How To Build An Underground Survival Bunker From Scratch

By Will Brendza | Last Updated: October 19, 2018

Survival BunkerEvery serious survivalist dreams of having their own underground survival bunker.

A safe haven where we can escape 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, a nuclear shelter, or a fallout shelter, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is: It’s a place you can survive (typically underground).

A bunker with plenty of clean air, freshwater, and food in times of epic disaster.

VIPs 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 regular folks 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…

To have a survival bunker, you don’t have to be a billionaire or head of state. 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 you’re willing to invest the time, effort, and cash to build an underground survival bunker.


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

Any apocalypse event, really.

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

You will be much safer if you have a bunker in your backyard 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.

So today, we’ll be covering the following topics:

Note: Feel free to skip ahead to any section by using the navigation links above.

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Fall Out Shelter

Getting Started On Your Underground Survival Bunker 

As I mentioned earlier: this is no cakewalk side project. Building an underground survival bunker is an intensive construction project requiring much forethought and planning.

To be successful, you should work everything out in detail before you begin. Blueprints, permits, contracts, and floor plans – are 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. Believe it or not, you can’t just start digging a massive hole in your yard in most circumstances.

Often not without permission.

And in populated areas, it’s for a good reason. There are pipes, electrical wires, gas lines, and 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 lot of land, but 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, you can start figuring out where you’re going to put your bunker.

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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. It would help if you have the right soil composition and somewhere you can access quickly.

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

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

Note: As pointed out by a helpful commenter, you need to spend serious time figuring out the exact depth of your water table.

“I ran into a few of these underground shelters built in the cold war period that were filled within a few feet of the top. A death trap for any child who finds its entrance. Good clue if your home has a sump pump the water table may be high enough to think twice about the underground shelter.”
– Grampa

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Excavation & Structure Planning

excavator backhoe

To get the excavation done in a timely manner, you will need some heavy machinery. Of course, if you want to cut budgetary corners, you can use a shovel the old-fashioned way.

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 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 consider.

Air Filtration

First, filtered fresh air is your best friend in an underground vault. Fresh air is critical if you intend to stay there for an extended period. 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 it will also keep the bunker cool with the airflow in hot weather.

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 in 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 in your bunker. While this is a valid idea in theory, it presents some problems in practice.

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 funds.

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

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

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

Food Cache

Having a food supply 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.

Underground bunkers are the perfect place to store your emergency food cache. They are underground, so they stay cool; 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, rice stored in mylar bags, dried pemmican, or anything with a long shelf life is perfect to hoard.


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

If you have only one entrance/exit and it gets blocked by debris or dead bodies, 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 do yourself a huge favor, and during excavation, make sure you dig one way in and a separate way out.

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Construction Materials

Choosing Your Materials

The material you use to structure your bunker 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:


Using thick sheets of metal welded together and supported by tube steel creates the ultimate underground bunker. It’s strong, has moisture resistance, is not susceptible to infestation, and is freaking expensive.

If you can find a good deal on 4mm metal sheets, 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.


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.


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 is the best material to use for your survival bunker. It’s durable, cheap, and quick to pour, so installing doesn’t take forever.

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

Once the structure is in place, your bunker starts 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) is a good investment.

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concealed 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 backyard’s 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 with 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 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 protect you and your survival cache.

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

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Large Apocalyptic Bunker Project Video Series 

One of the best ways to fully understand how to build an 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.

Obviously, you need heavy machinery to dig a hole this size. Otherwise, you’re going to spend years digging by hand.

Apocalyptic Bunker Project – Making The Bunker

Once your hole is dug, it’s time to start framing your bunker.

In the following video, our English friend Colin uses 4mm steel plates – which are sweet – but expensive. If you can afford steel sheets and tubed steel, go for it.

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

Apocalyptic Bunker Project – Concrete

They pour concrete around to stabilize and encase the entire metal bunker structure. 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 and how he dealt 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 teaching us step-by-step how to build our own backyard survival bunkers.

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

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bomb shelter entrance

Small (affordable) Root Cellar Bunker Option

Ok, so what if you have room in your backyard but don’t have the funds to dig a large bunker?

Well, you need to look into building a backyard root cellar.

It’s basically much smaller and much easier to build an underground bunker. No, you won’t have a “living room” or any of the other luxury amenities, but it’s underground and can protect you from a nuclear attack.

Store your food and water in this smaller footprint bunker, a sleeping pad, and some gas masks, and you are all set.

It’s a small worst-case scenario fallout shelter for a regular joe.

If this sounds interesting, I recommend you take a few minutes to check it out.

The idea is called Easy Cellar, and it’s the only way I know of to build a small backyard bunker that won’t break the bank.

Easy Cellar Video Image

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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 cram some Sarin gas canisters in your survival bunker, check the law.

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

That being said, the list of legal things 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 easily, watch TV, refrigerate food, listen to music, and cook food without open flames.

These modern-day conveniences 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 a 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.

For that reason, and many others, it’s ideal to have a wind or solar power generator to power your bunker. If you plan ahead, you can use off-grid power for your survival bunker. However, 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.


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

The reasons are all pretty straightforward. People get sick; wounds take a long time to heal, they get infections, and 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; 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, medicine, and water to make room for more guns.


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, and lots of mental diversions.

Having something to occupy your mind is a lifesaver. Believe me.

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

Family Bunker Plans

And if you’re looking for more detailed survival bunker plans, we highly recommend Family Bunker Plans.

Here’s what you’re going to learn with this Family Bunker Construction Manual:

Secret construction sources to get your materials at the lowest possible price. This can make or break your chances of building an affordable survival bunker.

Crucial site preparation tips! Warning: You must know this before preparing ANY site. Without this information, your efforts could result in frustration and lost money.

Design and layout planning tips and advice from a qualified expert. These design tips will help you choose the right layout for you and your family.

On top of my layout tips, you will get professional 3D diagrams to help you along the way!

Learn how to prepare your site correctly. We go into quite a lot of detail with plenty of diagrams and pictures on this topic because this is where I see many newbie bunker builders go wrong. So pay attention and don’t miss this step!

Get our electrical layout and installation plans. I’ve topped this off with full diagrams to make this as simple as possible.

As you can see, this is an extremely extensive bunker product. You will not find this level of detailed information anywhere else.

Final Thoughts

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 or 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, etc. 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.

Will Brendza

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