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DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Long Term/Short Term Survival Shelters. Constructions tips and ideas.

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DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Whisper » Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:48 pm

Shelters, My favorite subject. I wanted to write something about stacked concrete block Shelters, insulation and water myths. You don't have to be an expert to build a dry stacked concrete block shelter yourself. The hardest thing would be pouring a footing, which you can either read about how to do this or pay someone.

The way it works is simple compared to other building methods. The web site listed at the bottom of the post recommend using mortar on the first row or two in case the footing isn't level. The rest you simply stack at your own pace, no mortar between the joints. After you start stacking, just use a level to make sure they are going up straight. Then pour your concrete down the center cores with rebar as you go. Check out the site, there's pics and more details.

http://www.drystacked.com/sequence.html

Here are some of the nice things about it. First off, after reading dozens of books on underground homes, green building, corn cob homes, straw bail, rammed earth, earth bags, cord wood...... one of the many things I learned is the worst way to build a home is with wood for many reasons. But the most important one being mass. Energy is stored in mass, whether it's hot or cool. This is why the best material is concrete (although log cabins have mass because they are so thick, you can't really insulate them correctly without loosing the log cabin look...). Concrete is the best material for holding mass although some may argue that rammed earth or earth bags are as effective. I go along with the concrete people.

The second thing that I learned is all about insulating a home/shelter. If you ever heard the term "super insulated home" this is where it came from. Without the insulation, the mass is useless. We have been doing it wrong for the last 100 years! This will be shocking to read if you haven't read it before. All your insulation should be on the outside of your home only. This is whether you are going to build above ground or below. This is also not an opinion but a fact proven by studies at universities. The way it work is simple. If you are producing heat or cool air, the insulation on the outside of the house holds it in. I have read results in the past that stated, if you had insulation on both the inside and outside, it wouldn't be nearly as efficient. I think the best book that I read about it was by the university of Minnesota. But it's packed somewhere.

There have been some myths out on the internet :eek: about water and or moisture problems building an underground concrete shelters. Well yeah that's true if you don't water proof it. :crazy: There are many products out there to do this. I wouldn't go with drylock alone on the outside of an underground shelter. I probably wouldn't use it at all. I've seen it peal. I also had an underground bomb shelter in my last house. It came with the house. I used drylock on the tunnel. It didn't work. :shakeno: I think tar may be the cheapest thing to use, but I know there are far superior products out there.

If you are thinking of building an underground shelter then you have to decide what are you preparing for? Is it to hide? If that's the case then you could go with those underground fiberglass things. :thumbdown: In my opinion, that's all there good for. Those companies have spread some of the misconceptions about concrete shelters having water problems. If you want a shelter that can withstand earthquakes, bombs, nuclear fallout or what ever else, concrete is the only way to go. Before you disagree, ask yourself this. How many countries have you heard about making underground shelters out of fiberglass? Give up? :surrender: The answer is none! (at least that I heard of) OK, how many countries have you heard of that are building underground concrete shelters? :whistling: Answer: Out of all the countries that I heard about.... All of them. Hmmmm There must be something to it. :shakeyes:

OK, I wrote all that to lead up to what I am planning for next year when I move. I plan on building an underground concrete shelter using stacked concrete block. My plan, at this point, unless someone can convince me otherwise, is to have two walls of dried stacked concrete block walls, which I will drill holes in the blocks to connect rebar to both the inside and outside walls. Then pour concrete in-between.

I hope people picked up something on this long winded post. Please share your thoughts on this.
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby mr bill » Tue Mar 02, 2010 10:13 pm

What about sprayed concrete over a form? Is it more expensive? Would it not be waterproof? Don't most water problems with concrete come as a result of seams or cracks not being properly sealed? Educate me on this Whisper.
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Whisper » Tue Mar 02, 2010 11:30 pm

mr bill wrote:What about sprayed concrete over a form?
Sprayed concrete over form. Is that for above ground or below? It's not strong enough for below, I don't think. Unless they came up with a new mixture. For an underground shelter, you need strength. Fiber needs to be added. I am not an expert on that. I know about ten years ago, everything that I read about it says no, it wasn't good for underground.

mr bill wrote:Is it more expensive?

Yes, you need specialized equipment and crew. Plus, there might not be either in the area that you live.

mr bill wrote:Would it not be waterproof?

Once again it depends on if it is above ground or below. I know that recently I saw something on HGTV about this. I do know that it was meant for above ground with much less pressure. The one thing that I forgot to post above is about drainage. Whether you are building a basement, an underground shelter or underground home. You should dig a trench going away from the structure and use (Plastic or metal) pipe leading the water away. The pipe should go around the structure, it should have holes in it for the water to drain into it. The pipe should be surrounded by stone, and the stone should be surrounded by a material that keeps the dirt out of the stone.

mr bill wrote:Don't most water problems with concrete come as a result of seams or cracks not being properly sealed? Educate me on this Whisper.


Best question of all. Some water problems can occur that way yes. But most water problems come from other things like, mixing the concrete incorrectly, most of all, not digging deep enough before putting in the footing. When putting in a underground shelter or underground home, you should contact your town and simply ask them how far down is the bedrock. You really want to dig down to the bedrock. A lot of cracks happen because the footings settle. Here in my area of NC, business is booming for foundation repair companies. There is a lot of sand in this town and when they built the houses here, they rarely dug deep enough. Water issues are a major problem here. This can be a major issue depending on were you live and how far down you need to go. If you think it is then I would do some major research on waterproofing. I'm sure there is a product out there that has some type of flex to it.

I hope this helps.
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Muzhik » Wed Mar 03, 2010 12:39 am

mr bill wrote:What about sprayed concrete over a form? Is it more expensive? Would it not be waterproof? Don't most water problems with concrete come as a result of seams or cracks not being properly sealed? Educate me on this Whisper.


I had this all written out, then when I went to post I had been logged out. Apologies if your questions are already answered.

Mr. Bill, Concrete is porous. It doesn't "dry", it "cures". By that I mean it takes the water that you have added and uses it to "build its matrix", as it were. A side effect of this is that without some kind of waterproofing, if you have constant moisture on one side of a concrete block the moisture WILL make its way through to the other side eventually. Now, if the water in the concrete freezes, then you've got real problems. That's where you start getting cracked walls and disintegrating sidewalks.

Personally, the kind of house/shelter/man cave I've wanted to build for a few years has been a monolithic dome. The link explains things in greater detail, with pictures, but here goes. First, you pour a foundation, in a circle. You attach a form to the foundation, then blow it up. The form is made of this very tough, waterproof material, and it will be shaped like a dome. Next, you spray the entire inside with a couple of inches of urethane foam. While you're spraying, your partner is bending rebar into square "U" shapes. When the foam has hardened, you punch the rebar into the foam in a pattern the architect has noted, leaving spaces for doors and windows. You spray about 2-3 inches of shotcrete (concrete mixed with nylon fibers) over the rebar so that when it cures, you have a concrete dome. Don't spray where the doors and windows will be. When it's hardened, cut out the spaces for the doors and windows, and you have your shell ready to go.

This design is becoming very popular in the southwest (due to its energy efficiency) and the southeast (due to its ability to withstand hurricanes.) You don't need to go with a complete dome shape. One of the more popular shapes is where you have 8-foot sections of plywood braced up around the foundation. (You only need 3-4 of these sections.) You spray the inside with the foam; when the foam sets you move the plywood to another section and repeat the process. You can either put the rebar on one side or both sides and spray with the shotcrete. When the walls have set enough, you put a circular form (a ring beam) around the top, pour concrete, fix the form to that and inflate it. You'll still have the advantages of a dome but you'll also have flat walls. In the end, it looks like one of those buildings on Naboo in Star Wars Episode 1. I figure this flat-walled part would be my basement, since the building codes around here usually insist on having deeper foundations anyway due to the frost.
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby TaffyJ » Wed Mar 03, 2010 1:05 am

I've been drooling over monolithic domes for years, but they're kinda expensive require a crew and specialized equipment, and thus are hard to pay for with cash as you build. I've been thinking about the dry stack concrete block method with hand mixed concrete down the holes. Problem... our soil type is bad forfoundations cause it shrinks and swells according to how wet it is. Darn clay! In Louisiana, 'bedrock' is an unknown substance. I'd have to drill pilons and fill with concrete within the footing. It could be done, but, sheesh, that's a lotta work for a housewife with only a partially supportive husband.
So, I am left with the idea of building a hay bale home, draping wire mesh over that, and hand applying concrete tothe inside thick enough so it could stand up after the hay rots away. It would look like a messy child's project, maybe, unless I involve a little artistic creativity. I couldn't apply concrete to the outside, cause then I would create a moldy haven for vermin within the walls.
As you can tell, none of these options are ideal, so I am still thinking.
I do know I was in a historic park in Lafayette, Louisiana called Vermillionville. In it, they had a re-created native American dwelling. It was constructed of native cane, woven with vines. Then, the inside was plastered with unfired mud from the riverbank. The mud appeared to be about 2 inches thick. On a warm day I walked inside this structure, and it was blessedly cool, and very quiet. Sounds from outside were muted. It had a palm thatch roof. If it had had a thicker thatch roof and a door of any sort, it would have been nearly silent inside.
So, I'll probably end up with something that's a cross between a high tech monolithic dome, a square gray brick structure, and a really organic hand made something or other. Its a good thing I've got room to experiment, cause nobody's gonna like it but me!
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Muzhik » Wed Mar 03, 2010 1:42 am

What would happen if you were to dig down about a foot, then fill that with sand, gravel, and stone and use that for the base of your foundation? (Isolating/insulating the foundation from the clay, as it were?)

Have you looked into using a shipping container? Here's a YouTube video about using a pair of 8'x40' shipping containers to make a 16'x40' building; using straw bales to insulate the sides of the containers? Instead of using straw bales, you could use the dry stack concrete blocks against the sides of the containers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Cc1QyUNt-A

As for covering the bales themselves, don't use concrete. Concrete doesn't breath -- any moisture that gets into the bales can't get out. Instead, use a stucco made out of lime plaster. Lime plaster breathes, so the hay bales can stay dry.
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby TaffyJ » Wed Mar 03, 2010 2:43 am

Oooh, thanks for the great ideas, Muzhik! I like the idea of isolating the foundation from the movement of the clay.
I have looked into shipping containers. I'm undecided on that. They're strong, but ugly. Really, you've got me thinking about the clay situation. Off to ponder... Again, thanks!
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Who is John Gall » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:19 am

I am with Taffy, the soil in Louisiana sucks and Bedrock is only where Fred and Wilma live. Go to any one of our old cemeteries and you will find more than a few of our above ground graves sunken, if not just crooked. I like the idea of isolating the foundation, like Muzhik suggested, and I think that it might work...but it sounds a lot like the patio that we put into the back yard a few years ago. Sand down and leveled, barrier fabric, and then the stones...and now they are all uneven. Put in a retainer all the way around at the same time as the patio to make sure that the sand didn't wash out from under the stones...but...

I would like to create a mancave/shelter too. I like the idea of a shipping container or two sprayed with bed liner on the outside...I have seen these turned into nifty homes before. But I want dirt around it, for insulation and protection. Burying is not an option in southern Louisiana...if I dig 4 feet in my backyard I have a well (this is why my koi pond is only 3 1/2 feet deep...I struck the water line digging it. I am thinking about, in the future when I get more land (and money), setting up the container cave, or a concrete structure, and then pouring dirt over it. Have a baby hill. Maybe the mother-in-law house could be perched on the top (she would not be given a key to the cave though), or I could use the mound of dirt as a back drop to my own gun range, or maybe both! (just found out that she intends to come for a visit soon...gag...)

Back to Whisper's postings...I got the idea of burying a porous pipe wrapped in fabric in a rock lined trench wrapping around your structure for drainage...but it you are building underground, where does it drain too?
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Muzhik » Wed Mar 03, 2010 11:31 am

The local tribal council passed an ordinance a few years ago that all new houses built on tribal land had to be ICF, because of the high R value. I used to drool over the thought of an ICF house before I learned about Monolithic Domes.

And John Gall, I don't know how deep the water table is around here, but I know its a LOT deeper than 3-4 feet. People usually don't build on slab around here because you've got to go at least 5 feet down to the frost line anyway, so it just makes more sense to go ahead and dig a basement instead of drilling down that deep to put in some footers. (I know I'm probably mangling the terms, but I think you know what I mean.) After digging for the basement, a layer of sand and gravel is laid down to permit water to drain underneath; this is covered with plastic and then the foundation is poured. After that, a trench is dug around the foundation, filled with gravel, and angled to drain water away from the house. Depending on the ground conditions, the foundation may be built with a sump pit; water is "encouraged" to go there and a sump pump regularly drains it.
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Whisper » Wed Mar 03, 2010 6:48 pm

Sweet posts ll. Before I reply I really wanted to thank you all especially Muzhik.

Also, I was pretty tired last night when I shaid it is all sand around here when what I meant to say is that it was all red clay.
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Whisper » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:05 pm

Muzhik wrote:What would happen if you were to dig down about a foot, then fill that with sand, gravel, and stone and use that for the base of your foundation? (Isolating/insulating the foundation from the clay, as it were?)

Have you looked into using a shipping container? Here's a YouTube video about using a pair of 8'x40' shipping containers to make a 16'x40' building; using straw bales to insulate the sides of the containers? Instead of using straw bales, you could use the dry stack concrete blocks against the sides of the containers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Cc1QyUNt-A

As for covering the bales themselves, don't use concrete. Concrete doesn't breath -- any moisture that gets into the bales can't get out. Instead, use a stucco made out of lime plaster. Lime plaster breathes, so the hay bales can stay dry.


:clap: Excellent points!
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Who is John Gall » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:39 pm

Thanks for the explanation, Muzhik. I have been deprived and have never lived in a house with a basement...but I bet that you don't have a dead alligator in the back of your truck. I do, wanna see?

So, dig a buried trench with a deeper end to catch the water...just like I was taught to dig a little tench at the bottom of entrenchments such as foxholes and trenches to collect rainwater (and give you a place to kick the grenades). Then put a sump pump there (uh...for some reason I had thought that the sump pump was inside of the basement, like the bilge on a boat, I was in the Navy, I think that I am going to go and pet my dead alligator again). Got water, pump it out. How do you know that you have water? Floater switch? Is the sump pump automatic? Do you have battery back up and a hand pump for power outages? Ok, really reaching, but does anyone put a filter on the output and collect the water for later use?
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby TaffyJ » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:44 pm

I don't wanna have to depend on a pump. Maybe a crawlspace that I can brick in and use for prep supplies.
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Whisper » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:57 pm

I would do what Muzhik suggested only I would dig the posts a lot deeper. Call a foundation repair expert in your area and ask them how far to dig. Then, put the containers off the ground, maybe 4'. You can pour some concrete and build a wall from the ground to the bottom of the cargo container. Just keep the weight of the containers on the piers and not the built up wall for storage. Many homes have stairs to walk up to the front door. You can make all this look normal.
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Re: DIY Dry stacked concrete block Shelter

Postby Muzhik » Wed Mar 03, 2010 8:14 pm

John Gall, I think I mashed up two different construction techniques. Where I grew up in Northwest Iowa, the ground is very black, very thick, and very, very, very, very wet. The local industry was a company that build concrete drainage pipe for farmers to use in their fields. If you were building on top of an incline, then you could use the buried trench to draw water away from your foundation. If you WEREN'T at the top of an incline, or the incline wasn't steep enough, then you'd have a sump hole in your foundation and use a sump pump. I think most of the homes in my area used both methods -- those German farmers were very much "belts and suspenders" kind of people.

As for HOW the sump pumps work (since I imagine they've made improvements in the last 30 years), I honestly don't know -- you'd have to ask an expert. I think the one in our house used a floater, and the water was pumped directly into city sewer system. In a wet season, it might go off maybe once a day for about five minutes, so we weren't talking a lot of water.

I'll take your word on the alligator.
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