How To Build An Underground Survival Bunker From Scratch

How To Build An Underground Survival Bunker From Scratch
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Survival BunkerEvery serious survivalist dreams of having their own underground survival bunker. A haven where we can escape to in the event of an emergency – an underground shelter where you can take refuge.

Whether you call it a survival bunker, an apocalyptic bunker, a bomb shelter, nuclear shelter or fallout shelter…it’s a place you can survive (typically underground) with plenty of clean air, fresh water, and food in times epic disaster.

Sure, VIP’s like the President, billionaires, and wealthy moguls have emergency bunkers. Opulent spaces outfitted with massage recliners, flat screen theaters, and ‘Charmin extra triple ply’ gentle toilet paper…

  • But what about the commoners like you and me?
  • What about the regular people with regular jobs and regular occupations?
  • Where are our fancy security measures?
  • Where are our lavish survival bunkers lying in wait?

To put it plainly: there aren’t any. But there could be…
You don’t have to be a billionaire or head of state to have a survival bunker. Now, I’m not telling you that building one is easy, or that you can do it on a shoestring budget – because it isn’t and you can’t.

But if you are serious about protecting your family in the event of an emergency – natural, or otherwise – it can be done. That is if your willing to invest the time, effort and cash to build an underground survival bunker.

Why?

To many, the answer to that question is both simple and obvious:

Any apocalypse event, really.

Whether it’s North Korea firing a missile on the US or violent riots consuming your neighborhood. Or your worried about tornado’s touching down on your street, ISIS, Nazis – WHATEVER!

If you have a bunker in your backyard, you are going to be a lot safer than your complacent neighbors.

But that’s not all, folks! Bunkers also serve as a good place to store food caches, ammunition, and survival supplies. It’s like having a walk-in closet unit for all your stockpiles and preps.

Fall Out Shelter

Getting Started On Your Underground Survival Bunker

As I mentioned earlier: this is no cake walk side project. Building an underground survival bunker is an intensive construction project requiring lots of forethought and planning.

To be successful, you should work everything out in detail before you begin. Blueprints, permits, contracts, floor plans – all recommended before you break ground.

But as prepared survivalists, planning is what we do. So if you want a survival bunker, you have to accept this will be one of your bigger survival projects.

Then, all that’s left is to get down to the business of planning and building.

The first step is to get a permit for the project. Yes, believe it or not, in most circumstances you can’t just start digging a massive hole in your yard.

Not without permission, that is.

And in populated areas, it’s for a good reason. There are pipes, electrical wires, gas lines, all kinds of underground utilities.

If you live in a dense neighborhood, you may not get a backyard bunker building permit at all.

You probably need land. You need some acreage.

It doesn’t have to be a whole lot of land, but I would say a half acre is a good bare minimum.

Even if you own the land you plan to build on, get a permit! Otherwise, you’re likely breaking one law or another.

Once you have that building permit, though, you can start trying to figure out where you’re going to put your bunker.

backyard outhouse

Finding The Perfect Bunker Spot

This step raises some important questions:

  • What kind of soil is on your property?
  • Are there natural gas pockets below you?
  • How deep is bedrock?
  • Is there water below? If so, how deep?

So selecting the right spot for your bunker is key. You need the right soil composition, and somewhere you can access quickly.

Also, the time of year when you break ground matters. If you live in a cooler region, the ground freezes in the winter.

While it’s possible to break ground during the winter months, I don’t recommend it. It will take a lot longer and rack up the effort/money spent on the project.

excavator backhoeExcavation and Structure Planning

To get the excavation done in a timely manner you’re going to need some heavy machinery. Of course, if you want to cut budgetary corners, you can go the old-fashioned way and use a shovel. Not my idea of a good time.

Digging by shovel is only an option if you’re in no rush, have all the time in the world, and are building a small bunker. Otherwise, get your hands on a backhoe or end loader of some sort.

You can rent excavation equipment, or you can hire contractors to do it for you. Either way, excavation costs will be a significant chunk of your bunker building budget – plan on it.

As you dig, there are a few important considerations you must take into account.

Air Filtration:

First, filtered fresh air is your best friend in any underground vault. Fresh air is critical if you intend to stay down there for an extended period of time. Especially, if the disaster event is a nuclear attack and you’re dealing with the fallout.

As you’re excavating, make sure to leave room for the air vents. Not only will this provide necessary fresh air, but in hot weather, it will serve to keep the bunker cool with the airflow.

Buy your air filtration system in advance, so you know the specs, and can stock up on air filters. It would be a shame to spend a bunch of money on a fancy air filter, only to run out of filters in an emergency.

You should also invest a high-quality gas mask and a bunch of filters in case you’re forced out of your bunker when the air is still unsafe to breathe.

Make sure to disguise both vents at the surface with rocks or bushes later, but make sure to have at least two.

Clean Water:

Some people might prefer to install a water tank with your bunker. While this is a valid idea in theory, in practice it presents some problems.

Foremost, the tanks will eventually run out – and you will need something to refill it. Further, large containers are bulky and hard to conceal unless buried – which adds to the cost of excavation.

Ideally, you can tap into the water table and can draw and filter from within the comfort of your bunker. Since you are already underground, digging further to make a well isn’t too much of an endeavor. But it will require more permits, permission, and more funds.

If there’s running water nearby, you may be able to set up a way to channel it near your underground survival bunker. Or you could devise a rainwater harvest system to replenish your supply.

No matter how you do it, having clean running water is essential to preserving one’s survival. If you still want a tank, by all means, get yourself one. But they work better as backup forms of water supply.

In a prolonged emergency, if electricity and water systems go out, you will need a fresh supply source.

Food Cache:

Having a supply of food in your bunker seems obvious, but it’s important, so I didn’t want to skip it.

Digging an extra room strictly for food storage is a good idea.

Plus, underground bunkers are the perfect place to store your emergency cache of food. They are underground, so they stay cool; just make sure to keep them dry as well. They’re also out of sight thus making them difficult to rob.

Every survival bunker needs an abundant supply of non-perishable food items at the ready. Canned goods, dehydrated meals, food stored in mylar bags, anything that has a long shelf life is perfect to hoard.

Escape:

If you don’t dig yourself an escape route, you’re digging yourself a grave.

If you only have one entrance/exit and it gets blocked by debris or dead bodies, then you’re trapped. Which, essentially becomes your tomb.

An alternative escape route is something people forget to include in their bunkers all the time – don’t make the same mistake!

Yes, two doors are harder to keep track of than one – but it is worth the extra effort. So just do yourself a huge favor, and during excavation, make sure you dig one way in, and a separate way out.

Construction Materials

Choosing Your Materials After Excavation

The material you use to structure your bunker with is up to you and your budget. It’s possible to line the thing in thick tempered steel like a bank vault – but that will cost an arm and a leg.

Here are some other options for adding interior structure to your bunker:

Metal:

Using thick sheets of metal welded together and supported by tube steel create the ultimate underground bunker. It’s strong, its moisture resistance, it’s not susceptible to infestation – but it’s really freaking expensive.

If you can find a good deal on a bunch of 4mm metal sheets, then go for it. Or if you have a large budget then by all means…

Otherwise, you’ll have to choose a more budget friendly option.

Wood:

NOT ADVISED! Wood is cheap, easy to get, easy to work with, and sturdy. But it is also extremely prone to weathering and rotting if not treated.

Lumber starts decomposing once wet, which will structurally compromise your underground survival bunker. Even pressure treated wood will break down over long periods of time and can become susceptible to insect infestation.

You could technically use wood, it’s a cheaper option, but you sacrifice a lot of your bunker’s long-term integrity with it.

Bricks/Blocks:

Using bricks or cinder blocks to support the walls and floor can be very effective. Bricks are relatively cheap compared to a lot of other materials. They are sturdy, they do not decompose, and you can install them without too much difficulty.

Bricks are great insulators; meaning they keep hot air in during cold weather and cool air in during warm weather.

Concrete:

Concrete is the best material to use for your survival bunker. Concrete is durable; it’s cheap, it’s quick pour, so it doesn’t take forever to install.

Most modern homes use concrete as their foundation, and it’s the choice for military bunkers as well. If you are investing in a long-term survival bunker, I recommend using concrete. It provides safety, security, and durability with the smallest price tag.

Once you have the structure in place, your bunker is starting to look like a bunker. Now consider covering it with a waterproof shed before burying it.

Water and moisture are your greatest enemies underground. So anything you can do to keep them away from and out of your survival bunker a good investment.

concealed underground survival bunker

Concealing Your Underground Survival Bunker

You’ve excavated your bunker.

You set the foundation, built the structure, and covered it up with dirt. Now what?

Well, it still sticks out. Your backyards still all torn up. You don’t want it to stay that way.

Concealing your bunker is important for several reasons.

First, you don’t want your neighbors to know that you have an emergency safe-house buried in your backyard. (Unless you want them knocking on your door, seeking refuge as soon as shit starts to hit the fan).

Second, if strangers figure out you’re storing ammo, food, and survival gear in your bunker, they will steal it.

Being incognito is always better than sticking out like a sore thumb.

So how can one effectively disguise a large, newly constructed underground survival bunker?

The easiest and most efficient way of doing this is landscaping. Cover the bunker in local dirt and plant local fauna. Try to make it blend in as much as possible.

You can use rocks and bushes you dug up during excavation to disguise your air vents.

As for the door, ideally, you have an underground hallway connecting your bunker to your house. If this isn’t possible, then your entrance can present a challenge.

Bunker doors are hard to disguise because they need to be sturdy. Vault-like, even, sometimes.

Some people put the entrance to their bunker inside of an old shed, or in the back of an innocuous looking survival outhouse.

If you built your bunker underneath your home, you might be able to hide your bunker trap-door under a carpet or couch.

Get creative when you get to this step. The better disguised, the better it will be for protecting you and your survival cache.

You can’t rob or attack what you can’t see.

Apocalyptic Bunker Project Video Series

One of the best ways to fully understand how to build and underground survival shelter is to watch someone else do it step by step. However, very few fellow survivalists are recording and sharing their bunker builds with the entire world.

However, I did find one worthwhile bunker build video series. The following series of videos show you one way to accomplish this feat in an entertaining way.

Apocalyptic Bunker Project – The Plan

The series starts out with a video going over the very basic plan. While having a basic plan is important, you don’t need every detail figured out to get started.

Apocalyptic Bunker Project – The Dig

Next up is excavation. Or simply digging a massive hole in the ground. Now obviously, to dig a hole this size you need heavy machinery. Otherwise, you’re going to spend years (maybe decades) digging by hand.

Apocalyptic Bunker Project – Making The Bunker

Once your hole is dug, it’s time to start framing your bunker out. In the following video, our English friend Colin is using 4mm steel plates – which is sweet – but expensive. If you can afford steel sheets and steel tubed steel then go for it.

Otherwise, you could consider pouring a bottom slab of concrete and going with cinderblock sides.

Apocalyptic Bunker Project – Concrete

To stabilize and encase the entire metal bunker structure, they pour concrete around it. They also reinforce the concrete using rebar throughout. Once the concrete cures this shelter will be rock solid.

Finally, to hide the entire structure, they back-fill over the top with some gravel, some soil and strips of sod. And that’s how you build an underground survival bunker from scratch.

Backyard UNDERGROUND Apocalyptic BUNKER – Finished Project

Once the bunker is built, it’s time to furnish it. Here’s how Colin decked out his bunker, it’s a decent backyard bunker if you ask me.

Apocalyptic Bunker Project Q&A

Colin answers a few common questions about his build. Including whether he needed building permits, how he deals with his human waste. How he plans to upgrade his air ventilation and his plans for more backup electrical.

While this video series was done for entertainment purposes, it also did a very nice job of teaching us step by step how to build our very own backyard survival bunkers.

And for that, I want to thank Colin Furze for sharing.

bomb shelter entrance

Additional Survival Bunker Inclusions

There are no limits to what you can put into an underground survival bunker, only limits on what you can fit into one.

There are also some legal restrictions on storing chemicals or fuels underground tho. So before you go cramming some Sarin gas canisters in your survival bunker, check the law.

It would suck to have your bunker supplies confiscated by the government.

That being said, the list of things that are legal to add to your bunker is too long for one survival article. So I have narrowed it down to the provisions that I have found to be the most practical.

Your list will likely include things that mine does not – that’s fine it will be different for every survivalist.

Electric Generator:

Electricity makes survival so much easier. It is one of the most useful tools that our race has ever devised.

With it, we illuminate entire cities, wash dishes with ease, watch TV, refrigerate food, and listen to music, and we cook food without open flames.

It’s these modern day conveniences that send an electrical generator to the top of this list.

With access to electricity, you’ll get through any emergency with much less adversity.

Unfortunately, even with an extensive air filtration system, using kerosene or propane generator will produce gas fumes. And in a confined space like a bunker, that can be, not only uncomfortable but also dangerous.

Ideally, your bunker generator uses renewable energy sources like wind and solar. If you plan ahead, you can use off-grid power for your survival bunker. Although these make disguising your underground survival bunker a bit more challenging.

Of course, you could also build your bunker to use electricity from the power grid – but if that goes down, you are SOL.

Medicine:

Keep a healthy supply of medicine and medical equipment in your bunker. It’s an absolute must.

The reasons are all pretty straight forward. People get sick; wounds take a long time to heal, they get infections, people die. So here’s how to put together a comprehensive tactical emergency medical kit. It has everything you need to know.

Don’t turn your survival bunker into a hospital, but without basic medical your bunker is incomplete.

Weapons and ammo:

Having a method of self-defense is essential for survival.

Use common sense, though. I have seen some survival bunkers turned into one big gun safe. That’s cool, but it’s overkill. Don’t sacrifice essentials like food and medicine and water just to make room for more guns.

Entertainment:

Having entertainment in a survival situation is nearly as important as having medicine. Entertainment keeps one’s sanity.

And surviving an emergency/disaster does nobody any good if they go crazy in the process.

Store board games, a deck of cards, a shelf of books, painting supplies, dominoes, video games, movies, lots of mental diversions.

Having something to occupy your mind with and escape the moment is a life saver. Believe me.

You can’t understand how essential this is until you’re losing your marbles like a madman in solitary confinement. And that’s not a point you want to reach.

The Final Word

Okay, so it’s not easy. That much we’ve established.

But building your home survival bunker is one of the best ways to create security for your family.

We don’t have access to the Secret Service or the US military, nor do we have billions of dollars at our disposal. But that does not mean we can’t have our own underground bunkers.

Underground shelters can be affordable – it just requires a lot of forethought and planning.

And shelters are not just for “doomsday preppers.” Underground survival bunkers are useful for tornadoes, riots, volcanic fallout, nuclear war, and so on. Honestly, the reasons are endless!

Not to mention, underground bunkers make fantastic survival supply storage spaces.

It’s like having a walk in closet for your survival food, medicine, weapons, ammo, and water. It will keep those items safe now and ready for an extreme emergency.

And if you’re looking for even more detailed survival bunker plans, make sure to check out Family Bunker Plans.

-Will Brendza
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Comments

  1. Grey says

    Permits, Excavator company and employees, concrete company and employees, etc, etc, etc.
    Yeah, your bunker will be about as secret as the winner of the last super bowl.
    How about instead you reinforce your existing home, preferably a basement, or build with your own two hands where you don’t have to file permits?
    Or you have a reasonable excuse for what you are building AND what happened to it afterward. Something along the lines of “it was to be a Swimming Pool, but OOPS! turns out the soil right there couldn’t bear the weight so we had to fill it back in. But it makes a nice deck there doesn’t it?”

  2. says

    Great article Will – super thorough and interesting read. It doesn’t sound easy to get one of these bunkers built but every serious prepper should consider having one. Forget the bug-out-bag here, hunker down in your very own bunker!

  3. says

    That was incredibly detailed. Great article. I’ve been wanting to try this out but I couldn’t get permits at all despite the space I have. Hopefully in the future when I purchase a more open form of land.. given the world doesn’t end by that time. Lol. Cheers.

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