Why You Should Not Build a Shipping Container Bunker

July 5, 2018

Obviously, people have thought about building and have actually built shipping container bunkers, but many have found out the hard way, there is a right way and a wrong way, and simply putting one into a big hole in the ground is just not the right way.

Burying a Shipping Container is Bad News

Let’s talk about what a shipping container is built for. They are built for shipping large and small items from one country to another through the use of ships, then some are driven to other locations to be delivered. During their life on the sea, they are subjected to harsh and hard weather; hail, wind, salty water, storms, etc.

They are made to withstand all of these conditions through their special rust coating, which you can read more about in our article “What is Corten Steel?” They are also built strong. They can take dings and scratches with ease. The corrugated side walls and roof provide more strength than the flat sheet of steel they are created from. The welded tubing that helps create the frame is also strong and strengthens the overall core of the container. With all of this in mind, many survivalists and family men think they would make the perfect bunker for when SHTF. But anyone who has dug the hole and started to bury their container can tell you, this is a mistake.

You see, a cubic yard of dirt can weigh 2,000 pounds, or about a ton, when its dry. We all know how heavy mud can get. To give you an idea, 1 cubic yard of dirt would look like a 3 x 3 x 3 foot cube. That’s not a whole lot of dirt when you’re considering burying an entire shipping container. Let’s imagine that we’re burying a 20-foot container under only 18 inches of dirt. Using easy math for our example, we’re going to calculate a rectangle of 20 feet (the length of the container) x 8 feet (the width of the container) x 1.5 (the depth of the dirt). That would amount to 8.9 cubic yards of dirt and that would equal 17.8 TONS of dirt on top of the shipping container bunker. While a 20-footer is designed to carry loads of up to 30 tons, the weight is distributed on the corners, in a balanced way, as another container sits on top, also distributing a balanced weight, and not sitting directly on top of the roof panel. When you load dirt onto the roof, it can buckle as this picture shows us.

picture of a buried shipping container roof caving in because of the weight of dirt on top of it

To make sure you understand, it's not just the roof that can give your shipping container bunker problems, but the walls can too. Remember, they are created from the same exact material as the roof and they are not made to withstand the pressure and weight coming inward from mounds of dirt, as you can see in this next picture.

buried shipping container with the walls buckling from the weight of dirt surrounding it

This person reinforced the roof, but didn’t think about the sides. Oops. What a waste.

Making a Shipping Container Bunker is Possible

But don’t worry. There are possible ways to make a shipping container bunker in your backyard (or where ever you plan to put it), it just takes more engineering and thought and planning.

When you plan to put a shipping container bunker in the ground, you need to reinforce the side walls and roof. You can do this from the outside of the container, or the inside, as you saw in the above photo. Since you probably want to keep the inside as open as possible for your gear and family, reinforcing the walls and roof from the outside before it gets put into the ground is going to be the best way to do it.

While there are companies that will help you prepare or weld reinforcements to your container, it’s probably best to find those that have experience in doing so. You may also want to add a foundation in the hole, to help drain water away from the bottom, keeping it from rotting faster.

In the next section, we’ll talk about one way to reinforce your shipping container bunker and building one in a way that will prevent it from buckling on you, wasting so much of your time and hard earned money.

What to Consider When Building a Bunker from a Shipping Container

So if you’ve decided you want to build a shipping container bunker and you just want to make sure to do it right, here are some things you need to have or you need to consider before jumping in and renting equipment or digging holes.

  1. Location. Not something we mentioned before, but does your proposed location have a ton of rocks? This is going to make it difficult to dig through as well as place the container in a level position. Make sure you find a spot that you can easily bury the container and have clear space for delivery and movement of the container once it’s ready to be placed.
  2. Equipment. What equipment and heavy machinery will you need in order to get this done? A backhoe will certainly be helpful. Maybe a bulldozer to make filling it back in fast and easy. Just remember to include the cost of renting this equipment or hiring people to use the equipment to help you accomplish your goal.
  3. Foundation. We mentioned this before. Once the hole is dug for your shipping container bunker, you should consider adding a foundation to the bottom of the hole. At minimum this means quite a few inches of gravel or a stone foundation made from large rocks. This will help water drain away from the bunker and help prevent premature rotting.
  4. Wall Reinforcement. One idea we saw was creating a Gabion basket to help reinforce your container. This is a “basket” made of wire and stones that will surrounding the container. The benefit of this is reinforcing the walls, while also helping to keep moisture away from the steel for extended periods of time. Depending on where you’re from, you may have seen people use this technique for fencing or fence posts, where wire cylinders are filled with rocks from around the landscape.
  5. Roof Reinforcement. While the gabion baskets can easily work for the walls, it may take a little more engineering for your roof. A truss system can work for this, or a domed structure. Even a traditional roof may help, but you may not be able to bury it for obvious reasons (it’s not made for that). If you’re trying to conceal your shipping container bunker, then welding reinforcing beams from the inside may be your best bet. Be sure to contract with someone who knows what you’re doing and knows how much weight the shipping container bunker will need to withstand.

A shipping container bunker has its issues, but if you plan ahead, they can be overcome. So when SHTF you will have a safe and secure location to store your gear and food, or bug out to if you need to. If you need a container for your bunker, call Tuff Box at 855-861-2872. We’ve got 10-, 20-, 40-, and even 45-foot containers which would give you plenty of space and storage.

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