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Prepared by
Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, Kent State University

In collaboration with
Adil Sharag-Eldin, Ph.D. LEED A.P., Hollee Becker & Rohini Srivastava, College of
Architecture and Environmental Design, Kent State University
Jean Loria, CW Waterworks
Adam Smith, Urban Lumberjacks of Cleveland
Morgan Taggart, Ohio State University Extension

This project was funded in part by a grant from:

American Planning Association Urban Design and Preservation Division

Introduction 1

BioCellar Building Design 3

BioCellar Performance Study 12

BioCellar Uses 31

BioCellar Site Selection 37

Conclusions and Next Steps 44


Like many older industrial cities, Cleveland, Ohio has experienced a dramatic decline
in population and a corresponding rise in vacant properties. In Cleveland alone, there
are estimated to be more than 8,000 homes in vacant and deteriorated condition,
with the City demolishing 1,000 homes in a typical year. This number is growing due
to the on-going effects of the foreclosure crisis.
Cleveland is also experiencing a growing interest in urban agriculture. The number
of community gardens, urban farms and community supported agriculture initiatives
have placed Cleveland at the forefront of the local food movement. Using vacant
land for food production offers many benefits and new opportunities. The BioCellar
project is one such opportunity. A BioCellar is a partially deconstructed house
unit with an added solar envelope. The new environment supports living systems
designed to produce food and provide other beneficial ecosystem services.
Large-scale housing demolition programs are occurring in older industrial cities
throughout the Midwest and northeast parts of the U.S. Mass demolitions represent
a tremendous loss of embodied energy. The BioCellar initiative proposes to salvage
a valuable part of a derelict house–its masonry foundation. An existing foundation
wall, surrounded by earth, is an insulated container that can store energy and serve
a variety of productive functions. This insulated container of the BioCellar can be
put to use for growing vegetables, fruits and herbs, for water purification and soil
detoxification, and for nutrient cycling and pollination, among other uses.
A BioCellar is architecture plus biology to yield mini-economic units, with solar
energy as its driving force.1 BioCellars can form a decentralized and distributed
infrastructure network across a city or region as stand-alone features, or clustered
in groups to address larger, more complex community needs. It can provide a new
set of uses for the fundamental building block of the city’s housing infrastructure,
diversifying its functions and using it to house new programs that can catalyze
sustainable change. Compared to the centralized urban utilities of the industrial era,
this infrastructure could potentially solve multiple problems while being socially and
environmentally sustainable. While traditional infrastructures are centrally governed
and strive to be functionally invisible, this infrastructure has the potential to engage
curiosity and become part of an education in the culture of interdependency and
social engagement.

1 Loria, Jean. 2008. CW Waterworks.

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The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative and its research partners are currently
exploring the feasibility, applicability, and construction specifics associated with a
BioCellar. This report presents the Phase II of the research work. Phase I of the
research study was a BioCellar prototype study that included:
• Architectural Alternatives: A BioCellar must be functional, energy-efficient,
attractive, low-cost, and appropriate to neighborhood context. The BioCellar
prototype study included a range of design alternatives for retrofitting the
existing foundation of a deconstructed house.
• Matrix of uses: Potential uses for a BioCellar were correlated with a range of
geographical conditions (topography, demographics, existing land use patterns,
economic opportunities, beneficial proximity, and accessibility) and infrastructure
• Initial study of three types of BioCellars:

• FoodCellar: greenhouse, fish production, solar cells, poultry

• HealthCellar: healing hut, herb garden, micro-sauna

• eCellar: energy (Methane production), earth (Soil production), education

(composting culture)

Phase two of the research, documented in this report, includes:

1. BioCellar building design and construction
2. Building performance
3. Uses, with primary focus on food production
4. Site selection criteria

Foreclosed properties and houses sold at Sherriff sale in the city of Cleveland (2008)
Biocellar | 2

At depths below four feet, ground temperature stays a constant 50 to 55ºF year-
round.2 Using environmental simulation modelling, the research team simulated
conditions inside a BioCellar with a solar enclosure and brick/dry wall construction,
which is described on page 6 in the report.
BioCellar design is derived from energy storage principles for passive solar
greenhouses. Regardless of whether a BioCellar is used as a greenhouse or for other
purposes, these principles still apply to the workings of the energy system to heat the
structure. All greenhouses collect energy, but passive solar greenhouses also store
energy for dispersion at night or on cloudy days.
For the past decade, U.S. greenhouse growers have increasingly adopted high tunnels
as the preferred solar greenhouse technology3. High tunnels (also called hoop houses)
are unheated greenhouses that extend the normal growing season. In cities like
Cleveland, where the growing season is about 16 weeks, extending the season by a
few weeks can cause a significant increase in production yield.
Solar greenhouses differ from conventional greenhouses in that they:
• Use materials with high thermal mass to retain solar heat
• Have glazed surfaces oriented for maximum solar heat; have large amounts of
insulation to minimize heat loss
• Use glazing material and glazing installation methods that minimize heat loss;
• Rely primarily on natural ventilation during summer
• Use little or no additional heat during winter.4

The BioCellar’s advantages are that they reuse of the embodied energy from vacant
structures, and the earth around a residential foundation provides natural insulation.

2 Walipini House. Benson Agriculture and Food Institute.

3 Worley, Sally. 2008. High Tunnels: Are they Lucrative, The Practical Farmer.
4 Illinois Solar Energy Association, 2002, Solar Greenhouse, ISEA Fact Sheet #9.
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The first step for construction of a BioCellar is methodical deconstruction of the vacant
home. Conventional demolition techniques damage the foundation and therefore are
not appropriate when converting a unit into a BioCellar. Deconstruction (the process
of dismantling building components in the reverse of the order in which they were
originally constructed) reduces demolition debris and the amount of material that must
be sent to a landfill. Building materials are salvaged for reuse and only those that cannot
be recycled are discarded. Following deconstruction, salvageable materials are sold and
reused. Then the ‘pit’ which used to be the basement of the house is filled with topsoil
and the site is leveled.
Traditional deconstruction, as shown in the images below, uses heavy machinery for the
process, and the basement serves as a temporary dumping ground for debris. There
is a big emphasis on the speed and efficiency in the process of deconstruction, where
protection of the structural integrity of the basement is not a priority.
In this particular scenario, where the deconstruction leads to renovation, a number
of special considerations will need to be outlined, including an alternative for debris
collection, possibly a 40-yard dumpster, among others. A minimum required distance
will need to be maintained for the heavy machinery from the basement to prevent any
structural damage. Sewer, water and gas connections, which are typically capped as a
code requirement for a deconstruction process, will also need to be retained.

Typical condition of a residential basement after the

deconstruction process, where the debris is collected
into the basement.

Step by step deconstruction of a Cleveland home; photos courtesy of Urban

Lumberjacks of Cleveland

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In Cleveland, much of the housing stock being demolished was built between
1915-1930 of balloon frame construction. This was a period when wood and
energy were abundant, leading to homes that were overbuilt and under-insulated.
This study uses a standard house dimension of 22 x 40 feet, which is typical of
Cleveland’s housing stock.
The majority of foundations are either:
• Red or brown clay sewer tiles placed on the side and laid parallel to the run of
the wall; or
• Irregular chunks of sandstone, about 50 lbs and roughly the size of a modern
cement building block.
The deconstruction process includes removing the first and second floor structure,
leaving intact the basement structure up to the plinth level, which is typically 2
to 2-½ Feet above ground level. Reusing a structure slated for deconstruction as a
BioCellar involves special considerations for maintaining the structural integrity of the
foundation walls to prevent them from collapsing before the solar envelope structure
is put into place. To stabilize the walls of the basement, a part of the floor structure
must be retained until the walls of the BioCellar are constructed and attached to the
basement. A standard solid floor joist system commonly uses 2 x 8 feet or 2 x 6 feet
members, 16 inches on center, and cross bridging to prevent warping or twisting.
This framework is supported by a steel I-beam (King beam) and a steel column/post.
Alternate floor joists along with the steel I-beam and the steel support column need
to be retained during the deconstruction process. The floor joists can be removed
once the top structure is attached, but the Steel I-beam and column need to be
Floor joist system with the King Beam
and Steel I-Beam (images courtesy of: retained permanently as a part of the BioCellar structure. During the construction of and the top structure, adding a C-beam steel frame lining the walls of the basement will
provide stability for the basement walls and prevent them from collapsing. Also, since
the mortars and its structural integrity between the stone slabs could be questionable
after such long period of use, a one inch layer of sprayed-on concrete, like shotcrete,
will be required for additional structural stability.

Floor joists
C-beam frame
Foundation/ plinth King beam
above ground

below ground I-beam

Basement structure stabiliazation diagram

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Both types of foundation walls (tile or sandstone) are laid with mortar between the
joints and both are susceptible to water intrusion without proper drainage away from
the structure. If water comes up through the floor, it will destabilize the structure,
adversely affect plant growth and promote plant disease. The basement walls need
to be first checked for holes and cracks which can be repaired with waterproofing
mortar mix. After that, a double coating of epoxy or latex waterproofing mixtures
should be used for the interiors along with a layer of water proofing clay such as
bentonite or plastic sheeting along the foundation wall and 2 feet away from the wall
sloping outwards. Along with the wall treatment, pouring a 6” thick and 4 feet wide
concrete slab around the majority of the structure, and tilted slightly away from the
structure could alleviate most of the water intrusion issues. The foundation can be
anchored to this slab with concrete ties. It will also help to add drains or draining
ditches beyond the concrete slab to move water away from the bottom of the

wall construction
The north wall of the BioCellar is the one where the sun’s rays hit the most. It is
crucial for this wall to have high heat absorption and retention rate. Brick or concrete
filled cinderblock walls are good options. The walls should also be coated with light
colored reflective paint to reflect direct heat and allow for a more even solar heat

This study initially considered two construction options for the BioCellar roof
structure: shed roof and hoop house construction. Hoop house construction is a
more temporary option and snow loads are an issue. Therefore the shed roof was
selected for the purposes of a BioCellar.
Shed-type or sloping roof construction has glazing on its south facing wall to collect
maximum amount of solar energy, while the north wall is insulated. Options for
construction include:
a. Post and beam construction: This could involve the reuse of the existing 2 x 8s
and 2 x 6s from the deconstructed house. However, this could be difficult from
a logistical standpoint. The length of the lumber will not be sufficient to cover
the length of the roof, and adding extensions and joints will make the structure
heavier and more difficult to work with. Also, the depth of the two-by-tens
will reduce the amount of solar gain into the structure. Even if new wood is
used for construction, post and beam framing will make the roof structure very
b. PVC: Though the cheapest and the lightest option, it does not provide enough
structural stability for snow load and is possibly too lightweight for double-
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glazed panel construction. The other issue with PVC surrounds its toxic
production, off gassing and lack of recyclability. However, the irrigation arena
inside the greenhouse can be made from PVC.

c. Aluminum: It is stronger than PVC and lighter than wood, but cost
prohibitive regarding initial purchase and start-up. Working with aluminum
requires skilled labor because of the required drilling and softness of the
metal. Also, aluminum is highly desirable as a scrap metal and can be an easy
target for vandalism and theft. As such, it is best suited for secure locations.

d. Galvanized steel tubing (round and square): A 25 year life span, ease of
construction, and strong structural capacity make this the best option. Most
traditional greenhouses and greenhouse construction kits use galvanized steel
as the construction material. It can work well for a variety of glazing options,
and has the structural strength for snow loads.

The selection of the appropriate glazing material will play a huge role in determining
the success of the BioCellar. The material should allow the highest level of solar
heat gain while minimizing the loss of energy through its surface. Though glass was
traditionally used for solar structures in the 70s, plastics have emerged as the dominant
type of glazing, especially with the weatherability of these materials being enhanced by
ultraviolet radiation degradation inhibitors, infrared radiation (IR) absorbency, anti-
condensation drip surfaces, and unique radiation transmission properties.5
Criteria for BioCellar glazing include6:
1. The U-factor is a measure of heat that is lost to the outside through a glazing
material. A number of 0.35 BTU/hr-ft2-F or less is desired;
2. Photosynthetically radioactive radiation (PAR) is required for good plant growth;
glazing must permit a natural spectrum of (PAR) to enter;
3. Light transmission percentage; 70% or more is desirable;
4. Affordability for replication and mass production;
5. Lifespan & durability;
6. Extreme winter weather resistance;
7. Ability to support snowload;
8. Fire-resistance;
9. Ability to support human load;
10. Convenience in sizes availability and installation.

5 Giacomelli, Gene A. 1999. Greenhouse glazings: Alternatives under the sun. Department
of Bioresource Engineering. Rutgers University.
6 BTS. 2001. Passive Solar Design. Technology Fact Sheet. U.S. Department of Energy.
Office of Building Technology, State and Community Programs.
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Preferred options for BioCellar glazing include7:
1. UV stabilized woven polyethylene, double layer: Light transmission: 60-80%

Advantages: Disadvantages:
• Easy to install, precise framing not required • Easily torn
• Lowest-cost glazing material • Cannot see through
• Heat loss significantly reduced when a blower • UV-resistant polyethylene lasts only 1-2 years
is used to provide an air space between layers • Light transmission decreases over time
• The films can be treated to reduce heat loss & • Expand and sag in warm weather, then shrink in
condensation cold weather

2. Tempered double pane glass: Light transmission: 70-75%

Advantages: Disadvantages:
• Lifespan indefinite if not broken • Heavy
• Can be used in areas with freezing temperatures • Clear glass does not diffuse light
• Difficult to install, requires precise framing

3. Fiber reinforced plastic (FRP): Light transmission: 85-90% - new material

Advantages: Disadvantages:
• The translucent nature of this material diffuses • Light transmission decreases over time
and distributes light evenly • Poor weather-resistance
• Tedlar-treated panels are resistant to weather, • Most flammable of the rigid glazing materials
sunlight, and acids • Insulation ability does not cause snow to melt
• Can last 5 to 20 years

4. Polycarbonate rigid plastic, double wall: Light transmission: 83%

Advantages: Disadvantages:
• Most fire-resistant of plastic glazing materials • Can be expensive
• UV-resistant • Not clear, translucent
• Very strong
• Lightweight
• Easy to cut and install
• Provides good performance for 7-10 years

Double-glazing is recommended since the simulated environments demonstrated

that this is more efficient for storing heat energy, as compared the single glazing (see
page 14).

7 Bellows, Barbara. 2008. Solar Greenhouses. National Sustainable Agriculture Information


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Passive solar structures use thermal mass to store heat during the day, and then
radiate it into the structure at night. Water is the most common medium for thermal
storage. Other materials such as rammed earth or bags of rock can be used for
thermal storage, but water has a high material value of 63 BTU/square foot/degree
Fahrenheit, as compared to stone at 35, or earth at 208. The traditional way of using
water in solar greenhouses is stacking 55-gallon dark colored drums filled with water
and lined-up along the north wall to receive direct light.
A more efficient method is a central water tank made from FRP that provides
thermal storage and could also allow for fish production, if aquaponics is incorporated
into the BioCellar use. For a free-standing solar structure in a Midwest winter, the
minimum requirement of water for thermal storage is three gallons per square foot
of solar surface8. For a 22 x 40 foot BioCellar structure, that translates into 3000
gallons of water storage or a 34 x 4 x 4 foot water tank.

Water tank for solar heat storage

The heat storage in the BioCellar is only as effective as the insulation within the
structure, making it as airtight as possible. The doors and vents need weather
stripping and the joints between the glazing and the walls should be sealed with a
flexible sealant.
Polyurethane foam is a good insulation material but it needs to be kept dry to
function well. A vapor barrier made of thick polyethylene plastic sheeting placed
Curtains for retaining heat at night between the greenhouse interior environment and the foam will prevent moisture
(Alward, Ron, and Shapiro, Andy. Low- from entering the foam. Foil-faced insulation can work as well. Greenhouse doors
Cost Passive Solar Greenhouses)
should be airtight with extra weather stripping for sealing. In the Midwest, night
curtains9 are effective. A night curtain is an insulating cover that can be rolled across
the inside of the glazed surface to prevent extra heat loss.

8 Smith, Shane. 2000. Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion: Growing Food & Flowers in Your
Greenhouse or Sunspace. Fulcrum Publishers. 2nd edition.
9 Alward, Ron, and Shapiro, Andy. 1981. Low-Cost Passive Solar Greenhouses.
National Center for Appropriate Technology, Butte, MT. 173 p.

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The summer temperature inside the BioCellar can be high. The building performance
simulation study revealed the highest summer temperatures to reach 100 degrees
Fahrenheit. This creates a need for ventilation during summer months which can be
accomplished using automatic, thermally-activated vents. A general rule is that vent
surface area needed to regulate spatial temperature is 1/5 to 1/6 of the building floor
area.10 Roof top and side walls provide the best opportunities for heat to escape. Solar
operated fans can also be used on the short, south-facing wall to direct the hot air flow
on extreme heat days.
The sections below show temperature profiles inside an unconditioned solar
greenhouse11 (temperature values in Kelvin). They show temperature variations
within different areas within the structures, thus presenting the need for temperature
regulation. A thermostatically controlled ventilation fan can be set to activate at
a specific temperature to help regulate the overall temperature. In addition to
Stack effect with low-level fans for moderating greenhouse temperatures, ventilation also helps manage humidity and
CO2 levels.12

Temperature profiles inside a solar greenhouse (G. Tong, et. al. Numerical
modelling of temperature variations in a Chinese solar greenhouse)

10 Illinois Solar Energy Association. 2002. Solar Greenhouse. ISEA Fact Sheet #9.
11 G. Tong, D.M. Christopher and B. Li. 2009. Numerical modelling of temperature variations
in a Chinese solar greenhouse.
12 Thomas, Andrew L., et. al, 2001. Performance of an Energy-efficient, Solar-heated Green-
house in Southwest Missouri.

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The south wall rises two feet above the ground, making it an easy target for
vandalism or an attractive opportunity for climbing. Planting hardy shrubs that grow
two feet high just outside the south wall can discourage climbing. In any case, the
structure must be built to take human weight into account as an added load for
structural strength.
Japanese Barberry
Japanese Barberry is an option for screening the south wall. It is a dense, two to four
(photo credit: Smithsonian Insititution,
R.A. Howard @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS feet high deciduous shrub with thorny leaves. It grows well in Northeast Ohio and
Database) tolerates a wide range of weather conditions.

This section shows the assembly of the various building components of a BioCellar.

Roof vents
Galvanized steel tubing for
roof structure

Double glazing

King beam Curtains for heat

I-beam central post retention

C-beam frame Reflective lining

on the North wall
Waterproofing around the
base of the BioCellar
Short shrubs along the South

Central water tank

Section through a BioCellar

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To better understand the impact of design decisions on the environmental conditions
of a BioCellar, the research team conducted a series of parametric studies. These
parameters are building aspect ratio, roof inclination, orientation, and percentage of
glazing to roof area. The team worked with 22 x 40 foot as the size of the BioCellar,
as that seemed to be representative of the sizes of the houses slated for demolition
in Cleveland. Additional parameters were added to simulate the thermal heat storage
properties of a central water tank to get readings closer in accuracy to the actual
BioCellar performance.
Most of these experiments were done with food production being the primary use of
the BioCellar. However, once the results of the indoor temperatures, humidity, etc.
are obtained, they can be compared to optimum requirements for other uses.

In our tests, solar radiation is transmitted into the greenhouse interior through
the roof alone. As a result the roof surface sees the same amount of solar energy
regardless of orientation. The only difference is the shading effect of the sun-facing
wall (Figure 1). The limited shading effect reduces solar gain through the roof (Figure
2). However, being an underground structure, thermal mass reduces the impact
of this exposure and the temperature (Figure 3) is hardly affected by changing the
orientation of the greenhouse. However, the research team investigated incident
South-facing solar radiation in the inner south-facing surface of the north-facing wall. Figure 4 &

Figure 5 demonstrate the fact that the wall receives much more solar radiation in
winter than in summer if the greenhouse is south-facing. This is especially true in
winter because of the low winter sun altitude. Because of the cosine effect the best
SOUTH orientation for the greenhouse will be facing true south ± 20°13.

acing North-facing

Figure 1 South and north-facing glazing

receive the same amount of solar 13 Smith, Shane. 2000. Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion: Growing Food & Flowers in Your
radiation Greenhouse or Sunspace.
South-facing North-facing

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Figure 2 Solar gain comparison

Figure 3 Temperature profile comparison

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Figure 4 Incident Solar Energy on internal south-facing wall (Winter)

Figure 5 Incident Solar Energy on internal south-facing wall (Summer)

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Changing roof inclination does not substantially affect total indoor solar gain because
of the solar aperture size is not drastically altered with the increase of the roof angle
(Figure 6). However modeling the different configurations showed that the smaller
the volume of the greenhouse, the higher the indoor temperature especially in
summer (Figure 7 &Figure 8). On the other hand, increasing roof inclination angle
resulted in increasing the indoor surface area exposed to solar radiation. These
internal surfaces of the walls in turn receive more solar energy (Figure 9 & Figure 10).
As a result we can conclude that the recommendation is to choose the largest roof
slope that is economically feasible and structurally viable (including considerations
such as snow load).
A general rule of thumb for passive solar heated structures is to add 10 or 15 degrees
to the site’s latitude to get the proper angle 14(ref). So Cleveland being Latitude 41º,
the slope should ideally be 51 to 56º. Using this information, we will conduct further
simulation experiments in the next phase to determine the most optimum angle.


Figure 6 Changing glazing inclination has limited effect on solar gain

14 Thomas, Stephen G., et al.1984. Solar Greenhouses and Sunspaces: Lessons Learned.

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Figure 7 Effect of Roof Inclination on Indoor Temperature of Greenhouse

Figure 8 Effect of Roof Inclination on Indoor Temperature of Greenhouse

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Figure 9 Effect of Roof inclination on incident solar radiation on south facing inner wall

Figure 10 Effect of Roof inclination on incident solar radiation on south facing inner wall

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Tested for this preliminary stage were two glazing types; a 6 mm single glazed and
double glazed FRP (fiber reinforced plastic). Figure 5 demonstrates the consistent
increase in solar gain of the single pane glazing material. This increase is estimated to
be between two to three times as the energy transmitted through the double glazing
panels. The result is an increase in the temperature build up in the green house during
summer months to reach 130 °F (Figure 12), and to offset that fans and vents will
be needed. On the other hand, even though the double glazed naturally ventilated
configuration did not reach these high temperatures, the heat buildup still makes the
need for mechanical ventilation a necessity. Solar gains were welcomed in winter as
the single pane glazing skylights helped offset some of the energy needed to provide the
auxiliary heating system. Figure 13 shows that the single glazing configuration increases
heat loss due to conduction far beyond the limited solar gain advantage of the single glazing
configuration (Figure 14) during winter days.

Figure 11 Solar Gain through roof in winter and summer

Figure 12 Comparison between temperature profiles of single and double glazed roofs
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Figure 13 Heat loss through conduction

Figure 14 Sensible heating requirements for auxiliary heating in winter

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Figure 15 Tested Configuration

Temperatures inside the BioCellar during summer months remained higher than
the outdoors. The use of natural ventilation by partially opening skylight apertures
reduced the average temperature to less than 95 °F for the majority of the summer
months (Figure 16).
In winter indoor air temperatures were slightly above ambient conditions, increasing
the risk of ice building and water pipe damage. To avoid that a heating source with a
set point of 57 °F was added (Figure 17).

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Figure 16 Indoor air temperature during Summer

Figure 17 Indoor Air Temperature during winter

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The unheated BioCellar without natural ventilation cooling provision was consistently
warmer than the outdoor ambient conditions (Figure 18). The addition of an auxiliary
heating system (Figure 19) helped reduce the risk of freezing. The addition of an
operable skylight proved to be beneficial in reducing peak indoor air temperatures
during summer (Figure 20) by bringing it closer to the ambient outdoor dry bulb air

Figure 18 Annual temperature profile in basic unconditioned space

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Figure 19 Annual temperature profile with addition of an auxiliary heat source

Figure 20 Improving indoor summer temperatures by adding ventilation through operable vents and fans

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According to the literature on the subject a favorable growing temperature range
for most regular season crops is 65-75 °F ±10 °F. Figure 20 shows that with auxiliary
heating the growing season is extended in the green house by about two weeks in
spring and two weeks in fall. Figure 21 shows a cumulative temperature frequency
profile of the three conditions described. Confirming the visual observation of the
previous graph the difference between the natural growing season (outdoors and the
heated and ventilated configuration was about 7.5% or 650 hours which is equivalent
to four weeks. The growing season is thus effectively four weeks longer than the
On the other hand, research showed that the unconditioned greenhouse will bring
the season for cold season crops four or five weeks earlier (Figure 22). This may
have definite positive economic impact because of the relatively high price of early or
off season crops to the market. Without completely opening the greenhouse to the
environment, cold season crop may end four or five weeks earlier. If multiple crops
are planned, research showed that the unconditioned but ventilated greenhouse will
expand the growing season from cold and regular crops to encompass over 60% of
the year or about 32 weeks a year (Figure 23).

Figure 21 Cumulative temperatures under different scenarios

Figure 22 Cumulative temperatures for cold season crops

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Figure 22 Cumulative temperatures for cold season crops

Temperature and Velocity Distribution

Figures 24-31 show computational fluid dynamic modeling results of the tested
configuration. Because of the relatively small volume of the space and simple design,
the temperature distribution remains predominantly well mixed. Cooling effect of
natural ventilation is clearly affecting summer afternoon configuration (Figure 24)
while the hot air is accumulating at the upper section of the volume. The evening is
cooler with some warm air left at the upper section of the volume (Figure 25). The
same pattern is repeated in winter with the winter unconditioned greenhouse.
Figures 28-31 show air movement pattern and velocity inside the greenhouse at
summer and winter afternoon and evening. During ventilation period (65-95 °F), air
is naturally ventilated into the space creating the clear pattern in Figure 28. At the
evening some heat is retained at the ground mass and is released slowly through
stack effect resulting in upward draft in the center of the greenhouse (Figure 29).
Similarly, and due to the cold temperatures in winter, the warmer ground floor
releases its stored heat through thermal stack effect creating the upward draft in the
middle of the space (Figure 30 & Figure 31)

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Figure 24 Temperature on a summer afternoon

Figure 25 Temperature on a summer evening

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Figure 26 Temperature on a winter afternoon (unconditioned)

Figure 27 Temperature on a winter evening (unconditioned)

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Figure 28 Air movement summer afternoon

Figure 29 Air movement summer evening

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Figure 30 Air movement winter afternoon

Figure 31 Air movement winter evening

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Modeling of moisture content in the unconditioned configuration showed that it
follows closely the outdoor conditions (Figure 32 & Figure 33). This means that
close monitoring of the outdoor humidity and moisture content would be essential
to guarantee appropriate conditions for the different plants and vegetables in the

Figure 32 Summer moisture Content

Figure 33 Winter moisture content

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iss discussed in this chapter.
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From table 1, it appears that Blue market
Gate Farm price.
brought in types of structures
rrots $189 $228 83% $237 made
Spinach thehalf
most in 2008 perthey square foot, and comes
indow. Typically Blue Gate Farm offers a fall CSA about of the revenue could have if they had more
ets $36 high tunnel in$240
ey lost their original a tornado in in15%
secondthe $240
for growing
potential season
aggressively forSwiss
marketed foodtheircrops
Chard and
crops andincan increase
controlled for production
aphids and yields and
al their replacement
have $1,105 tunnel up$1,572in time to plan revenues.
70% revenue For example, Blue Gate Farms near Des Moines, Iowa added a high tunnel to
$2,161 per square
rodents. foot,
Figure and 4 has
shows thethe potential
revenue to
and make
potential therevenue
is would, in other years, provide a more stable most per square foot. perHowever,
square footJill according
and Sean to didn’t
Blue Gate’s 2008
always market
sell out price.
their farm, whichSpinach has a community
made the most supported
in 2008 per agriculture
square foot, (CSA)
and comesprogram for 30 families.
roduct. market window. Typically Blue Gate Farm offers of
a Swiss
fall CSA Chard at the market.
enue However, marketable
they lost theirplus
original TheAdam
high tunnel in a tornado
non-marketable high tunnel isOutreach
in Montri,second projected
for potential to recoverforthe
Coordinator Swiss thecost
Chard of construction
Michigan in second
State for(about $4,500) in
2008. They didn’t have their replacement tunnel up in time to plan 2008 revenue per square foot, and has the potential to make the
t that had pest or frost damage. Aphids and University approximatelyStudentfour Organic
most per square years. Farm, says that a good goal to shoot for
foot. However, Jill and Sean didn’t always sell out
for a fall CSA. This would, in other years, provide a more wouldstable
be $9-$10 revenue per square foot per year. Jill and Sean plan
market for their product. of Swiss Chard at the market.
A growing
Potential revenue includes marketable plus non-marketable
BioCellar isAdam
at least a three
more permanent
this year, so
Outreach Coordinator with
for thea Michigan
longer life
the potential Statespan and higher
product—product that had pest or frost damage. Aphids costs.Student
and University BioCellars
Farm, Continued
says that on page
good goal to17
for amulti-tiered planting
shoot for and greater solar
would be $9-$10 revenue per square foot per year. Jill and Sean plan
heat gain,on
growing ataleast
successiveextension than
crops this year, so is
potential with a high tunnel.
Continued on page 17

ere their primary pests.

aks down Revenue
the percentage of Blue
per crop for revenue per crop.
Gate Farms Revenue per square foot for Blue Gate Farms
main wereSally,
winner, their primary
bringing in pests.
roughly half of
High Tunnels: Are they
chardFigure 2 breaks
pac down
shared the percentage
a bed, or eachof revenue
had 84 per crop.
Practical Farmer)
Spinach was the main bread winner, bringing
wing area, while the other crops each had an entire in roughly half of
the income.
owing space. Swiss chard and pac choi shared a bed, The
or each hadgrowing
84 area inside a BioCellar consists of raised beds on either side of the
square feet of growing area, while the other crops each had an entire
ndles at market were popular sellers. “They were
bed, 168 feet of growing space. central water tank, with tiered beds against the north wall. Raised beds have the
ked like bouquets,” commented Jill. The carrots,
The carrot bundles at market were popular sellers. “They were to absorb more solar energy than low, flat beds .
beautiful, and looked like bouquets,” commented Jill. The carrots,
The building performance study demonstrated that for regular weather crops, the
season is extended by two weeks on either end of the typical 16 week season (see
page 21). However, cool-season crops (shown in the table on the next page) can
withstand lower temperatures.

15 Thomas, Andrew L., et al. 2003. An Energy Efficient Solar Heated Greenhouse Produces
Cool-Season Vegetables all Winter Long.
Biocellar | 31
The winter temperature fluctuations in a BioCellar range from 40º to 56º, which are
acceptable for cool season crops16 Therefore, if a BioCellar is predominantly used
for cool season crops, it could be used throughout the winter season with a limited
need for supplemental heating. This would have a significant impact on the economic
viability of a BioCellar.


Leafy greens Vegetables Flowers
Arugula Beet Calendula
Chard Bok choi Johnny jump-up
Cilantro Broccoli Linaria (Toadflax)
Collards Broccoli raab Pansy
Cornsalad (Mache) Cabbage
Cress Carrot
Dandelion Kale
Endive Leek
Escarole Onion
Lettuce Pak choi
Mizuna Pea
Season extension with the use of a
high-tunnel greenhouse (HT)
(Kleinhenz, Matt, OARDC/Market
Gardener Training Program 2010)

An illustration showing a food production

BioCellar adjacent to a market garden

The BioCellar performance study gives a basic sense of the environment inside a
BioCellar. Food production could be a majority use for the structures, but a favorable
internal environment opens up the possibility for some other uses as well.

16 Thomas, Andrew L., et al. 2003. An Energy Efficient Solar Heated Greenhouse Produces
Cool-Season Vegetables all Winter Long.
Biocellar | 32
Root cellars are underground structures used to store food at a low temperature and
steady humidity. A root cellar keeps produce from freezing during the winter and
keeps it cool during the summer to prevent spoilage. Typically, a variety of vegetables
are placed in a root cellar in the fall, after harvesting. A BioCellar could be used for a
root cellar as part of an urban farm, provided the following criteria for a controlled
environment17 are satisfied:
1. Temperature and humidity: optimal temperatures and humidity levels for
a BioCellar vary, depending on the fruits and vegetables being stored (see
chart below)
2. Air circulation: because of natural release of ethylene from fruits and
vegetables, a root cellar needs ventilation to prevent spoilage;
3. Flooring: root cellars work best when they have dirt floors as opposed
to a typical concrete basement floor. A soil pit can be constructed on the
floor over the basement slab to provide the right environment.18
Section showing a root cellar
incorporated into a BioCellar (redraw)

Preferred storage conditions for some

common winter crops for Northeast Ohio
(Bachman, Janet et. al, Postharvest
Handling of Fruits and Vegetables, NCAT)

Temperatures will be cooler in the lower section of the BioCellar so this area can be
converted into a root cellar, leaving the upper portion for a solar-energy based use.
This would effectively reduce the volume of the heated surface. The root cellar can
be constructed by reusing old bricks or other material from the deconstructed home.

17 Root Cellars. 2009.

18 Greene, Janet, et al. 1992. Putting Food By.
Biocellar | 33
Besides food production, we are also exploring some other uses for the BioCellar
structure, some of which are briefly described below.

Since BioCellar collects and contains heat, it may be possible to use the structure
as an energy production unit that could provide heat to one or more neighboring
houses. However, to maintain a steady temperature of 57º Fahrenheit (minimum), a
BioCellar will require an auxiliary heating source.
Active solar heating forces solar-heated air, water, or phase-change materials through
pipes buried in floors or walls.19 Another option is to pump water through pipes that
circulate between the coils lining the glazed wall and the central water tank. This heat
generated in the coils could be used for the BioCellar or converted into energy for
use in an adjacent building. The performance study determined that even with the
use an active solar heating system, a BioCellar would not provide enough energy for
heating an adjacent house in winter. However, it could comfortably provide energy
for domestic uses in summer like heating water for cooking and bathing, etc.


Urban farming requires healthy, uncontaminated soil. City soils tend to be unsuitable
for food production, so urban farmers often make use of raised beds. A BioCellar
can be used for composting and soil production to support agricultural uses. A
composting BioCellar provides two products: fertile soil, and energy in the form of
heat and carbon dioxide.
To operate a composting BioCellar, organic material would be collected from residents,
restaurants, and markets. The north face of a compost cellar should have removable
insulated panels20 through which the compost can be loaded into the structure. The
compost must be turned periodically, allowing the release of heat, water vapor,
nitrogen gases and carbon dioxide, all of which can be used to support plant growth.
The moist air from the compost chamber can be blown into the cellar if it is also being
used as a greenhouse. Methane gas could also be collected as an energy source.

Section of the greenhouse showing the

19 Monk, G.J., D.H. Thomas, J.M. Molnar, and L.M. Staley. 1987. Solar Greenhouses for
compost chamber (Fulford, Bruce, 1984)
Commercial Growers.
20 Fulford, Bruce. 1984. Composting Greenhouse. Bioshelters of New Alchemy Institute.
Biocellar | 34
Compost bucket

provided to residents

provided to community
brought to local BioCellar trench boxes
collected by compostal worker



produces nutrient rich soil

produces heat and CO2

Compost Cellar The New Alchemy Institute has studied various greenhouse alterations and their
capacity for energy production.21 Questions remain, particularly as to the amount
of CO2 production for plants and ways to ensure controlled environments for the
production of methane gas, which is highly explosive.

The temperature profiles show the possibility of manageable indoor weather
conditions, thus presenting the opportunity to have a community-amenity, like a
sauna in dense neighborhood, responding to resident needs. With a number of
branches of alternative medicines reinforcing the health benefits and prescribed uses
of saunas, and more than 60 million consumers in the U.S. taking herbal remedies, an
herb garden + sauna could be a great use for a BioCellar.

Illustration showing the use of a BioCellar

as a community sauna

21 Fulford, Bruce. 1984. Composting Greenhouse. Bioshelters of New Alchemy Institute.

Biocellar | 35
Sauna is known to provide relief to patients with asthma and chronic bronchitis, and
also known to alleviate pain and improve joint mobility in patients with rheumatism.
It is also a excellent opportunity for social interaction.

The Restrictions on the Keeping of Farm Animals and Bees ordinance22 recently passed
in the city of Cleveland opens up new possibilities for animal rearing within the city
limits. Chicken and bees reared in Cleveland either for personal or business use, has
multiplied manifold since the ordinance.
The BioCellar provides an entrepreneurial opportunity for an all-year round business
not only in chicken and bees rearing but also for other animals, since the structure
can provide:
1. Warm place at night;
2. Protection from wind and rain;
3. Protection from predators.
Depending on the specific animal rearing at the BioCellar, the site selection criteria
would vary; chickens need about 3 to 4 sq.ft per bird in the coop23, and 6 to 8 sq. ft.
for free range roaming outdoors, whereas bigger animals will have different spatial
requirements. In the next phase of this work, we would like to explore the financial
feasibility of animal cellars for specific or combined uses.

22 City of Cleveland, Zoning Update. 2009. Restrictions on the Keeping of Farm Animals and
Bees ordinance.
23 Hubbard, Kerrie. 2010. City Girl Farming.

Biocellar | 36

Criteria for BioCellar site selection include:

1. Building orientation
a. External obstruction to solar gain
b. Southern exposure
c. Tree canopy
2. Water table
3. Accessibility
4. Community gardens and/or urban farms;
5. Adjacency to vacant land
6. Local champions (community group or CDC).
a. External obstruction to solar gain:
For optimum solar gain, obstructions should be absent from 45-60 degrees of both
the south corners, if possible. Absence of obstructions means24:
• No obstructions within10 feet of the south side within the angles shown
in the adjacent diagram;
• Fences can be located outside of 10 feet;
• 1-story buildings located outside of 17 feet;
• 2-story buildings located outside of 39 feet.

Diagram showing building orientation for

maximum solar gain (Luce, Ben. 2001.
Passive Solar Design Guidelines for North-
ern New Mexico)
24 Luce, Ben. 2001. Passive Solar Design Guidelines for Northern New Mexico. New Mexico
Solar Energy Association.
Biocellar | 37
Chart showing solar path for Cleveland at
41 degree North latitude
(Chart generated at: University of Oregon
Solar Radiation Monitoring Laboratory)

Summer altitude 72º

Diagram showing the winter and summer

solstice sun altitutes (University of
Maryland Cooperative Extension Service
& West Virginia University Extension Winter altitude 72º

b. Southern exposure:
A BioCellar should have its longer wall face within 20° either side of true south.25
The energy calculations did not show much fluctuations when the south wall was
the longer wall or the shorter wall. But for construction of the roof structure, having
the longer wall as south facing works better. In case the other case, either the roof
structure becomes heavier and more expensive because of a larger span, or gets added
framework and consequently more obstruction for the sunlight into the structure.

Preferred orientation for the BioCellar; longer wall facing South Variations to the BioCellar roof structure to make the shorter
South-facing wall work

25 Smith, Shane, Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion: Growing Food & Flowers in Your
Greenhouse or Sunspace.
Biocellar | 38
c. Tree canopy:
Among the external obstructions to solar gain, trees play an important role along
with neighboring buildings. The preferred distance requirement for trees is the same
as built structures from the south facade, i.e. 39’. Even deciduous trees are not good
within that distance from the south facade. In winter, in spite of losing its leaves, a
deciduous tree will shield 40% of the winter sun26.
The following map shows mature tree canopy for the city of Cleveland.

26 NREL. 1994. Sunspace Basics. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory. U.S. Department of Energy

Mature tree canopy for the city of Cleveland

Biocellar | 39
Potential problems with underground structures are wet conditions from the water
table seeping through the soil on the floor, and the entry of surface water through
gaps in the walls at the ground level. To minimize the risk of water rising through
the floor, the bottom of the structure should be at least five feet above the water
table27. Since the BioCellar is reusing old basements, the water table level should
have already been taken into consideration. It is still important to inspect for any signs
of leakage in the structure or in the neighborhood before considering the house for
reuse as BioCellar. Additional waterproofing is discussed in the BioCellar building
design chapter.

For the BioCellars to work as an important part of the city’s infrastructure in terms
of food production, vacancy reuse and community amenity, accessibility becomes
an important criteria. It would be desirable for the BioCellar to be located within
a 1/4 radius of and RTA bus/train stops. In case of the BioCellar’s use for food
production, its proximity to a community garden or urban farm makes this easier
as almost all farms use accessibility within a neighborhood as an important criteria
for their location. But even in case of uses such as soil or energy production, better
accessibility can create job opportunities for lower income residents, refugee
communities, etc. who use public transportation as primary means of access.

27 Walipini House. 2002. Benson Agriculture and Food Institute; Bellows, Barbara, Solar
Greenhouses. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.

Biocellar | 40
The map below shows the city of Cleveland with an overlay of community gardens
and urban farms, which is an important selection criteria for the BioCellar to be
used as a greenhouse or a root cellar. The circles around the map show a 1/4 mile
radius around the gardens, which should be the maximum distance between a food
production BioCellar and an urban farm, although it would be ideal to reuse a vacant
house adjacent to the garden if it satisfies other criteria.

Community gardens and urban farms in the city of Cleveland (2009)

Biocellar | 41
For BioCellars that need open land for supplementary uses, the vacant parcels
mapping can serve as an excellent starting point. The existing conditions of these
vacant parcels, however, vary in terms of foliage, pervious surface percentage, soil
toxicity, etc., and so more study would be needed to determine the suitability of the
vacant land for intended purposes.
For example, additional mapping of soil toxicity and pervious coverage would be
needed to determine a suitable site for a new urban farm + BioCellar project.

Vacant parcels in the city of Cleveland LOCAL CHAMPIONS

Beyond the criteria discussed in this chapter it is important for the consideration of
social criteria, the community group or local community development corporation
(CDC) that can undertake the construction and management of the BioCellar(s). It
would be preferable if a local champion has:
1. More than one community garden/urban farm in the neighborhood, to
allow for a bigger network of BioCellars;
2. Local, state or federal funding for urban agriculture or neighborhood
stabilization projects;
3. Farmers’ market, where there is a greater opportunity for local food
education & community interaction;

Biocellar | 42
When these different layers of information are overlapped with the map showing
vacant properties, it can help shortlist vacant residential properties that are slated for
demolition as potential candidates for conversion into BioCellars.

Map showing overlapping of all paramters for site selection for a BioCellar

Large scale view of the map shown above

Biocellar | 43

A BioCellar can be temporary or permanent, singular or clustered, striking in

its architectural vocabulary or mild-mannered and inconspicuous. A BioCellar is
infrastructure made legible—a window into the systems that give life to cities.
BioCellars are a direct response to population loss and urban decline, but they
also set a framework in place for future growth by lowering energy costs in city
neighborhoods and fostering new patterns of grass roots entrepreneurship. The
BioCellar model harvests the opportunities embedded in the natural processes of
change and creates a do-it-yourself approach for managing urban infrastructure.

The first step towards exploring the possibilities for this DIY urban infrastructure, is
to understand the structural, economic and commercial feasibility of the BioCellar
model, some of which were addressed in this report. This chapter presents the
recommendations from the Phase II work along with issues and questions for further
considerations for the next phase.


a. Preferred materials/specifications recommendations:
• Walls: brick or concrete filled cinder blocks
• Roof: galvanized steel tubing
• Glazing materials: 6 mm double walled fiber reinforced plastic or
polycarbonate rigid plastic
• Solar heat storage: 3000 gallons of water storage using either a 34 x 4 x 4
foot FRP water tank, or 55-gallon water drums lining the north wall
• Insulation and ventilation: polyurethane foams, vapor barriers and night
b. Further design questions:
• Code requirement for keeping water and sewer connections, and provisions
needed for the maintenance of these systems

• Optimal alternatives for access and egress (steps, ramps, etc.)

• Ways to address contaminant issues (lead paint, black mold, radon, asbestos)

• Criteria for ADA accessibility compliance and LEED certification

• Cost of a basic prototype (deconstruction of the vacant house, stabilization of

the foundation, and new construction)

• Cost of a basic prototype for different scales; one versus many, including off-
site construction and prefabrication options).
Biocellar | 44
a. Recommendations:
• Orientation: BioCellar structure should be south facing with the long wall
facing within 20º either side of true south.

• Inclination of the roof: Choose the largest roof slope that is economically
feasible and structurally viable.

• Temperature profiles: Temperatures inside the BioCellar during summer

months remain higher than the outdoors. Additional ventilation can reduce
the average temperature to less than 95 °F. Auxiliary heating source will be
required if the BioCellar uses require to be above 57º during winter.
• Additional ventilation: Automatic, thermally-activated vents and solar operated
fans will be necessary to offset the high summer indoor temperatures.

• Season extension: The growing season is four weeks longer than the
outdoors for crops that need a favorable growing temperature of 65-75
°F ±10 °F. If multiple crops are planned, the unconditioned but ventilated
greenhouse can expand the growing season from cold and regular crops to
encompass over 60% of the year or about 32 weeks a year.

• Moisture content: Close monitoring of the outdoor humidity and moisture

content would be essential to guarantee appropriate conditions for the
different plants and vegetables in the greenhouse.
b. Next steps:
• Expand on the work in Phase II to include:

i. Energy comparisons to an at-grade greenhouse

ii. Variations with different thermal heat storage mechanisms
iii. Effect of external insulation, plant and human addition, etc. to the
temperature profiles.
• Environmental simulation to understand the viability of a BioCellar for other
uses like root cellar, aquaponics, compost cellar, community cellar, etc.

a. Recommendations:
• The feasibility study of a BioCellar for food production so far, is encouraging.
For regular weather crops, the season is extended by two weeks on either
end of the typical 16 week season, four weeks on either end for cool-season
crops and a year-round harvest and storage for rootcellars.

Biocellar | 45
b. Next steps:
• Detailed study of a BioCellar for food production:
i. Types of crops and projected yield data
ii. Cost comparison with high tunnels for farming.
• Detailed study of other potential uses for a BioCellar:
i. Aquaponics
ii. Root cellar + food cellar
iii. Energy production
iv. Compost production
v. Community cellar.


a. Recommendations:
• Building orientation:
i. External obstruction to solar gain: No obstruction within 10’, fences
beyond 10’, 1-storey buildings outside of 17’, 2-storey buildings outside
of 39’ on the southern side within 45º - 60º of the BioCellar structure.
ii. Southern exposure: A BioCellar should have its longer wall face within
20º either side of true south.
iii. Tree canopy: No trees inside of 39’ on the southern side within 45 -60
degrees of the BioCellar structure.
• Water table: The bottom of the structure should be at least 5’ above the
water table.
• Accessibility: The BioCellar should be located within 1/4 mile of an RTA bus
or train stop.
• Community gardens and/or urban farms: Within 1/4 mile radius of
community gardens and/or urban farms for the food production BioCellar is
• Adjacency to vacant land is preferred for BioCellars that need open land for
supplementary uses.
• Collaboration with a local champion (community group or CDC) is
b. Next steps:
• Other criteria important for a BioCellar site selection

Biocellar | 46
• Role of community engagement in the development and implementation of a
• Impact of zoning restrictions on the site selection, especially since the
BioCellars are essentially residential units converted into for-profit uses
• Neighborhoods in Cleveland that might be well-suited for housing the
BioCellar prototypes.

a. Next steps:
• Ownership options for a BioCellar
• Legal implications of a cooperative ownership arrangement
• City permit(s) needed for a BioCellar
• Potential funding mechanisms.


a. Next steps:
• BioCellar network as a distributed, visible infrastructure that improves the
health of neighborhoods
• Its capacity to introduce diversity in a climate of monocultures of family and
housing types
• New programs and uses generated from a BioCellar as catalysts for
sustainable change
• Range of ecological services that a BioCellar can offer
• Use of social network platforms like social media websites, smart phone
apps, etc. to develop this DIY urban infrastructure
• Its ability to participate in the community’s education in the culture
of interdependency, the need for biodiversity and benefits of social

a. Design and feasibility
b. Construction
c. Management
d. Monitoring the building performance, productivity, etc.
e. Statistics for mass production.

Biocellar | 47

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Biocellar | 49