Shipping Container As An Underground Shelter

Disclaimer: You should consult an engineer before building something this complex and especially before building underground.

This video demonstrates the building of an underground shelter, but could also be used as an underground home or office depending how you completed the interior of the shipping container. Here is the description that goes along with this video:

Final attempt to record building of an underground shelter using a 20 ft. shipping container. For those wondering why I didn’t simply pile dirt over it without pouring a concrete cap first….. These containers are mostly sheet metal. Heavy duty as it is, the roof and sides will push inwards from the weight. Eventually the metal will rust through and you’ll be buried alive. My way will insure it is still there a few hundred years from now. Problem is, you’d better keep an eye on your sump pump. If it goes bad or loses power, you’ll go in one day and find it the whole thing flooded. A surface alarm letting you know the water level is above where it should be isn’t a bad idea. Putting the sump pump on a UPS is also a good thing.

29 Comments Shipping Container As An Underground Shelter

  1. Serenity

    You know, I had considered something like this for the longest time. I knew burying a large shipping container underground as a means of creating and underground shelter was a possibility since I’ve seen them convert shipping containers in to actual apartment homes, and the engineers of Italy have been creating underground cities for thousands of years, and the Nazis have done exactly the same thing in Europe during WWI & WWII.

    Reply
    1. Snaillady

      The Nazis may have done it during WWII but they did nothing during WWI. The German army possibly, but not the Nazis.

      Reply
  2. Mama

    You know, I had considered something like this for the longest time. I knew burying a large shipping container underground as a means of creating and underground shelter was a possibility since I’ve seen them convert shipping containers in to actual apartment homes, and the engineers of Italy have been creating underground cities for thousands of years, and the Nazis have done exactly the same thing in Europe during WWI & WWII.

    Reply
  3. Josh

    I can’t find “peat gravel” anywhere, so I tried making it myself. I did the logical thing and put peat moss and pea gravel together, turned the lights down low, and put on some Marvin Gaye. Try as I might though, I could not get the two to mate and produce “peat gravel.” I wonder how this guy did it.

    Reply
    1. Diana

      “I did the logical thing and put peat moss and pea gravel together, turned the lights down low, and put on some Marvin Gaye”

      Duh….EVERYBODY knows you were supposed to use Barry White!!!

      Reply
    2. Solardave

      I appreciate everyone’s concern about the structural aspects of an underground shelter. I would also warm against the presence of Radon gas. If you build an underground structure and plan to spend any length of time down there, please test for Radon. Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible radioactive gas that is present in rock, soil and water. It is a result of the breakdown of Radium and Uranium. Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer, and is considered a Class A carcinogen. Testing is easy and affordable. Please Test,Fix, and save a life!

      Reply
  4. Josh

    In all seriousness though, I can see how it would make a neat wine or root cellar, or emergency bunker in case of tornado (or zombies or aliens), but I can’t imagine living under there without natural light or windows to open for fresh air. Plus there’s only one way out – it there’s a fire in between you and that way out, you’re screwed, and not in a good way.

    Reply
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  7. Jim

    Just a heads up,

    That shipping container will fold up like an aluminium can If the side walls have dirt/pressure on them.

    They are not 1/2 as strong as they look.

    I wouldn’t step foot inside a shipping buried container like that.

    Reply
  8. Bob H

    I think the idea is neat. I would have used spray foam around the entire container, including the top. A skylite would be nice.

    Reply
  9. Geoff

    A deathtrap–conexes are designed to hold weight vertically at the four corner posts. That’s IT!

    This blog needs to immediately remove all references to conex or shipping containers that also use the word “underground”. It’s a liability and I hope you have insurance if you don’t do that.

    Reply
    1. Marcus

      To further what Geoff said:
      I am a structural engineer and this is an unsafe idea. Do not underestimate the lateral force that soil will exert – it is a LOT, and it is entirely possible the side would fold in or the top buckle and the whole thing would collapse.

      If you try anything like this, definitely reinforce it and waterproof the outside. You would do yourself a favor to get an engieer’s opinion.

      Reply
      1. Kent Griswold

        Thanks for the advice Geoff and Marcus, I have posted a notice to advise readers to check with an engineer before attempting to build anything underground.

        Reply
        1. Josh

          I have posted a notice to advise readers to check with an engineer before attempting to build anything underground.

          Maybe also check with a life insurance salesman and an attorney who specializes in wills and trusts.

          Reply
  10. Les

    I like the idea and a simple way to solve the collapse issue is to consider the container to be a form. Temporarily support the inside vertically and horizontally with sturdy supports, such as screw-jacks and pour 6″ concrete around the outside with rebar set first. Do the same for the top of the structure with the exception of pouring it at 12″ with the rebar at 12″ on center. If I were to do this, I’d set at least two containers side by side with a joining door between them leaving a separation of 12″ between them. Les

    Reply
  11. Moontreeranch

    Dig hole as picture…notice the open space between the holes sides and the container walls. Before the container is dropped in to the hole, stabilize the holes sides with “gunite” or spray concrete like that used in swimming pools.

    As this design is shown here there is some potential for the sides of the hole to collaspe down to the container.

    Reply
  12. michele

    Cargo containers are designed to handle several tons of weight.. check out the specs on them. This is a fast and cheap way to build an underground home or above ground home, try using google for some ideas. Our home we are planning will use 5 or 6 containers and one stacked under as a cellar and one as a garage. The steel is amazingly thick, and when coated properly will not ever rust! No rodents can get in, no termites, water tight. with Proper ventilation you eliminate radon gas and tube skylights you get natural light. When finished inside it looks just like any other home inside. only stronger, lasts longer, fire proof, tornado, hurricane proof. you can install regular plumbing or even use composting toilets, with one open topped container, we will cover with thick glass as an underground greenhouse and another open top as a pool (as they are water tight) this cheaper to build them a conventional concrete underground home by far and will last much longer!

    Reply
    1. Marcus

      You’re kidding, right?

      “Cargo containers are designed to handle several tons of weight.. check out the specs on them.”

      Yeah… designed to take that weight on the four corner vertical beams, not on the top or sides. Bury one in the ground and the pressure from the dirt will crush the container like a can – with the four corner beams still intact.

      Go inside the container while they pour the dirt on top and sides… a nice coffin you will have. Now, if you are planning to do this ABOVE ground, then that makes a little bit more sense, but don’t do this for underground!

      Reply
  13. Hamlin

    Shipping containers are designed to sustain 330 pounds per square inch unmodified on all surfaces. A 6 inch concrete slab on the roof with rebar would easily hold 3 feet of wet soil above, the lateral loads on the sides if backfilled would need some additional reinforcement 3 rows of horizontal 4 inch angle iron welded to the sides would provide adequate reinforcement for the lateral loads on a 20 foot container you would need additional vertical on a 40 if you place 2 side by side and intend to remove the attached sidewalls you will need an i beam to carry the loads, a 40ft 8 inch i beam will carry 20000 pounds. As far a protecting the steel from corrosion there are many EDPM coatings (truck bedliner) that would suffice provided some barrier was applied to protect it from the soil against it and again there are many to choose from. The coating would need to be applied to all 6 sides. Wood basements are common these days they use 2X6 and 3/4 plywood. Concrete cap and 4 inch angle iron are much stronger. Also in underground homes there is usually an umbrella layer about a foot down above the structure and extending a minimum of twice the height of the structure on the sides, to keep the surrounding soil dry. Wet soil not only increases the load it also acts as a coolant on the thermal mass around the structure. A first year engineering student could do the math, but for safety ask your own engineer first.

    Reply
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