Don’t tell my wife about today’s column.  She’d probably think I’ve flipped out.  But, then again, she’s not an “over-think the problem” kind of person.  I am…

When we look at prepping – step way back from the problem – we need to begin asking at every turn “What could go wrong?”

We know, for example, that our little homestead in the woods is vulnerable to the risks of weather and earthquake.  And, for that reason, I’m always keeping my eyes open to find alternative ways to live should the SHTF at a personal level.

There are a lot of possibilities – but most of them have serious downsides.

  • We could simply pitch a tent and call it good.  Except:  It gets cold as hell in this part of Texas – down into the teens on a regular annual basis in January-February sometimes for a week at a time.  Not when you want to be living in a tent.  At the other extreme is summer.  Again, no fun.  Being in a tent when the low at night is 83 and you don’t have flow-through ventilation?  Sub-optimal.
  • Another option would be to lash some of that fancy-new ultra-high density line onto a tree, maybe 40-feet up.  Dangle the lines and build out from the tree-trunk.  A kind of floating-in-air tree house.  Sounds romantic, but did I mention that the big, tall trees that would work at home to the bark-dwelling brown scorpion?
  • Yurts….how about them?  Non-starter.  It’s a portable tend.
  • I’ve sung the praises of Mike Oehler’s book,The Fifty Dollar and Up Underground House Book.  This one hits much closer to the mark.  but there’s a lot missing, in terms of building what in my mind is evolving as a “Texas Ground House.

My budget for this project (a crazy thing to even think about while knocking on the door of 70) is not unlimited.  But, it should not be a constraining factor.

As I envision it, there would be two parts to this project.

The first would be a “back-up home.”

This would be small – cabin–like – and should be something that could be knocked-out in a couple of weeks by one person with a tractor.  The square-footage would be modest.  I’m thinking on the order of 300 square-feet.  Maybe 500, tops.

In many ways, it would be like an underground house.  But, it would have some above-ground portions, as well.

The second project (if I can cobble this one together in the next year) would be turning what’s now our carport (under the screen porch) into an “Earth Room.”

The Earth Room idea is simple:  We have dirt (behind a retaining wall) coming up about 4-feet at the north-end of the carport, already.  So, goes my (delusional) thinking, I could build modest retaining walls on the west and east sides, and then install a large overhang and a triple-glazed sliding door on the south side.

The reason for this room is it would almost automatically be kept cool during the summer because it would be, on average, bunkered with four-feet  (on average) of dirt on all sides (and the floor).  The top would be 8″ of insulation and the above-ground portions would be laid in with recycled 2-by-6’s which would give about an R-25 wall.  That’s witha couple of inches of styro on the outside, before back-filling.

The idea is that you won’t need too much insulation, though, since the subsoil temps are moderate across the South.

The next step in this exercise was to look at the US Department of Energy map of insulation zones in the US:

This doesn’t have to be precisely followed, but my sense is (since we’re in Zone 2) that we are better doing more than less above-ground insulation.  DOE makes some R-value suggestions:

As to the floor, seems to me the easiest way to handle those would be to put down a 12″ x 12″ grid of 1/4″ rebar on the 6″ of gravel that’s already in place and put in real 4,000 pound concrete 3″ thick.  (Slump before pouring… If you don’t know how, read here...)

The load of concrete won’t be free, but it would really be the heart of the whole project since if there’s “a pour” going, no reason not to pour the 20′ by 7-foot 4-inch sidewalls, too.  Trying to get all this done without a concrete pump would be the “hip shot.”

The idea of a semi-earth-sheltered home has been rattling around in my head a good long while.

When I saw how turn of the (previous) century sod homes worked out in the hot lands of the Great Plains, the idea continued to evolve.

This sod house is built almost entirely above ground.  But, as you wander through pictures of the Great Depression on the Library of Congress website, you’ll find that a lot of the rural homes in Oklahoma were “hybrids.”

Imagine burying 2/3rds of the above house and making the roof 4-foot thick dirt….

Engineering Research

The “test case” will be more modest.  Amazon has a suitable TetraPond Tear Resistant Pond PVC Liner, 14′ x 21′ for about $153 so for the “test room” it would be fine.

Then there’s the matter of figuring out the subsoil temperature.  A map on AgWeb over here will give you some ideas.  But for a more precise handle on how our “test room” would be, I decided to saddle-up the tractor and go dig a bit…

Even before that, though, there has been a ton of items added to my task-master list.  Questions like:

  • Do scorpions burrow into ground?
  • If yes, how deep?
  • Do snake borrow?
  • Again, how deep?

These were just few biggies that came to mind.

ORKIN figures scorpions can burrow a meter (or more) deep.  Fortunately, the burrows written up on LiveScience shouldn’t show up here. Still, the idea of a well-overhanging pool liner is important.

The good news is, most snakes don’t burrow, but they’re critters of opportunity, so rabbit and rodent holes might become prime real estate for them.  Seems like an ideal spot for Zeus the Cat to be standing guard duty.

I don’t know how far this thinking process will get…but as if I don’t have enough to keep me busy, here we go with another hare-brained idea…

Gives a purpose to scanning the Materials and Free sections on C/L as never before…

Write when you get rich…

george@ure.net