above diagrams, make four triangles to correspond with ABC (Fig. 3); do this by fastening the ends of three poles together, Fig. 5.

Next nail some branches from side to side of the triangle, as shown by Fig. 6, then, with the triangle flat on the ground, cover the frame with selected brush, being careful that it is placed in an orderly manner, with the tips pointing down and, overhanging the stick, AC, as is shown at D, Fig. 7. Over this lay another layer of brush in the same manner (E, Fig. 7), and, over the second layer put a third (F, Fig. 7), as one would shingle a house. Continue in this manner until you have a triangular mat a foot or more thick.

Next make a duplicate frame (Fig. 6), but with the cross sticks placed up and down in place of horizontal, as in Fig. 6. Fit the second triangle over the first, Fig. 8, and lash the corners together, using sufficient pressure to make the mattings between the two frames hard and compact. One side of your camp is now ready to set in place, but another beaver mat must be made for the opposite side, and then both can be set up against the ends of the camp, where they were intended to fit. The roof may be made of a beaver mat of rectangular form constructed with diagonal braces, like those shown by G H F E L M K J, or D C B A of Fig. 10.

After the mats are in place the whole thing should be thatched by inserting the end of a layer of small flat brush near the bottom of the mat, then one above overlapping the first and so on until the top is reached. A carefully built beaver mat lean-to, with thatch of palm leaves, if in the South, or pine, spruce, hemlock, or sweet-smelling balsam thatch, if in the North, can shield you from a hard shower of rain, and in cold weather offer a wind shield which will be appreciated by the tired hunter.

It does not take long to make beaver mats, but it does require care to make good ones; however, one who loves woodcraft will love to work with the twigs of evergreen, and one who loves his task may be trusted to do good work. If the reader is indolent he had better keep out of the woods altogether, or travel with a valet and a bunch of guides, being careful to sleep only in the well-built houses paradoxically called camps. But this sort of man will probably not read this sort of an article, and I can assume that the reader loves the woods for their own sake, loves the hardships and exertion of travel and making camp, loves the glow of the campfire and the nights under a birch-bark roof, or even with no shelter but the trees overhead, where he can watch through the interlacing branches the twinkling of the distant campfires of heaven.

But even the true-hearted woodsman and seasoned camper may wish to make a more artistic abode than that offered by a brush lean-to. He may expect to receive ladies at camp, his mother and sisters, for instance,
possibly accompanied by some other fellow’s sister, in which case he can exercise his artistic ability by constructing a beaver mat cottage for the ladies, which will be certain to find favor and win the feminine approval of the woods for a vacation. Fig. 4 shows a very plain and simple beaver mat hut, but one which can be embellished with quaint little hooded windows, a comfortable veranda, and as many other improvements as the time and inclination of the builder will allow.

The Wicks Frame shown by Fig. 9 is suitable for a detached open dining-room, a general camp assembly-room, or it may be made of smaller dimensions and used as a camp cottage.

The rafters (F) may be cut off just below the eaves (G), and the frame covered with beaver mats, or the sides may be used for the front and rear ends of a hut, in which case the two uprights on one side may be made tall, for the front, and the two rear ones cut short for the rear, which will give the colonial type of roof (Fig. 4), such as the old Dutchmen of New York used on their quaint dwellings, and such as may still be found on ancient houses both in New England and on Long Island.

To make the beaver mats very large is not a very practicable idea. Rather make them smaller and build your house as a child does a house of blocks. Fig. 10 shows a wall of four mats with a window opening. Fig. 11 shows a bow stick, pointed at both ends, to be used for a window hood. Fig. 12 shows the frame work of the hood, and Fig. 13 the hooded window when finished.

The window hood sticks are held in place simply by forcing their ends into the compact mass of the beaver mats, the hood is then thatched by forcing the ends of branches in above the window, so that the twigs rest on the hoops as the plain sticks do in Fig. 12. Over these first row of branches a shorter lot is laid with their ends thrust into the beaver mats like the first, and over these a still shorter lot until the hood is covered with a thick, green thatch.

We’re all aware of the latest natural disaster to wreak havoc upon this nation, via this past week’s slew of tornados throughout some of the southern states. A still unfolding tragedy, this period of nature’s fury caused over three hundred deaths, according to news reports. There seems to be no end of sites offering terrifying video clips of one tornado after another ripping through one community after another. Peoples lives, and their livelihoods wiped out in a matter of seconds, and all we can do is sit and stare at a screen, oohing and aahing over the destruction that no Hollywood film could recreate.

Tornados are a way of life, or rather a part of life, for many people in this country. Moreover, tornados occur in other nations as well, so it is not as if Alabama has been singled out for this particular form of judgment. We even have them up here in Maine, so they can, and do occur at any time, and in any place, and with little to no warning. Remember that in your preparedness planning.

My general advice is “why do you live in a place where you know you have a large probability of being slammed?” The answer is of course that there is usually little to no option. So you do the best you can to ride out the storm, and hope that the damage is never greater than you can bear. Unfortunately, all too often that happens to be the outcome.

What are some of the things you should be doing as a prepper to prepare for a tornado? If you live in a conventional home, you should, as a first step, consider building a safe room in your home. FEMA says this about safe rooms;

Preparing a Safe Room
Extreme windstorms in many parts of the country pose a serious threat to buildings and their occupants. Your residence may be built “to code,” but that does not mean it can withstand winds from extreme events such as tornadoes and major hurricanes. The purpose of a safe room or a wind shelter is to provide a space where you and your family can seek refuge that provides a high level of protection. You can build a safe room in one of several places in your home.

  • Your basement.
  • Atop a concrete slab-on-grade foundation or garage floor.
  • An interior room on the first floor.

Safe rooms built below ground level provide the greatest protection, but a safe room built in a first-floor interior room also can provide the necessary protection. Below-ground safe rooms must be designed to avoid accumulating water during the heavy rains that often accompany severe windstorms.

  • To protect its occupants, a safe room must be built to withstand high winds and flying debris, even if the rest of the residence is severely damaged or destroyed. Consider the following when building a safe room:
  • The safe room must be adequately anchored to resist overturning and uplift.
  • The walls, ceiling, and door of the shelter must withstand wind pressure and resist penetration by windborne objects and falling debris.
  • The connections between all parts of the safe room must be strong enough to resist the wind.
  • Sections of either interior or exterior residence walls that are used as walls of the safe room, must be separated from the structure of the residence so that damage to the residence will not cause damage to the safe room.

Farming communities of old utilized root cellars when a severe storm approached, and if possible you should look into that potential source of protection as well. However, many current zoning laws in the larger population centers prohibit this sort of a shelter for many reasons.

If you are in a position to build a new home, concrete dome homes are said to be more than worthy of withstanding virtually any tornado or wind storm, even hurricanes. Building your home below ground can also eliminate much of the destruction caused by tornados. Any type of construction that eliminates the possibility of wind catching, or buffeting a structure will lessen its impact.

It is funny that many people refer to mobile home parks as disaster magnets, and the news outlets show clip after clip of the destruction seen in these types of settlements after a tornado hits, but we still fail to see why the destruction seems to be so much greater than it is elsewhere. Part of the reason lies in the construction and installation of these homes, and part lies simply in their location.

Mobile homes are poorly made to begin with, in spite of the advancement in quality over the years. Built like a box of Saltine crackers, they have absolutely zero tolerance for wind of any sort. Coupled with the fact that they are simply placed upon a concrete pad, with an air space underneath, you have a prime example of a piece of litter waiting to be blown across the parking lot in the breeze. I’m sure you’ve seen a box, bottle or bag being blown about before. Just picture a mobile home in the same place and you can see why they become prime targets for wind damage.

Not only that, mobile home parks are usually built on no longer used farmland, which means that the wind has no natural break to lessen its impact when it reached these cleared out patches of land, and also allows an unfettered opportunity for wind to increase its power.

If you must live in a tornado prone area, please make sure you plan accordingly, and try to live in a shelter that has been specifically built to eliminate wind damage.

And after the fact, make sure you keep on keeping on, learning from the experience. FEMA has a 12-page brochure called Recovering from Disaster that you can download here.