Think Twice Before You Build That Shipping Container Bunker

Over the past few years, there has been a new trend mounting in the preparedness community. Preppers all over the United States have been purchasing shipping containers and transforming them into bunkers and safe rooms. Some people place these containers deep in the woods and others bury them underground. While it seems like an inexpensive option with maximum security benefits, it isn’t quite that simple. There are actually a lot of dangers involved with using a shipping container as a bunker. That’s what we are going to look at today.

The first thing that you should know about shipping containers is that they were built to be stacked on boats, trains, or other transportation vehicles. They are meant to carry items short term and not to be buried in the ground for decades. When you bury the container, it can deteriorate based on the conditions underground.

Another problem is the strength of the container walls. Just consider the sheer amount of weight from the dirt that is packed around the container on all sides. All of this weight puts pressure on the container, much more than it was built to withstand. Most people may not realize that the walls of a shipping container are rather thin and are likely to buckle under the pressure of all of the dirt. When you bury the shipping container, it could actually weaken its structure and compromise the safety of anyone that is inside.

Do you need more reasons to change your mind about using a shipping container as a bunker? Shipping containers are very small and if you going to use it for even just one person, there will not be much space to move around. And if you plan on using it for an entire family, you will be crammed in with almost no space to move about. Families that camp out in a tent will be the only ones who know how tight of a fit it would be for a group of people in a small space. But at least in a tent, you can easily get out and get away from the other people. When you are underground in a shipping container, you have no where to go.

shipping container undergroundAnother factor that you need to consider is what you will do with all of the waste and trash that you produce while you are inside your bunker. This is going to really be tricky if you are stuck inside with potential attackers lurking right above you. All that trash and waste is going to create horrible conditions for everyone in the bunker.

How will you defend your family while you are holed up in the bunker? It’s always best to have at least two exits so you can quickly escape if an intruder is coming in. What about ventilation? How are you going to keep fresh air coming in to your family underground without giving away the location of your bunker to someone that is passing by?

You also have to think about the health of your family while staying in your bunker. Many shipping containers, especially those that are less expensive, could contain paint and chemical coatings that could make your family very sick. If you are trying to stay safe by going into an underground shelter, don’t you want that shelter to make your family sick from toxic paint or other chemicals. The cost of cleaning up the paint and chemicals may mean that you might not get the cost savings you were hoping by purchasing a shipping container instead of building a bunker from scratch.

If you are still really determined to use a shipping container as an underground bunker, here is what you need to know. Make sure that the shipping container is sealed and that you are able to reinforce the walls. When you do this you must take into consideration the climate where you live. Soil and rainfall can vary greatly in different parts of the world and both can greatly affect how well your shelter will hold up. Spend some time researching the specifications of building an underground shelter and stick with recommendations from reliable sources.

Don’t forget that there is a lot of work involved in creating an underground shelter from a shipping container. Forget about just digging a hole and dropping in your shipping container and covering it with dirt and flowers. There is a lot more to an underground shelter. You need to dig tunnels for entrance and escape. You need to reinforce the walls so the pressure from surrounding dirt won’t cave in your bunker. You need to install a ventilation system. This is just the beginning.

So what are your other options when it comes to an underground shelter? If you want to build an underground bunker, it’s best to have professional builders design and create it. Just like any other structure, you should have a building inspector check out the design to make sure it is up to code. Also, if you are planning on having electricity or any other amenities in your shelter hire a professional to install them. It may cost more initially, but it will make sure that your emergency bunker is safe and effective for you and your family.

What do you think about using shipping containers as underground bunkers? Is it a good option or an all around bad idea?

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About Ms. Prepper

I’m Laura P, aka, Passion Prepper, aka, Storage Prepper! I’ve been homesteading nearly all my life and prepping for the last 6 years. I strongly believe our great country of America was built on self-sufficient families like mine and yours. Politics bores me, learning new stuff, getting outside and living life thrills me.

12 comments on «Think Twice Before You Build That Shipping Container Bunker»

  1. Pat says:

    I`m actually a structural engineer and I have to say these shipping containers are a great start to an instant shelter construction. There really isn`t any danger of a foot or two of dirt on top collapsing the roof. The strength derived from these containers is from their strong columns at the corners. Check out pics on the internet of these containers stacked on ships. And they aren`t empty.

    Of course, these containers are a start to a structure. Your pic shows one in a trench. Side loading is zero. Backfill with 10 inches of dirt and side loading is minimal. Cut the strong columns at the corners and that`s a different story.

    Consideration needs to be given to a proper base (ie: gravel), drainage (ie: weeping tile), plumbing, electrical, ventilation, etc. and what to do when your partner goes crazy in a confined space from licking the lead paint on the walls.

  2. Louis says:

    Not that great of an article, considering they are presently in use, and to date, I’ve never heard of the sides collapsing in one of them with dirt. If you’re going to say something, provide a link to prove it, showing where they have failed under ground and hurt people. If You’re going to speculate, than you shouldn’t be writing an article to begin with. When you dig a hole in the ground, and place a container in it, there is actually very little if any force on the sidewalls whatsoever. Nothing but the little bit of dirt to used to fill in. That’s not much force…

  3. shane says:

    containers as bunkers are a good idea for low income family’s weather its for food stores or as a safe place for the family yes a container in the ground can be dangerous but careful thought can make it safe.they come in several sizes 10ft 20ft or 40ft the bigger the container the more reinforcing is needed
    1 internal 2x3in steel frames to support walls
    2 external steel welded to container for support
    3 everybody needs to crap so a toilet connected to a septic tank will fix this problem
    4 90mm pvc pipe connected to roof for ventilation (a 12v computer fan connected to for circulation and removal of carbon monoxide can be added to a 12volt system)
    shane b hull on Facebook for contact and further ideas

  4. ghostgraveyard says:

    I had an idea for a bunker using these shipping containers. I didn’t think about a budget. I was just thinking of design and structure. I thought the bunker would first have a concrete floor with rebar to add strengh. Do anything to the shipping containers you cant do to them in the pit or while connected togather. Fit 1-3 shipping containers on the floor and bolt/weld them togather and cutting holes for doorways . Then add concrete and rebar to the top and sides of bunker connecting the rebar sticking from the base to the top shell to connect the 2 concrete pieces togather. Again not much thought went into this. I was just bored.

  5. Storage Mick says:

    Without an effective long term lighting strategy (and i wouldn’t rely on the public electricity grid if there was a national crisis), you will be plunged into total darkness. Even in broad daylight you can’t see to the end of a shipping container. How long do people envisage staying in one just out of interest?

  6. prepper99 says:

    No inspectors, secret and safe. Cheap is best with good NBC capabilities.

  7. Rodney says:

    Everyone is quick to say how bad shipping containers are to use as bunkers. But no one has a alternative that most people can afford. No one that I know can

  8. Anon Ymous says:

    But great article.

    1. GIGI DURU says:

      well what’s the point to have it built buy professionals,have the county inspector over,and every body on law enforcement know where is your bug out place…..get inform about containers
      What are ISO shipping containers made from?

      A typical ISO shipping container is made from a ‘weathering steel’ as specified within BS EN 10025-5:2004. This is commonly known as ‘Cor-ten’ steel. Cor-ten steel is a corrosion resistant steel that is used within many industries where exposed steel sections are necessary, e.g. building panels, facades and sculptures.

      ‘Weathering steels are specified in BS EN 10 155:1993 (superseded by BS EN 10025-5:2004) and within this category Cor-ten is a well known proprietary grade. These steels have properties comparable with those of Grade S355 steels to BS EN 10 025’.

      Characteristics and Components of a standard ISO shipping container:

      Monocoque body
      Corner Castings
      Steel corrugated sheet sidewalls, roof, and back panel
      All-welded-steel, continuously
      Purin reinforced Plywood Floors
      Forklift pockets
      Grappler pockets
      Gooseneck tunnel
      Additional specifications on steel shipping container:

      Racking/Shear Load of the shipping container (corner posts) 16,000 lb
      Side Wall Lateral Load of the shipping container 235 psf
      End Wall Lateral Load of the shipping container 366psf
      Racking/Shear Load of the shipping container 33,500 lb
      Stacking/ Axil Load of the shipping container 210,000 lb
      Roof Load of the shipping container 300psf
      Floor Load of the shipping container 100 psf

    2. Prepper32 says:

      What the writer has to understand is there are spray on insulators and spray on waterproof seals available for shipping containers, plus not every prepper has to live in the bunker they can use it for a large food and weapons cache/storage.

  9. Anon Ymous says:

    Have you ever thought that the more people help you prepare, the less secrecy you have? It’s called OpSec. Sometimes you have to do everything by yourself or with trusted family/friends.

    1. Dave says:

      No it’s not called OPSEC unless you are working for a government entity idiot. It’s called STFU and keep your crumb hole quiet.

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