Common-sense emergency preparedness from a combat veteran

Don’t even consider burying a shipping container as an underground bunker until you read this

bury shipping container shtf shelterWhy is it so dangerous for underground bunkers to be made from shipping containers?

I bet you were thinking that I was about to give you plans about how you should dig a hole for a cheap underground bunker with a door to be used for a simple SHTF/TEOTWAWKI survival bunker. Well, you’re wrong. What I’m here to tell you is that if you listen to pretty much all of the crap advice on the web, that you’ll be wrong. Not like I haven’t said that before. Shipping containers were built to be stacked. They’re called Intermodal Freight Containers because they can be moved on trains, boats, helicopters, whatever. They are meant to be large portable closets. They were not to be buried or cut into, and certainly weren’t designed to be used as underground bunkers. Once you do that, you start changing their effectiveness. They are not built for lateral pressure and not designed for long-term wetness or acidic/caustic soil.

I spent quite a lot of time in Iraq and saw some of the buried shelters that were only underground partway, and they were all buckling under the pressure. Guarantee they aren’t still safe even today. Not saying that you CAN’T bury a shipping container as an underground SHTF bunker if you do your homework and spend a lot of extra money and effort supporting it but you CAN’T just bury one in the ground at any appreciable depth without some supporting engineering and there are other considerations above even that. Just for reference, a cubic yard of dirt weighs somewhere between a ton and 2700 pounds or so. Imagine how much pressure a buried container bunker must have to withstand and then realize that the whole thing is surrounded by metal that’s only about as thick as a saw blade.

Now imagine if it rains. Now imagine if someone drives a truck or even just walks over your supposedly-hidden bunker? Also consider that you have to add in some safety margin just for shits and giggles plus to compensate for the materials aging over time. If you’ve never studied mechanical engineering, you need to understand that something that can withstand a LOT of pressure on one angle won’t necessarily withstand even close to that pressure at another.

Think about an egg. If you push down from the top of an egg, it’ll hold up to a lot more pressure than you’d think. Press it on the sides though and it crushes before you even start pushing. Same thing for a beer can. You can stand on one with no problem but then push your finger into one of the sides and the whole thing crushes. That’s because the force pushes down on itself, which is why shipping containers can hold a lot of weight if they’re stacked. These containers are designed to hold a LOT of weight as long as it’s held in the right spots, but anywhere else and you might as well just bury an enclosed car trailer. Take a look at what happened with this container that ended up being sent to auction.

Why? It’s physics, baby! Go to college and learn why. I’m just here to tell you that it happens, even though you may not have heard about it. Start vetting your sources before you listen to them and you’ll start seeing a pattern, and then you’ll start seeing which stories are true and which are just fluff to get you to click on their links. If you want a decent beginning to the design and capabilities of shipping container structures, check out this book. The biggest lesson you need to learn is that if you’re gonna build an underground shelter, you need to have a building inspector come in and take it all into consideration. If you have electricity running through it, have an electrician check it all out. Why on Earth would you try to save a few hundred bucks to risk it caving in on your family or electrocuting your kid to death during the first rainstorm? Are you a really a prepper?

Other reasons why you may want to rethink burying a shipping container – or underground shelters altogether

What are you trying to accomplish? Sure, you can get a shipping container for a few thousand dollars. Those few thousand dollars buy you a very small room. A room that I’ve lived in for many, many, many months overseas in different combat zones. They’re called Containerized Living Units (CLU’s) or Containerized Housing Units (CHU’s). I used them just to sleep in, along with anywhere from one to three roommates and I gotta tell you, it’s not fun. I couldn’t imagine being stuck in one of them with other people for months at a time. A shipping container is pretty much a rectangular metal tent. Imagine living in an underground bunker for months before coming up. If you’ve never spent weeks living out of a tent at night, you have no idea what it’d be like living in a bunker for months, both day and night.

That’s not even counting the actual logistics of not leaving the container, including human waste, trash, emotional pressure and the actual tactics involved. I’ll be visiting the tactical idiocy of almost all underground bunkers I’ve seen in a later post but if you just think about things from the enemy’s viewpoint and how they’d attack you, you’ll either quickly see how stupid it is or you really need to just go ahead and do it now so you’re out of the gene pool before you procreate. If you’ve ever been in combat in an urban environment, you know just how shitty of a decision it is to hole up in a room with only one entrance. One entrance means one exit. If they control the entrance, they control the exit, and they have a lot more room and supplies outside than you could have in a bunker. No matter how fortified your structure is, unless you spend a CRAPLOAD of money, all they have to do is wait you out and can easily speed up your schedule to come out.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t consider a fortified underground bunker at all, but if you do, just realize that you’ve shut out a lot of your capabilities such as escape, resupply and support if you don’t make a pretty extensive plan. Not to mention the fact that shipping containers are prone to have toxic paint and chemicals in the wood, including fumigation sprays that will likely require you to replace all the wood and strip all the paint to be safe.

Enough of that for now though because there are ways to plan around these problems but I wanted to mention them because people who are drawn to burying shipping container bunkers are the same idiots who’ll not consider what I’ve mentioned already, let alone the tactical disadvantage of being buried in a box a few feet below the surface with limited air supply and exits. I may go into the tactical ways to design and protect an underground bunker in a later thing but at the moment, I just want you to realize that if you’re going by what you’ve most likely been reading in some pretty popular articles about burying shipping containers, that you’re probably wrong.

The plain and simple truth is that a shipping container is designed to be stacked and have pretty much zero horizontal external pressure. Burying it will add a LOT of side pressure, especially if you’re in a rain-prone environment or have certain soils. They’re just not built for that. Might as well just build a frame and fill it with cement in the walls for a lot cheaper.

If you’re gonna use a shipping container bunker as an underground shelter, realize that it’s most likely made out of Corten Steel. Pretty decent stuff as long as it doesn’t get scratched and dented. If it does, it’ll start rusting through. Not a good thing if you’re 10 feet underground. They are pretty cheap and have their place in your plans if you’re smart. Here’s an example of one I found on Amazon for about $2500:

As long as it’s sealed, you can make it useable if you spend some time reinforcing the walls, depending on the soil and rainfall in the area. Just make sure that you don’t bury a 9-ish foot container under 6 feet of earth in an area that has a water table 12 feet under the ground. If you want to see some common specifications of shipping containers, check out this wikipedia article. Basically, a shipping container is pretty good for above-ground fortification as long as you fix any chemical problem. You can decide to bury one (or more) but to do it properly (not even counting the tactics and other considerations), you’ll have to spend a lot more money to make it right than just buying and delivering the containers. Remember though, just because it’s metal doesn’t make it bullet-proof (one big advantage to an underground bunker) Don’t take my word for it, do some research specifically looking at the limitations and dangers of burying shipping containers for yourself instead of just looking at the cost savings. Structurally, pipes are MUCH better at withstanding pressure, from any direction. The problem is that they’re round and we like our stuff to be on flat floors with flat walls. If, however, you could put a rectangular shipping container into a cylindrical pipe underground, you’d be set structurally. You’d still have to deal with the fact that you’re buried underground though. Here’s a video of an example of one made out of metal:

So what should you do if you find shipping containers for sale and really want an underground bunker using these metal boxes?

Think it through. Have someone come take a look at your plans before you commit. Don’t be an idiot. A shipping container is a great starting point for an above-ground shelter or if you’re planning on adding a supporting structure to it (provided you’ve figured out all the tactics of being stuck in a hole in the ground with people who might want to get you out). It just might not be the cheapest way to go if you’re planning on burying it.

The biggest thing though is that if you’re trying to use it, or anything else, as a buried defensive bunker, you’d better have a hidden exit somewhere to get out if you’re found, and should be thinking about some serious camouflage around it for your entrance and vents. It would suck to spend all that money, planning, and time just to make yourself a ridiculously overly-complicated coffin. Underground shipping container bunkers are possible; just don’t think that all you have to do is dig a deep hole, drop a shipping container into it, bury it and decorate. If you really want an underground bunker and you want to do it the right way, you should be talking to someone like Vivos Shelters. Nothing says you can’t do all the research yourself but the point of a shelter is to keep you safe. It would kind of suck if your shelter were the very thing that got you hurt.

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About graywolf

I am a military veteran who has deployed to combat theaters in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan and have almost three decades of military and military contracting experience.

My goal is to help preppers and others understand how to intelligently protect their family and their way of life.

  • 1_no_political_lemmings_1

    Thank you Graywolf for sharing your wisdom. Have a good one…………… (former B 1/75 ‘old scroll’ Rangers)

  • Rumfitt Booya

    Hi graywolf, firstly id like to say excellent advice, I have seen many “preppers” online recommend shipping containers and until reading this was along the same line of thought myself.

    Can I ask, where in the UK would you recommend to go in a SHTF situation? I was thinking wilderness like scotland would be a good idea but wanted an experts advice? THanks

    • graywolfsurvival

      I haven’t been to the UK since I was in RAF Mildenhall in the 80′s. It would all depend on what the situation is really. A group solution is best though. At least you have a lot of land that you can live off all around there. If it were up to me, I’d head to St James’ Gate in Ireland and hole up in the Guinness brewery.

  • Inkognito Jones

    Reinforce the container, properly prep the exterior and interior for corrosion resistance, and then bury it. I’ve had mine in the ground under 3′ of dirt for almost 6 years now. During a recent ‘remodel’ of some of my plumbing, I dug up one side of the container and not a spot of rust – looked as good as the day I covered it up. Don’t be stupid, and you’ll be fine.

    • Katherine Lee James

      Can I ask you a question? what made you only have your container 3 ft under dirt? I am thinking of using shipping containers (several of them) and reinforce them but going 20 ft under dirt.

      • Daniel Lunsford

        Keep in mind that shipping containers are only rated to hold about 325 pounds per square foot- and even premixed, bagged topsoil weighs 125 pounds per cubic foot. In other words, be wary of burying a shipping container that deep. If you are going that deep you might want to go with a more robust design such as the Atlas products that the author mentioned (barrel vault- very strong)

      • dragon5126

        the weight of 20 ft of even the driest soil will cave in the top of the container in short order. you are talking about tons per sq. inch of pressure at that depth. Add a single rainstorm and it will become a tomb . The strength of the containers is in the frame not the sides or top.

        • graywolfsurvival

          Absolutely

      • graywolfsurvival

        You have to consider the worst cast scenario for the soil you’re under, while it’s completely soaked (because it’s gonna rain hard some day) and you have to have some room built into that (such as someone walking or driving over the hidden bunker and just a little extra just to be sure.

        Here are some material weights per cubic foot.

        http://www.coyotesteel.com/assets/img/PDFs/weightspercubicfoot.pdf

  • Katherine Lee James

    I am very new to prepping & was thinking of using containers under ground for my family but also thought I would certainly need to have them reinforced & was told its best to bury at least 20ft under ground,is that correct.. Im concerned now as what to do, I am not in a position to purchase the bunkers that are sold specifically for this purpose.I live in Australia and there isnt anyone selling them on the market over here.Maybe someone should start up a business of sorts as there are plenty of people wanting them. I have a large family and want to do whatever it takes to keep them all alive but in saying that want to do it right. I would appreciate any ideas or suggestions,thanks, Kat James.

    • graywolfsurvival

      Hi Katherine

      The deeper you go, the less likely you are to be discovered and the more protection you’d have from radiation, blast, attack etc. the problem is that your engineering requirements go up due to increased pressure, more difficulty in cycling air, danger of hitting the water table – especially during rainy season, etc.

      You also have to consider that your entrance and escape avenues have to be just as deep. Remember that if there’s only one way in then there’s only one way out.

      I’ll have to write a post some time on how to properly bury and defend a shipping container because there’s a lot to discuss, especially when it comes to tactics.

      • Katherine Lee James

        Hello Graywolfsurvival,
        Thank you for your reply, most appreciated. I’m looking into proper air filtration which is the same used in the bunkers sold by Atlas Survival Shelters which suggest you bury your bunker 20 feet down so I’m thinking I’m on the right track. I am also interested in canning meat if you have any ideas on this.. From what I’ve seen Americans use glass jars & call this canning, we call it preserving. I would certainly have a few escape tunnels & security camera’s with night vision. Wow there is so much to consider & take into account & to organise. I am doing this solely on my own which is going to take some time, thank
        you for any suggestions.

        • graywolfsurvival

          In a lot of cases, a buried bunker is so expensive and complicated that it isn’t the best choice. By the time you get it all safe, secure and working, you could have paid for a fantastic above-ground facility that has its own benefits. You get a LOT more room and flexibility for the same price.

          Burying a couple of long escape tunnels and camouflaging their exits can be pretty damn expensive to do it right, but you might want to consider putting one or two of them in even if you don’t go underground. All depends on your layout and what exactly you’re planning for. Just remember that if your escape hatch is within view of the place you’re escaping, it’s shit.

          For most people, using a fraction of that money for tactical and medical training is much better spent. What would you do if you spent everything on your bunker and had to leave it or couldn’t make it there when the time came? Learning is much preferable to buying.

          I don’t know jack about preserving. I have started to at least buy canning jars and freeze food when I make too much though lol.

          • Katherine Lee James

            We don’t have access to guns unless you obtain a licence which I might add is not easy to get, actually almost impossible so to live above ground frightens me especially when Ill have small grandchildren & no protection & nothing in the way of protection against nuclear disaster..We are buying acreage early next year so we will have the space and the bunkers will be placed on our property. To buy one of Atlas Survival shelters or any of the other one’s its going to cost about $60,000 + just for one and that’s only big enough for 6 people, so I’d need at least 4 of them, then its something like $70,000 to ship one over here, so my thinking is shipping containers is going to be the cheaper option. The tunnels or escape routes will be hidden to the human eye, I have too many lives at stake not to take great care on these crucial parts elements..I have been a mum for 37 years & ten kids later so I have more medical knowledge then most & have done some medical training as well. You are very informative & I take your suggestions seriously. Thank you again. I will have to google how to preserve meat, I do however know how to make jerky.

          • blueeagle

            you might think of building ur own bunker , made out of cinder blockes, u can get more space for ur money.and will last a lot longer than a Shipping container and its a lot safer/

  • Renaissance Ronin

    Amen, brother, A-freakin-MEN. I wish people would STOP asking me about this. Just because you see idiots doing it on “sensationalista TV” doesn’t discount the “I R a Moron” factor. Listen to Graywolf. PLEASE listen to Graywolf. You CANNOT bury a Corten Steel Shipping Container in the ground and achieve anything but failure.I don’t want to be tasked with digging out your sorry butt and then burying you in a proper grave. (I’ve actually had to do this.) You can throw a ton of money at this “dig a big hole and drop the box – solution” but in the end, it’ll make that container unnecessary. I KNOW what I’m talking about. I’m one of the TOP rated ISBU guys on the planet. ;)

    • graywolfsurvival

      I kept seeing people suggesting that others should bury these things but they didn’t actually do any digging into how exactly you’d do it. I was originally gonna just write the post about the tactical mistake of doing this (which will come at some point now) but I found so many problems with the logistics of doing this that I completely changed the article. Thanks for your input RR!

    • Shaun Lake

      Ok please excuse my lack of knowledge as i have many talents but this isnt one. Im planning on designing my own cargo container home. But 2 of them will be underground a bunker if you will, but before putting them under the ground i was planning on using steel beams in a cris cross design along the sides front back and underneath then welding 1/4 inch steel sheets everywhere one will be used for storage of food water etc the other for living ,since most containers are 10 feet high 6 feet will be used for walking around the other 4 feet on top completley sealed and using blue hard plastic barrels connected with high pressure piping thats on the sealed ceiling throughout the containers, using them as ballasts to control the buoyancy, along with coating all the sides tops and bottoms with liquid foam that expands,before the foam i plan to use primer paint,then spray the complete units with a poly resin then apply DURABAK rubber adhesive. Durabak is currently being used by our naval fleets for its anti corrosion from salt water.All steel will be coated in this process from containers to the outside of the steel coated structure. i also plan to have doors that are found on ships that are waterproof. if theirs a global tsunami or great flood the top cargo containers will be washed away with the initial wave. the remaining 2 will be kept under the earth with flooded ballasts. when the time is right i will force the water from the ballasts and the air inside and the sealed off areas of the containers will hopefully allow me to surface enough to only allow a controlled level of the containers to remain above water allowing for fresh air and generator exhaust to be omitted.i didnt mention rubber sheeting to be used as additional insulating.the final step will be to encase the whole structure with wooden pallets as they add buoyancy and the wood is strong. im looking for my family and small group of friends to have a fighting chance to survive. will this work or will it be an EPIC FAIL..i understand that theres other factors like why would you want to survive it anyway or radioactive fallout poisoning us. i owe it to my family to try, the Ballast idea i use is to submerge at will in case of ships hitting me and at night i must stay beneath a certain depth. I ask your opinion since your a go to man regarding this idea.Please go easy with comments as ive done all that i know in my head, and i fear the worst and hope the best, regards Shaun ….irishties@yahoo.com

      • Prep4Today

        I’ll try to answer your question without offending you, IMHO
        it would be an epic fail.

        .1 Ballast needs to be below the waterline, not in the roof.

        .2 If you are talking about a 40 ft. Hi-cube shipping
        container, then in that case, it has a volume
        of 2690 cu. Ft. you would need 170,000 pounds of ballast to keep it submerged.
        That’s three times the amount of weight the shipping container is designed to
        carry. Also water is poor ballast by itself.

        .3 If you could overcome
        one and two, I would think the sheer volume of the debris in the water, that’s
        likely to hit the shipping container, will rip it open like a cat playing with a
        balloon.

        Anything is possible; some things are just not practical. I
        wish you well, and hope you find a solution.

        • Shaun Lake

          Ok thanks for your responce..it was just an idea that is not feasable..but thats why were all here to learn.
          any suggestions that can lead me and my family down the right path will be appreciated..thank you for your time. Shaun

  • arguendo

    I do indeed have plans along this line. I was planning to use a smaller 20ft container, paint it with paint that prevents hydrolisis, and add concrete around the lateral walls and rear. Hadn’t really hammered out what sort of concealment to use at the entrance, yet.

    • graywolfsurvival

      Adding concrete is the key but you may find that you can use just the concrete and have a little more flexibility.

      The concealment is the hard part, no matter how you build an underground shelter. To do it properly, you need an entrance that is not only hidden from people passing by but also gives you a plausible reason that they lost you if they followed you there so they don’t start digging around. If that’s not possible, you need to at least be able to verify if you’re being followed before you turn off to it without them knowing there was a turnoff in the first place.

      A big thing though is that if you only have one entrance, you only have one exit. A small, buried shelter is a bitch tactically.

      • arguendo

        Agreed. The area is out in the middle of nowhere. More of a “last resort standby and hunker down till (whatever) passes” than a plan A option. I like the ideas of a fairly secure fallback option though.

  • http://www.risingsbunkers.com/ Chad Robinson

    A: WALLS –

    RSC Steel bunkers are constructed from 1/4″ plate steel and 1/4″
    C-Channel. Shipping containers offer no structural reinforcement and
    the walls are made from thin 14-gauge steel. This means that the ENTIRE
    Rising S unit is a load-bearing structure capable of supporting weights
    in excess of 300,000lbs. Shipping containers are only load-bearing at
    it’s 4 corners.

    B: CEILING & FLOORS –

    Constructed from 1/4″ plate steel and 1/4″ 2′x4′ Square Tubing.
    Shipping containers offer no structural reinforcement and the walls are
    made from thin 14-gauge steel. There are wood floors in most shipping
    containers only further weakening the over all strength of the
    structure.

    C: DOORS AND EXPANDABLE UNITS –

    Shipping containers are not easily expandable. Aside from the main
    challenge of cutting away the door and fabricating a connector piece
    between two shelters; removing any part of a shipping container’s wall
    will only further weaken the already flimsy structure.

    In contrast; Rising S bunkers are easily expandable. Using flanges;
    we are able to offer our clients the ability to expand their floor-plans
    and virtually enlarge the bunker to endless possibilities. Between
    each unit; there are also security doors offering redundant layers of
    protection against intruders. RSC floor plans are limited only by budget
    and imagination. If you can dream it – we can build it.

    D: STAIRCASE ENTRY AND HATCH DOOR –

    Every underground bunker that Rising S Company builds comes with a
    steel staircase and entry hatch. This hatch is lockable from the inside
    and acts as your first line of defense in times of trouble. A security
    door lies at the foot of the staircase giving occupants a second layer
    of security and protection against assailants or looters. Shipping
    containers offer no such convenient entry methods nor do they offer the
    added security that a RSC staircase and security doors can provide.

    E: SHIPPING CONTAINERS: Not a load bearing structure!

    WARNING! If you bury a shipping container without re-supporting the
    walls, ceiling and floor; IT WILL COLLAPSE! The thin steel used in the
    walls and ceiling isn’t strong enough to support the weight of the dirt.
    Every shipping container is built to be strongest at the corners. If
    you place significant weight & pressure anywhere other than the
    corner posts; the container will collapse. The only way to reinforce
    the structure is to line it in concrete blocks or in wood… both of which
    are inferior methods compared to the strength of the heavy steel used
    in RSC units. Not to mention that regardless of the re-stabilizing
    method used; it all subtracts from the available floor space.

    F: THIN & POOR CONSTRUCTION.

    The standard shipping container’s walls are very thin (16 gauge steel). These walls are problematic for several reasons. A:
    They are weaker than the steel used in RSC units and without
    significant re-stabilization of the walls and roof; they will collapse
    under the weight of being buried. B: They have no corrosion protection so deterioration is quickened. C.
    The walls are corrugated so installing a sealed floor is near
    impossible …short of adding more steel to the unit, Ideally; occupants
    need to be able to seal the unit off from moisture and potentially
    toxic air. Air filtration is only possible in units that are air-tight.

  • Timothy Cogdill

    Totally agree. I’ve looked into the whole shipping container thing and the only viable option I found was to pour a footing/slab, build a block box with sump and then put the shipping container inside of it. Sounds kind of stupid at that point doesn’t it. You can actually build an underground concrete block room for what you would pay for a shipping container. Concrete, and block is cheap. If you don’t mind doing the work yourself it’s cost effective, and a Much better option. Along with an emergency exit.

  • XBrody Charles Garth II

    Do you really know what you are talking about? First thing that lead me to think you do not was “they are only about as think as a saw blade”. A standard steel shipping container can withstand a blast from a .357 at 10 foot range,I am pretty sure a saw blade can not do that.

    • graywolfsurvival

      Here’s a video of your .357 going through a shipping container at 30 feet – http://vimeo.com/38596700

      … And the same shipping container being penetrated by a 9mm at the same 30 feet – http://vimeo.com/38592222

      Still think a shipping container can withstand a .357 at 10 feet?

      Now to the pertinent facts as related to the article…

      The thickness of ISO shipping container walls is about 2mm (14 gage) – http://www.elitebuildings.com/userfiles/ISO_Container_Specifications.pdf

      Here’s just one example picked at random of a selection of saw blades available, showing them to be available from 1.8mm-4.4mm, meaning that 2mm falls within the definition of “about as thick as a saw blade” – http://www.guhdo.com/sawblades/documents/2011SawBlade_004.pdf

      Plus, no where in the article did I mention a single sentence about being bulletproof as a deciding factor in burying a shipping container, only that the walls can’t take the side pressure from dirt when buried.

      Not sure where you’re getting your facts but you should really find more reputable sources.

  • Sean Donnelly

    Heyya Wolf, I hadn’t really thought about the directional vectors involved nor the corrosion factor. I would have thought that the metal would have lasted ‘long enough’ for what it would be needed for. I would have figured something like a shipping container would only be useful for the primary die-off hence corrosion not factoring for me. As far as tactical considerations go, however, I am in 100% agreement with you. Anything with only one way in is known to thinking people as a “trap.” I have the same problem with people building, what is essentially, a panic room. It’s fine when the police will be showing up in fifteen minutes to half an hour. When you don’t have police, or someone else, coming to flank the people waiting you out … it becomes a death trap.

  • Joseph Taylor

    Good information to know before spending tons of money on something that won’t last and could be dangerous also.

  • TurkeyMan

    Great article, Great advice.
    Thank you for putting it out there the way it really is.

    • graywolfsurvival

      Thanks TM. Just kinda stuck in my craw so I had to say something.

  • ibelievein3

    Can you bury a mobile home (not motor home/rv) AKA prefab home or “trailer” as in “trailer park”? I am curious if anyone knows the specs.

    • graywolfsurvival

      I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say no. Trailers are much weaker structurally than a shipping container.

  • Corey Michael Naughton

    That Atlas shelter video was stupid. The only 3/8ths steel which will stop “pretty much every bullet but a .50 cal) would be AR500 steel. The door would weigh over 200 lbs and it still wouldn’t stop any sub-50. cal round that is AP (like readily available 30-06 AP). Also, why would you demo your product when it’s unfinished and there’s potential customers inside???
    Anyways, the problem with burying a shipping container is that most people just plain do it wrong. The thing isn’t designed to support lateral load ONLY compression load. If you want a shelter just build an above ground earth bag building. It’s bulletproof and fireproof by design.

    • graywolfsurvival

      Spot on Corey

  • Shaun Lake

    I asked a question and now its been taken off why ?

  • Shaun Lake

    Once again i posted a request. And it was removed SCOTT what gives ?

    • graywolfsurvival

      Hi Shaun, I haven’t removed anything.

      All comments are moderated because I get hundreds of spam comments each month so they sit in a queue. I like this Disqus system for comments mostly but it’s not very reliable with telling me when someone comments. I also can’t check my comments on every page every day.

      I didn’t see your question until just now when I saw this comment.

      • Shaun Lake

        Im sorry i stumbled across your site and it was refreshing to see a man with your credentials affirm my beliefs. Im 55 and my world was never the same after the JFK assasination. But current events leave me doubting certain events and theres a level of mistrust and uncertainity that has led me to your doorstep. Many of my friends and some family think ive fallen off the deep end. Guess i look at the world as a slaughter house but i want to know when the axe is going to drop. My budget is meek as im disabled but i plan on dropping off the grid grow my own food and getting out of the Boston area. My son 22 and daughter 8 are my concern and homeschooling is a must for my daughter shes studying Wing Chun now and she needs and wants to be able to drop any guy who tries to harm her. Im thinking PA is where ill be heading into the country. The gun laws here are ridiculous and ive been LTC concealed for 27 years but was denied this time for no reason. I have no criminal record sp rathet than fight it im going to be prepping in Pa. I dont know about the water table there but ill find out. The reinforced cargo container with the ballist idea seems way out there but since the Earth is 75 petcent water..i figured a world wide tsunami could happen so why not think harder and well i explaned it all below…i have a good friend whos got a huge backho and another friend whos a long time welder so ill barder my singing talents for their help…lol..their dying to get me out there but are clueless about my prepping. They did mention a doomsday nutjob whos been prepping for years..looks like hes someone i have to meet. Thanks for your weapon advice as i only have a HK USP 45…but plan on buying a HK 7.62 M16 style rifle. And much more crossbows and other goodies…the multiple escape idea is great and if the buggers are coming through one of my corrugated tunnel theyll be surprised its a dead end but the door behind them will drop and ill flood the tunnel. Im planning on using submarine watertight doors and naval hatches. Ive got a hookup with 1/4 inch steel sheets and the ham radio a must..but with what ive written below will it work..i undetstand the sides are the week points and have addressed the posdibility of structural collapse.
        i think. Ive been to Ireland and have family in Cork..My dads mothers name was Kelly but Scott im very sorry for my lack of patience and writing a small novel here..peace to you ,and i hope my path crosses your someday ..i dont drink or smoke but id throw back a Guiness. With you anyday…Is my Idea a Epic FAIL or does it need some tweaking ? Respect and regards Shaun

  • NoBeeS

    Lots of great points but you are a asshole, no really, you sir are an an asshole. If you cut out the insults this would be a solid article. Get your point accross without the bs and you might have a better chance of getting people to appreciate your logic.

    • graywolfsurvival

      Thanks NoBeeS. You’re welcome to read someone else’s blog or even start your own. I’m not really concerned about your opinion, or anyone else’s for that matter.

      And I’ve been called much worse.

      • NoBeeS

        No Sir you missed the point. You insult a decent amount of the people seeking information.. most of them need clear instruction not trolling. According to your site you have plenty of experiance but you offer little advise “here” on how to defend a bunker or solve the issue of the shipping container bunker system that is pretty popular for the average prepper. More honey, less vinegar…

        • graywolfsurvival

          The point of the article wasn’t to explain how to defend a bunker, just to stop people from thinking they can just dig a hole and drop one in safely – as is suggested all over the internet.

          Defending an underground bunker is actually quite difficult. The article was much longer than most people like to read as it is. I may write an article about trying to set up a system for underground bunker defense at some point but it’s actually almost impossible other than reducing your signature and having a hidden exit.

  • Survival Prepper Joe

    Thank you for this article, Scott! This topic is very popular in this community. Not sure why. But after reading about it several times, I did some research, too.

    These containers are so weakly constructed that a heavy set man can cave the roof in, let alone a ton of dirt.

    They’re a strong fame, wrapped in flimsy metal. That frame is designed to support stacking, but if the load is placed anywhere other than that frame, it’s cave-in time.

    If placed above ground, they’re STILL not a useful solution.

    They’re not insulated, so they get too cold when it’s cold out, and too hot inside when it’s hot outside. Because they’re metal, when the temperature changes they’re prone to condensation, which can lead to mold.

    After all of the modifications you’d need to make a container inhabitable (above ground) you’d have spent nearly the same as you would buying a motor home or trailer.

    The one bright spot I found was a Popular Mechanics article showcasing homes and offices constructed from shipping containers. These looked pretty neat. But probably have as much to do with the original shipping container as a living tree does with a finished home.

    If you want to check it out, that research is on my site.

    Thanks again.

    Best,
    Joe

  • http://www.filtrationaustralia.com peter stuart

    hi guys peter here from australia, i found this site while searching for outlets to sell portable water filtration units transportable for 100 odd people or more ,anyway seen the problems associated with containers underground,may i sugest you could use the container as boxing .there is a lot of labor with laying blocks and filling them ,dig a rectangular hole 150mm larger than the container,poor the floor with cement and reinforcing,lift container onto floor and lock it down with the anchor points all containers come with,then go inside the container and cut timber braces to fit between the walls.then place steel mesh or you can buy the concrete with fibremesh in it and slowly poor the concrete in doing all sides equally with a 600mm lift ,the container can not move as it is locked down and the concrete is on all sides do not do one wall to the top // gradual lifts all round ,the braces inside transfer the load from one side to the other (as the concrete is trying to push one side in it has to push the other out ,it cant push out as the other side has the same force of concrete pushing it in ) go inside habd hit the walls with a large mallet this will settle the concrete and remove air pockets,the end with the door can be formed up with structual ply so you can make the required entry,when the wall have reached there height place some steel dowls 200mm into the top and protruding above 150mm place steel mesh on the roof with clearace supports so the mesh is 50mm of the container roof then pour the concrete on the roof ,now you have one water proof solid bunker,
    NOTE you need a structual engineer to design the roof mesh and concrete thickness depending on the earth loading above the container,also the concrete needs to be at 32 mpa and concrete plastic against the container to stop concrete moisture.
    love and light

  • David Finley

    Listen to the man! Being stuck in a CHU with two other dudes for a year IS NOT an enjoyable situation! Say what you will about “just trying to survive”- it won’t matter if you’re at each other’s throats a few weeks later.

  • Daniel Lunsford

    I have to disagree with a number of your points, sir. I’ve been working with and designing with steel shipping containers through my architectural firm for awhile now; as a matter of fact, we’re about to roll out a series of survival bunker / storm shelter plans to add to our portfolio. Let’s take it point by point:

    1) Lateral stability: as you note, shipping containers are much stronger in compression. However, any unstable soil that pushes against the side of the containers is liable to cause damage. There are a variety of ways to prevent this, such as sandbags, cement-stabilizing the surrounding soil, or a good old-fashioned log or railroad tie palisade fence. I’ve even heard of people using rock gabions. In fact, if the soil in your area is heavy, dense clay, it probably won’t slump at all.

    2) Rustproofing: steel shipping containers have a functional life of twenty years. They are made of 12 gauge steel, 1/10th of an inch thick. That is actually pretty thick for steel, and the rate of rusting can be quicker or slower depending on soil conditions, humidity, the exact composition of the steel, etc. We recommend that any buried container application be coated with an extra layer of paint, or even better- good old-fashioned roofing tar (cost to cover a 8′x8.5′x40′ container on all sides: about $500).

    3) Reinforcing: not necessary unless you want your container buried really deep. They have a compressive strength of 325 pounds per square foot; very dense, heavy clays like our local Texas ‘gumbo mud’ only weigh about 200 pounds per cubic foot (near 275 if fully saturated). So unless you are going to bury the container more than 2-3 feet deep, it is probably not necessary.

    4) Chemical and pollutants: sure they need to be washed out really well. You have to do that if you are going to use one for almost anything other than storage / transport. Its just the nature of the beast.

    5) Ingress / egress: a valid point to be sure, but wouldn’t that hold true for any survival shelter?

    I am not arguing that there are better ways to build a survival shelter. The video you linked is a great example of a better system: the Atlas shelters are essentially barrel vaults- very strong. But what I am saying is none of the problems you mentioned are really problems if the builder/ designer knows what they are doing.

    • graywolfsurvival

      Which is exactly what I was saying when I said “Underground shipping container bunkers are possible; just don’t think that all you have to do is dig a deep hole, drop a shipping container into it, bury it and decorate. If you really want an underground bunker and you want to do it the right way, you should be talking to someone…” so I don’t know what your point is.

      • Daniel Lunsford

        I misunderstood your article to be discouraging people from doing it at all because a, b, c, etc. My apologies if that was not your intent.

  • Steven Stevo Hampton

    Has anyone done real research in Monolithic Domes; I originally was looking at burying “containers”, then I discovered ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) but I’m now interested in Monolithic Domes. Egg shape strength, lighter concretes, thermal mass, and high efficient foam insulation.

  • Laurel Wiltsey Martin

    OK but what if you built a “block/concrete liner” then used the container? Even lined the interior with something as simple as wood or sheet rock?

    • graywolfsurvival

      Just lining it wouldn’t help because you’re not just trying to keep it from piercing, you’re trying to keep it from bowing in. You need lateral support to allow it to push out. Having a concrete wall filled with cement and steel could help if it were thick enough, and then the shipping container could be used for just supporting the roof and dirt above but you’d still have to worry about rusting and chemicals.

      If you could build a framework that could be buried and then put the container in it, you’re good. Once you’ve one that though, you probably don’t really need the container anymore unless your framework can’t handle the weight.

  • dragon5126

    The first question that ANY under ground bunker builder needs to ask is what is my soil like? The comment that a cubic yard of dirt weighing a ton is far from accurate. It is an over generalization, and does not take into consideration the content of the soil, including the moisture content. If the soil is loam, it will be under 100 lbs a cubic yd ( I used to throw 1, 2, & 4 cubic yd bales of peat moss around when I worked in a ware house in my youth). When the soil the container is set in is compacted and solid there is minimal pressure against the walls of the container, (key words coming) in the beginning. As time moves on, the earth around it will begin adding pressure and will start to buckle the flat walls, this is why metal culverts are round, it causes the pressures to flow around the pipe and add support rather than becoming destructive. If you want to keep that container intact long term, first it MUST completely free of exterior rust and then tarred, completely encapsulating the exterior to seal it from water damage. Then set it in a properly poured concrete foundation, and surrounded with more concrete, creating a complete concrete vault around the container. this means a substantial amount of prep work, creating the entrance and so forth. The advantage to this is you can build a reinforced literal bomb shelter, and it will be doublely shielded from EMF issues as it will be within a grounded metal structure AND under ground (an earth ground). All this work, how ever can also be accomplished by burying corrugated culvert pipe of suitable dimensions, and prepped the same way you have the advantage of storage under the flat floorboards over the round bottom of the pipe. and you only have to worry about the bed the pipe is in and tarring about half of the pipe before dropping it in place, don’t have to worry about leveling it from left to right, just end to end which can be done by flowing the concrete in under it… in short MUCH less work… just get the pipe weld ends on and tar it then dig the hole, pour part of the concrete base (to prevent formation of any air gaps) and float the pipe and pour the rest of the base. then cut your entrances… In the end Shipping containers ONLY make sense as shipping or above ground storage containers. and not much else, unless they are free. they are too damned much work and hidden expenses. These are the REAL reasons not to mess with them.

  • graywolfsurvival

    The weight of the soil above a buried bunker is based on the soil itself and not generic topsoil unless you’ve actually purchased and placed generic topsoil. Plus, if it ever rains, it certainly won’t be at 2.5% moisture. The structure you should be designing for worst-case, not optimum conditions. If you banked on 40 lbs and it ever rained, you’d cave in. If you didn’t have perfect topsoil, you’d cave in. If anyone ever crossed over your hidden structure, you’d cave in.

    Clay is a big part of a lot of the US so it has to be a consideration when calculating it theoretically but you have to actually dig down, wet your soil to a heavy rain condition, weigh it, and then add some for anything that could possibly cross over it plus a little extra for some safety.

    Here are some general weights that you might find, and in real conditions, they’ll be a lot more than 40 lbs – http://www.coyotesteel.com/assets/img/PDFs/weightspercubicfoot.pdf

  • graywolfsurvival

    Absolutely correct, and you have to consider the worst-case scenario for the most amount of pressure that could be expected and leave some amount of safety margin. It doesn’t matter if the walls can sustain the weight on average. It matters if they walls can sustain the weight at the highest pressure point under the worst conditions that are possible.

  • graywolfsurvival

    I agree. Setting up an underground structure on its own is very difficult. As an addition to an existing structure though, it could work well.

  • free

    I’m not sure why people would want an underground bunker, but if you must bury something and use it for shelter, try a 2000 gal septic tank. You can install it yourself, it won’t look suspicious, its waterproof and won’t collapse on itself. You can even fit in it if you need to (granted you fit thru the manhole :) ). They’re cheaper than shipping containers too, just not as big.

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