How to Build a Bunker for When SHTF

How To Build a Bunker For When SHTF

An underground bunker is one of the most useful things in an SHTF scenario. SHTF refers to any catastrophic event or a natural disaster where you need to be outside your house in order to survive.

Unless you want to end up in those crowded survival camps built for disaster victims you should consider building yourself a bunker for such unexpected events.

Of course, building a bunker requires as much work as building a house. You need to find a safe space to build the bunker, preferably on your own property.

You also need to gather the right materials and get the necessary permits for the construction job. But once your bunker is complete, you can be safe in the knowledge that you have somewhere to take shelter in case of an SHTF scenario.

Whether you are a survivalist at heart or would like to have a safe place for shelter in unexpected scenarios, this post describes the whole process of building an underground bunker. Yes, it requires effort but it’s completely worth it.


Building a Solid Plan for Your Bunker

Writing a plan for your bunker

Before you begin you must keep it in mind that building a bunker is not as easy as building a treehouse. You cannot wake up one fine morning and start building an underground bunker. It’s a construction job, and just like any construction job, it requires proper planning.

Before you start digging a hole in your backyard, you must find out if you are legally allowed to do so. If you end up building a bunker in your backyard even when you are not legally allowed to do so, it can result in severe penalties.

When building a plan for your bunker, you must have all the details in writing. Get a pen and notepad, and write down all the steps involved in the construction job, right from getting the materials to getting permits and if you’re Napoleon Dynamite don’t forget the tater tots in your pants – that’s essential!

When you have the plan written down you can come back to it to make sure all the steps are being followed and also to double check if something has been left out.

The following are the most important steps when planning your bunker construction job.

Making a budget: An underground bunker is not something you can accomplish on a shoestring budget (just see how elaborate that guy in the first 24 season – Day 1 – made his bunker?). From the beginning to the end, the job requires a significant financial investment. If you don’t already have a backyard then you need to first scout for a proper location.

Next, you need to get the right permits, which often cost significant money. Then you have to gather the tools and start the excavation process. Remember that the excavation can take a long time and makes a major part of your bunker budget.

When you plan the budget, make sure that you are including the excavation because that is what will cost the most money and time. Once the excavation is done, you have to start building the bunker, which again requires substantial money.

If you do not have the budget to build a bunker right away, you need to save up. This means that a bunker can definitely not be built in a day. It requires saving up money, hunting for the right location, and gathering the right tools and materials.

Getting the permits: Building a doomsday bunker is not a side project. It is a serious construction job that requires permits. You first have to check with the building department in your city to find out what kind of permits you require.

Remember that even the laxest and ignorant municipalities need permits for any kind of construction, including underground shelters. The only exception is a small, single-story shed without any kind of utilities, which isn’t underground.

To be able to get a permit, you need to provide detailed plans for the bunker and also engineering calculations. If you’re not good at that, you need to get it done by an engineer.

The plans will be checked for code compliance, including smoke alarm, fire alarm, minimum ceiling height, etc. Before you get a permit for excavation, the soil pressure will be calculated and safe wall dimensions determined.

It’s almost impossible to get a permit for building the bunker under an existing structure unless you can prove that the structure will remain sound after the excavation process.

Choosing a great location: It’s often hard to get a permit for underground construction, especially in densely populates areas. That’s because there are all kinds of pipelines under the ground. If you live in a thickly populated neighborhood and plan to build a backyard bunker, you may not get a permit at all.

But if you do get a permit to build a bunker, you first need land with some acreage. Although it doesn’t have to be a huge space, half an acre is the bare minimum that it takes to build a good bunker.

Even if you do have that kind of space, it may not be right for building your underground shelter. That’s when you need to find space somewhere else. There are some important questions to ask when choosing space for a bunker. These include:

  • What is the type of soil?
  • How deep is the bedrock?
  • Are there natural gas pockets underneath?
  • If there is water underneath, how deep is it?

As you must have already figured, selecting the right side is most important for an underground bunker. The soil composition should be right, and space should be easily accessible.

You must also take certain factors into consideration when digging the ground. The digging is preferably done in warmer weather because in winter the ground freezes and digging takes a lot longer, increasing the expenses.

You might also find interesting our article about planning and building a storm shelter.

Structure Considerations

Bunker structure considerations

A bunker is similar to building a house underground. You cannot just build a structure – it should have proper ventilation drainage system waste disposal system and water availability. In your plan, if you fail to show that you have thought about all these important aspects of the structure you may not get a permit.

Remember that people will be living in that shelter from a few hours to a few weeks, so all kinds of utilities should be present. To get started, some of the factors that should be considered first are:

Air ventilation: In an underground shelter there is anyway less oxygen than what we normally breathe. So, if you have to live there for a few weeks you should make sure that you do not die from suffocation.

This means you need a proper ventilation system in place. A proper ventilation system will not only help you breathe normally but also blow air route to keep toxic fumes outside.

Although there are various kinds of ventilation systems available, increase none of them work out for you should choose other options such as protection masks.

Water availability: It is practically impossible to survive without water so the availability of water is a vital factor that you need to consider before building your bunker. Being close to a natural water source such as a stream or a lake is definitely beneficial but it is not always ideal.

You should always have a water supply system of your own. If you find underground water, you can build a water supply system using that.

The water supply system should safely lead to your bunker for easy access.  You can also install a rainwater barrel system to collect and store rainwater for later use. Don’t forget to have water purifiers and life straws as backup options.

Escape route: If your bunker does not have an escape route it is basically a grave. If there is only one entrance and exit to your bunker and it gets blocked, there is no way you are going to escape alive.

Not including an escape route is one of the biggest mistakes that you can make when planning your bunker.

This should be done during the excavation. You should dig one way in and another way out. Although keeping track of two doors is difficult, it will make you feel much safer underground.

We also recommend reading our article about survival shelters you should learn how to make.

Choosing materials

Most people building a Bunker think of materials after excavation. But if you choose the materials before you start taking it saves you a lot of time.

Before you start digging, you should choose the materials that you will use to build your bunker with. Some materials are more expensive than others, while some offer more durability.

Of course, the materials you choose will depend on your budget. You could build a tempered steel bunker like a bank vault (think of the movie Inside Man) but you may have to sell your house to be able to afford that.

There are more affordable options but your choice should depend on the long-term durability of the bunker. The most popular materials for building a bunker are:

Metal: Even though metal is kind of expensive, it is highly resistant and durable and will not be damaged by moisture or infestation.

As mentioned earlier, durable materials are always more expensive than materials that don’t last long. When using metal, you should weld together thick metal sheets and support them with tube steel.

It can be really expensive but you will have a bunker to last for life. You should definitely go for it if you find 4 mm metal sheets for a good bargain or if you have a large budget. If you cannot afford it read on for more budget-friendly options.

Wood: If you want your bunker to last for only one season, then go ahead and use wood. But if you want to the bunker to give you years of service, then wood isn’t recommended.

Yes, it’s cheap, easy to obtain and work with, also sturdy enough. But it’s also prone to rotting and weather if it isn’t treated.

Logs will decompose when wet and make your underground bunker weaker. Even if you use pressure treated wood, it will not last a long time, because insect infestation will be hard to keep away. When you use wood to build a bunker, you’re not building a long-term durable structure.

Bricks: Cinder blocks or bricks are good materials for building an underground bunker. They are particularly good for the walls and the floor.

Bricks come cheaper than a lot of other materials are easy to obtain and do not decompose. They are also easy to work with. Besides that, blocks and bricks are also great insulators, keeping hot air in during cold weather and cool air in during hot weather.

Concrete: This is not only a budget-friendly option but also the most durable. If you want a bunker that lasts long without spending an arm and a leg, concrete is the best material. It’s cheap easily available durable and does not take a long time to install.

It is often even cheaper than bricks and wood. That’s the reason why most modern homes use concrete for the foundation.

Building the Bunker

Building a Bunker

Now that you have got your permits, chosen a location and gathered the supplies, it’s time to start digging. Don’t forget that digging takes the longest time and is the most important part of the process.

Before you start digging, consider getting a professional to evaluate the soil and the landscape.

You must know if there are any obstacles in the way, if there is a possibility to hit bedrock while excavating, and if there are cables and pipelines in the way.

When you start digging, the best and fastest method is to use a backhoe or excavator. Heavy machinery is always the best when digging a large hole. Use machinery to first excavate a big hole then build the structure inside, and then use the excavated soil to bury the structure.

Large backhoes usually come with an operator, so if you are trying to keep your survival bunker a secret, you should get a mini backhoe, which you can operate yourself – it will also not make that much noise and is harder to see from far out.

Using machinery is always a safer approach than digging with a shovel. When you dig manually, you not only make the process very slow but also have the risk of a collapse.

If you to choose to not use machinery and dig by hand, make sure to always have a phone, a light, an emergency shovel, as well as water with you.

You need to be able to call for help in case you are trapped after a cave-in. Given all the risks in a manual excavation, it’s always much safer to use heavy machinery.

Building the interior structure of a bunker is much like building a house. You should use your chosen materials to make the interior structure, including compartments and rooms. Just because it’s a survival bunker does not mean it cannot be comfortable.

It’s just like building an underground house, using wood, bricks, or concrete. That should be walls and flooring and also a ceiling. Once the construction of the structure is complete, you should use the excavated soil to hide the shelter.

Do not forget additional measures, such as waterproofing and soundproofing the bunker. Waterproofing the shelter should not be a big deal. You can use simple plastic sheets to cover the walls, the ceiling and the floor to prevent water and damp from seeping in.

You should also sound-proofing the roof and walls, to prevent any sound from escaping outside. Because this is a survival bunker, it should remain undiscovered.

How to Equip the Bunker for Survival

Equiping a bunker for survival

A bunker is not fit for survival unless it has been properly equipped. Since it is not possible to survive without power or water, you need to make arrangements for both in the bunker.

For power, you can either use a generator or get power from the surface.

If you use a generator, you need fuel to make it run and also ensure that it does not make much noise and there is proper ventilation (as already mentioned). It’s going to make noise so you want to have ear protection but you also want the generator perhaps in an insulated space so you don’t constantly have to wear ear protection.

Because it’s basically an underground tunnel, without proper lighting the bunker will be uncomfortable. Thankfully the lighting cannot be seen from the surface if the bunker is well concealed.

Do not forget about ventilation as discussed already but it cannot be emphasized enough. Depending on how deep the bunker is, you may need fans and vents. Remember that there are no windows in the bunker so you need a proper channel for air circulation.

We have already talked about a sustainable water source, but something equally important is a toilet. You cannot afford to come out of your hideout for doing your business. To build the toilet within the bunker you will need a septic tank as well as a leach field.

But the tank will have to be emptied at regular intervals and the leave field needs to be rested. If this sounds like too much of a hassle, the ideal choice is a composting toilet. It is also more sustainable than a traditional toilet.

If there is a war break out, it helps to be prepared with emergency supplies such as firearms and gas masks. War or not, you need firearms in your bunker. A handgun, shotgun, and a rifle for instance with plenty of rounds for each. On top of this, a bulletproof vest and night vision are prudent to purchase as well. Keep the supplies in the bunker so that you do not have to carry them from the outside/surface.

You will have to carry some items into the bunker for sure but you want your bunker ready to go for the most part since many times you may not have that much warning before the SHTF.

Storing Food and Water Inside a Bunker

Food storage for a bunker

Now that your bunker is almost habitable, you need food storage and water supply. For water, you could always have a tank built in, but the water in the tank is going to run out sooner or later and you will need a fresh supply to fill it with.

Therefore, more important than building a water tank is to have a fresh supply of water all the time.

This could be a source of freshwater like a well or a stream. Since you are already underground digging yourself a well isn’t too much of an effort. A well is never going to run out, so having a well inside the bunker is the most ideal water supply in any situation.

Rainwater harvesting is also a good choice but if your region gets little to no rainfall this might not work. If you live in a region where there is abundant rainfall at any time of the year, a rainwater harvesting barrel could be your source of freshwater.

Having food storage in your bunker is like a no-brainer, but you will be surprised just how many people forget about it. When you’re having a water supply, how can you not include food? If you’re stuck in the bunker for days or weeks, what are you going to survive on?

For this purpose, you should consider digging an extra room inside the bunker, strictly for storing food. Underground cellars are perfect for food storage for several reasons. First, they are away from light and underground, so the food remains cool and unspoiled.

However, make sure that it’s dry as well because water can completely damage your entire supply of emergency food. Underground is also out of sight, so the food won’t get stolen – well as long as you keep it hidden from monsters like The Saviors from The Walking Dead or thugs like Curly Bill Brocius from Tombstone!

The question is, what kind of food should you store inside the bunker? The simple answer is any food that’s non-perishable and can last a long time if unopened. There are emergency food supply kits readily available online, ideal for a family of four or five.

They usually include canned food, dehydrated or frozen meals, which have a long shelf life and also great to hoard. All you need is to pour warm water to make these meals ready to eat. They also have the appropriate calorie content.

How to Conceal the Bunker

Concealing a bunker

You’ve dug up the bunker, built an interior structure, and also covered it up. But unfortunately, the bunker sticks out and looks out of place in your backyard.

If you leave it like that, get ready to face endless questions about the weird structure in the middle of your landscaping. The result? The lid blowing off your “secret” hideout.

Concealing the bunker is as important as building it right. Hiding your newly-built bunker is important for many reasons. The first reason is to keep it a secret from your neighbors. If they know that you have a safe house built in your backyard, expect them to come knocking even if there are four inches of rainwater on the street.

Secondly, if anyone sees you storing food, gear, and ammunition in the bunker, don’t be surprised if they are robbed. Finally, if a survival bunker is not secret, it’s no use having it at all.

You have to go incognito, and there are several ways to do it. The easiest way to conceal your bunker is with landscaping. Blend the bunker in with flora and fauna as much as possible, or use rocks and bushes to conceal the air vents. Make sure the bunker remains disguised by the landscaping.

It can be a little harder to hide the bunker door, because bunker entrances are often big and sturdy, like a vault. Concealing them isn’t too easy.

To make the task easier, you can make the bunker entrance inside an old shed or outhouse. If you have built your bunker underneath your house, it can be easier to hide the entrance. The most effective way is to hide the door under a couch or the carpet.

You have to be creative when concealing the bunker and its entrance. Remember that a bunker isn’t of any use if it isn’t concealed properly.

Final thoughts

An SHTF scenario doesn’t happen all the time. But if you have an underground bunker, you can be safe in all situations. Remember that choosing the right soil, the right materials, and concealing it well are some of the hallmarks of the ideal survival bunker.

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