How to Build an Underground Bunker

Unfortunately, knowing how to build an underground bunker is more important today than it was in Cold War of the 1950s. No political agenda only the facts as I perceive them. In the 1950s (I was alive then) the United States and Russia were teetering on the brink of nuclear war, but the world had an ace in the hole that few people comment on. Both leaders, Kennedy and Khrushchev, were veterans of World War II. Kennedy’s PT boat had been sunk and he and his entire crew nearly died. Khrushchev was involved in the brutal struggle with the Germans for Stalingrad. These two men knew the horrors of war personal and up close. Neither wanted the world to explode into a nuclear holocaust.

Today we have a leader who dodged the VietNam draft by having a doctor claim he had bone spurs, which if true was surely fixable making him eligible for military service. 6 times was drafted … 6 times he skirted the draft.

On the other side of the ledger we have Putin, an ex-KGB officer. Cold, cruel and calculating, seeing our leader as a brainless coward ripe for blundering. Additionally the USA is no longer guaranteed allies to assist in an attack by one of several nations hostile and quite capable of raining down a nuclear thunderstorm.

Perhaps you now understand why I believe knowing how to build an underground bunker is more vital than anytime in the past. And if you don’t believe we are in dire danger, fine. A bunker can serve many more purposes other than protection from war.

Whether you call it a survival bunker, apocalyptic bunker, bomb shelter, fall out shelter tornado shelter or a fruit cellar, a safe haven where you can escape underground in the event of an emergency is a blessing.

People like the President, billionaires and Wall Street moguls needn’t worry about how to build an underground bunker, the taxpayer or swindled dollars from investors have supplied the cash to have people build the bunker for them. These are opulent spaces furnished with all the modern luxuries the wealthy are accustomed to. Flat screen TVs, Spas, luxury furniture, etc.

dwp 10 million bunker 230410

For Wealthy People Only – Sorry

  • What about common people like you & me? People with regular jobs at sub-par wages

  • Where are our fancy bunkers located?

  • Where is our security systems and armed guards?

As usual … there aren’t any. We must fend for ourselves. But … what’s new about that? The important fact is you can build a bunker shelter on your own for your family’s safety.

Will it be easy? Hell No.

Will it be cheap? Cheap is a relative word with different meanings to different people. Can it be done on a Shoestring Budget? No.

But if you are really serious about offering the best protection you can for your family and consider that being the most important investment you can make both in time and money … we can explore proven methods and ideas of How to Build an Underground Bunker.

There are far too many variables that are “Site” & “Individual Preference driven” for this article to be utilized as a finish guide for construction. It is designed to offer general guidelines, advise and thought provoking information.


Learn to Protect

Let’s get started learning on How to Build an Underground Bunker.

  1. Proper Mindset: This will be a major project, not a side project, and will demand planning and foresight. As a Prepper you should possess the skills required to carefully plan, but dealing with construction issues, especially if your knowledge is limited, can be extremely nerve racking.

  2. Check out building codes and/or required permits before spending one dime. If your city says “No” then the entire project stops and you’ll have to totally rethink your options. Moving or buying more land may not be a viable option.

  3. Should permits not be a problem, then you’ll need to buy, draw your own or have a contractor supply construction building plans, as your governmental agency will require review and acceptance of the plans before issuing a permit. You’ll want the plans whether the city requires them or not. You’re building a place for safety, it has to be built correctly or it could become your grave.

Where to Put It?

This step is extremely important and much more complicated than it may first appear and a screw-up at this initial stage can bring major headaches on later stages. For instance here are but a few questions to ask and answer:

  1. What kind of soil are you digging? Rocky clay can be difficult to excavate compared to farm soil.

  2. How deep is the bedrock? All terrain ends in bedrock, the question is how deep is it located. Shallow bedrock could require blasting and/or drilling and that quickly gets expensive.

  3. Any known natural gas pockets in the immediate vicinity? In some parts of the country this can be a serious question and problem.

  4. Verify there are no underground utilities, gas, electric, phone nor easements for possible future installation of such utilities.

  5. One issue often overlooked is how deep is the normal water table? Dig too close to the water table and you risk the possibility of water seeping into the bunker making it totally uninhabitable and possibly very dangerous.

  6. Be advised that excavating in cold temperatures require special considerations because the dirt responds differently to freezing temperatures.

These are but a few considerations required, but you get the drift. Pre-planning is imperative.


Let’s Begin:

You have done your due diligence and are ready to begin the actual construction process.

  1. Use 4- 2’ or 3’ long sticks of re-bar and stake out the approximate size of the underground shelter to be built. For instance drive a rebar stick into the ground at each corner of the intended 10’ x 10’ shelter. It may take you a few times to make the measurements square so don’t despair as that is normal. Tie string around each rebar identifying the perimeter of the bunker.

  2. Once the outline is square and identified measure at least 4’ away from the string all the way around the perimeter. Mark this with orange paint and remove the rebar and string. This is where you will begin your actual digging.

  3. Why dig bigger?

  • The hole must be bigger than the shelter in order to allow room to build the darn thing.

  • There will be utilities, piping, etc into the bunker requiring access from the exterior of the shelter.

  • Safety! Dirt walls dug deep with straight walls can cave in, potentially trapping and suffocating you to death. Dug walls should not only be larger but also sloped away from the hole.

Keep the removed dirt in one location relatively close to the work area as you’ll need it for back-fill after construction is finished.

Equipment: How to Build an Underground Bunker.

Our forefathers used picks, axes and shovels to dig fruit cellars, their equivalent of survival shelters and actually they are as adequate today as a 100 years ago. However, I don’t think we are as tough as our ancestors and definitely not as patient since we know how quick things can be dug with equipment. ** Ignorance can be bliss for the pioneers**

The quickest and best method, although not the cheapest, is to hire a professional who has the equipment and expertise required to make quick work of excavating the hole. If you are remarkably lucky you may have a family member or friend who can fit that bill. If not … it’s decision time.

We’ll throw out the digging by hand as a feasible option. So let’s look at rental equipment options:

  1. You can use a bulldozer, backhoe or bobcat to dig just about any size hole you need. Obviously the larger the equipment the quicker the job gets done, but with large comes potential issues.

  • Larger equipment is harder to control, especially for a novice doing on the job training.

  • Larger usually equals more expensive as larger equipment commands a larger price. If time is of the essence large equipment may be best but general rental times are 4 hour, 8 hour, daily and weekly rates. The cost comparison may not be worth the aggravation.

  • Larger equipment may not be able to get into your back yard or job site.

A Backhoe may be the easiest piece of equipment to learn how to operate. They come in various sizes which makes getting into and out of a restricted space possible.

A Bobcat is quite easy to operate as far as going forward, backward and sideways, but actual digging can be another story. The shovel blade must be capable of digging the type of dirt you encounter. If possible be nosy and check out what contractors are using in the area.


Cinder Block Construction

Bunker Structure Material: What material are you going to make the shelter out of or are you even going to build it yourself? These are again, huge decisions.

  1. Lumber is the number one building material used for all types of construction from residential homes to commercial buildings. However, wood should never be used for an underground facility. Doesn’t matter if the wood is treated or not it will eventually decompose and rot away. Additionally the chemicals used to treat the wood will leach into the soil and that is very bad for the environment and ultimately… you. Last but not least, wood is not strong enough to bear the weight in top of an underground facility.

  2. Concrete, re-enforced, will most likely be the best choice for building your structure as it is relatively cost effective, long lasting and strong enough to support an underground construction. Basically fulfilling every need required for the bunker. The issue with DIY concrete construction is the expertise required and specific equipment, such as concrete forms.

  3. Cinder block construction is another viable option. It is strong enough to withstand underground pressures and is long lasting. Combined with a concrete ceiling the bunker will be extremely strong.

  4. Metal could be the ultimate bunker material as far as strength. Using large sheets of 4mm steel and supported by steel tubes, welded together is a huge bank vault. It is nearly impregnable, water proof, infestation proof and will not rust away for at least a 100 years if not longer. A good cutting torch, welder and equipment strong enough to move the pieces into place and you have the ultimate bunker. Problem is the cost. Steel for a private bunker would be cost prohibitive. If you could afford this material you’d simply have someone else do the hard work.

  5. Regardless of your choice, do not forget bricks or pavers for the floor. They are cheap, retain heat and are attractive.

As you have already figured out building a safe bunker requires construction skills not everyone knows, as well as equipment not everyone owns or knows how to operate. However, if these obstacles can be overcome you’ll save a ton of money.


Setting Ready Fabricated Bunker Panels

Other Options:

The best option could be to purchase a ready made bunker. I’m not talking about the $250,000 ones you see on TV. I’m talking less expensive, not cheap by no means, options. Such as:

  • Storage containers

  • freight trailers- trailers used to transport by 18 wheel tractor/trailer combo

  • Concrete septic tanks- modified for bunker use

  • specifically built to size individual bunkers.

The internet is full of these types of dealers and suppliers and the sizes and accessories available will blow your mind. With the excavation done you’ll simply have the ready made bunker lowered into the hole.

If you recall I told you this was an enormous project. Just reminding you as we approach other issues to resolve while learning How to Build an Underground Bunker.

Illustration Of Family Fallout Shelter

1960 Underground Bunker Illustration 

Concealing Your Bunker: You may chuckle at this requirement since you may have had an army of construction workers in the yard, large equipment, noise, a messed up yard and on and on. “Don’t think the neighbors know what I’m doing? Duh.”

True, but neighbors change and if the SHTF there may not be any neighbors left alive that know anything about your bunker. Roving bands of looters won’t have a clue you have a bunker, which is most likely well stocked, if properly disguised.


Hidden Entrance

Your bunker will be underground so normally your entrance is all you really have to worry about. Small camouflaged lids, don’t make your entrance too large it’s to accommodate people not large furniture. Plant shrub and vegetation around the entire area making it “Hide in Plain Sight”. Plant shrub in a maze zip zag formation to hide the opening from plain sight.

Air Filtration: It’s simple, but actually easy to overlook. You’re in an air tight bunker underground, how long will that supply of air last? Not long, even if you’re in a huge bunker. It’s imperative you allow for 2 filtered air inlets to allow fresh air in and heat and carbon dioxide out. Be sure to have an ample amount of extra filters on hand, this will be imperative when talking radio-active fallout. Have at least one high quality gas mask and filters in case you are forced to go outside the bunker for some reason. Remember to disguise the filter vents with vegetation.

Clean Water: Common knowledge… you can live no longer than 3 days without water. Don’t know how much plainer I need to be on the importance of fresh potable water.

  • Some people will want to fill a tank, metal or fiberglass, to store inside the bunker. I don’t recommend that for a couple of reasons. The tank will take up precious storage room for other essentials, what happens when the tank is empty? Is there a method to easily and quickly refill it? If the water tank is located outside the bunker it’s hard to hide unless placed underground, more work, money and government permits. If this is the only alternative, fine, go with it. But explore other avenues before making a final decision.

  • Another option could be the water table. You’re already underground, how much further is the water table? Probably not much. By digging further, essentially digging a well, you can tap into underground water and with a small pump have unlimited water. Remember a filter to extract mud and rock sediment.

  • Installing a rainwater collection system is feasible. Build a collector or attach to a drain spout, run piping underground into the bunker.

On the flip side, water penetrating the bunker is very bad. Moisture creates mold and makes for a damp, cold and uncomfortable environment. Make sure the bunker is water tight. This may require special treatment if the water table could easily rise to the bunker level.

Security: We know the importance of hiding our entrance from prying eyes through camouflaging it with shrub, lawn ornaments, whatever works. But have you thought about sound proofing it? What if you did such a great job camouflaging the entrance looters were walking right by it happen to hear faint voices because you weren’t whispering? 1 in a million chance? Yeah, but look at the lottery winners who beat those odds.

Additional Matters to Resolve When Considering How to Build an Underground Bunker

  1. Food Cache. Building an add on to the shelter solely for food is not a bad idea.

  2. Escape. If possible, especially in the event you build a large bunker, to have two avenues of egress and ingress. You don’t want to be digging your own grave in the event an opening is inaccessible due to being blocked by debris or other mishap.

  3. Medicine. It’s of utmost importance to maintain a comprehensive medical kit in the bunker. Without treatment a simple cut can become infected and life threatening.

  4. Weapons and Ammo. Chances are if you have chosen to seek refuge in your bunker for safety, the possibility of the breakdown of law is quite real, at least in the short term. You must have 1 or 2 firearms and ammo in the case you need to protect your family from harm.

  5. Entertainment. Who cares about being entertained when the world is crashing down around you. That is actually one important part of having entertainment, to take your mind off the stress of the situation, at least for a bit. Playing cards, books, painting supplies, dominoes and other things will help create a diversion from the situation. Just consider this. Primitive prisons would lock unruly inmates into solitary confinement with nothing to do, and quite a few lost their minds. It can be mentally devastating.

As you can see planning and research on How to Build an Underground Bunker is imperative. You don’t want to finish construction only to realize you overlooked a major component. It happens to professionals, what makes you any different?


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