A recent trend has emerged. Preppers and survivalists have begun burying them to create makeshift bunkers. This may seem like a good idea. After all, the metallic walls of shipping containers are built to take a beating and protect what’s inside right? Well, not so fast.
So, should you bury a shipping container to be used as a bunker? Short answer: no, don’t make a bunker out of one, and do not bury a shipping container for this purpose.
Shipping containers will not work as bunkers. It is not their function or design. Trying to change this function will ultimately cost you a great deal of money and take energy away from other, more feasible, survival techniques.
When preparing for a survival situation, any significant drain in resources will put you and your family in danger. There are other ways to prepare yourself for survival, including building cheaper and safer bunkers and safe rooms.
Below is a list of solid reasons not to use a shipping container as bunkers.
Reason #1: Shipping Containers Have Little Side Pressure Resistance
A shipping container is designed to be stacked so it can withstand a great deal of vertical pressure resistance… on its corners! Though it would be reasonable to believe that the entirety of the box’s surface would have the same properties, this is not the case.
Shipping containers cannot take a great deal of side pressure. They are designed to hold a lot of weight on the floor, and on their four corners.
Burying one to create a bunker would put a great deal of push on all sides of the storage unit, as well as at the top. This will cause dirt and rain seepage, destroying the usability of a bunker and putting you and your family in great danger. Not only is dirt heavy, imagine the added pressure should a vehicle drive over it.
The sides are typically made of corrugated Corten Steel paneling. This has been repeatedly tested for its ability to last underground. Unfortunately, the results proved that the ground causes double the pressure the metal can handle. The moisture in subterranean environments adds to this effect.
This can be solved with enough money thrown into reinforcing the structure, but it will be a giant waste of resources that could put your family in danger down the line. Building your own concrete bunker would be an easier and less expensive alternative.
Keep in mind that RSC steel bunkers are designed to evenly distribute and hold weight. They are created with ¼ plate steel and ¼ c-channel.
Shipping containers have 14 gauge steel with half the support power. Every part of a professional bunker is designed to hold weight. Typically this means they can easily support up to 300,000 pounds of force.
Only the four corners of a shipping container are designed to hold thousands of pounds of weight. This means the evenly spread out weight of the earth will likely cause the container to collapse.
Don’t underestimate the weight of the earth pushing from the top. depending on the soil composition, earth can weigh over 100 pounds per cubic foot – that’s a lot!
Reason #2: Delivering and Burying the Container Will Be Difficult and Costly
It is true that most companies will deliver a shipping container to you. However, if you are placing your bunker at a bug-out site it can be extremely difficult for a flatbed truck to fit into the delivery zone. Most bug out locations are in the wilderness or deserted areas, making it almost impossible for an actual delivery to take place.
If you actually get the container to your site, it will then be extremely difficult to put into the ground. How will you dig the hole? A project of this proportion will take a great deal of time and manpower. Typically, a construction crew would do this type of job for professionals companies. It will a titanic challenge to do the job right or with a small group of fellow preppers or family members.
If you dig the hole, the next step will obviously be putting the two together. This will be the most difficult part of the operation. The metal compartment will be extremely heavy and the delivery crew will not have the proper tools to get the job done. Typically, a forklift or a crane would be used to a move an object of a shipping container’s size.
Let’s say you have a forklift or crane. If the ground is not rock steady, the equipment will not operate correctly. These giant machines will sink into the ground if they are not fully supported. Any muddy or weak terrain will render them useless.
The most important thing to remember is that, even if you can find solutions to all these problems, the effort will cost you a great deal of time and resources. Getting a crane or forklift will cost a great deal of money- not to mention the container itself. This will take away from other necessary items you can buy to help your family in a crisis.
The process of digging the hole will cost you a lot time and energy too. The exertion on your body will be extreme. This will take away from other preparations you can make. It is important to save your strength in case a disaster breaks out. Limit the amount of extremely long-term projects you take on. There are a lot of different scenarios to prepare for. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Reason #3: These Things Are Anything but Waterproof
16 gauge steel is going to rust eventually. These things are definitely not waterproof, and I have read reports of people finding their bunkers flooded at some point. They are not insulated nor airtight, either.
Needless to say, water will also damage the things inside, in addition to affecting the integrity and structure of your container.
While it’s true they are covered in water-resistant paint, it will do little to ensure the water won’t get inside. Besides, this kind of paint will wear down over time, especially if you don’t protect it from the surrounding dirt.
Reason #4: Shipping Containers Have Toxic Paint in the Wood
To use a shipping container as a shelter you will have to strip all of the paint and wood. This is because, more than likely, the paint is poisonous and toxic. Obviously, this would make it an extremely dangerous environment for you family.
Moreover, replacing the wood just adds to the mounting strain of the overall project. This could be worth it if you simply want a shipping container as an above ground storage unit. It will be sturdy enough to stand on its own in the elements. It is important to remember, though, that even though shipping containers are made of metal, they are not bullet proof. Do not plan on keeping your family safe above ground in a shipping container. Only use them for storing items.
As far as making one into a bunker, when the wood has been stripped and replaced another variable to putting it underground is added. Will it even have its original weight bearing that wasn’t quite enough to work in the first place? Unless you’re a miracle worker, it will not.
Reason #5: The Container Will Corrode Underground
Any subterranean environment is moist and wet. As you can imagine, water will not treat the metal of your container nicely. Steel will not last when left to soak in water for a long amount of time.
Your supposed bunker will be a corroding mess. Its structure will be falling apart and it won’t work as a sturdy shelter. Think of a busted steel fuel tank that you’ve had to dig up. That’s what your supposed “safe shelter” will be like.
Reason #6: There is no Staircase Entry or Hatch Door in a Shipping Container
Standard bunkers are made with sturdy entrance and escape routes. Typically, these come in the form of a hatch door or small retractable staircase. These are designed to handle pressure and lock while still being easy to use in case a quick escape is necessary.
This is a difficult balance to pull off. If you use a shipping container as a bunker, you will need some way to enter and escape the space. They do not come with one, meaning you will have to create one yourself.
Again, this will take time and money. It will also be extremely difficult to balance security and easy access. If it is too sturdy, you won’t be able to escape quickly. If it is too easy to open, it won’t hold dirt and seepage out of the container.
Reason #7: What Will You Do With Waste and Trash Inside The Bunker?
A problem that is often is overlooked is that the amount of trash buildup inside a bunker can be large and overwhelming. This again goes back to the problem having to make your own door or escape route. If this is not properly and professionally made, it will break down from continually having to move outside to get rid of waste build up.
Moreover, if this system breaks down, the bunker will become a nightmare zone for your family. It is important for a bug out space to be malleable to different situations. Keep your options open. A bunker limits your ability to move- add trash and waste to the equation and the area will quickly become difficult, if not impossible, to live in.
An above ground space will make the disposal of waste much easier. There will, of course, be infinitely more space to use. Bunkers are supposed to be areas of extreme safety. They are supposed to shield you from outside threats.
However, if there is hatch or staircase that is not perfectly made the waste and dangers coming from inside the bunker itself will make it the entire exercise inept. It is a better use of your time to prepare yourself to deal with the threats of the outside world head on.
If you decide that a bunker is your best bet to keep your family safe, make sure that you’re capable of pulling the project off before trying. Go through all the problems listed above and make sure you are equipped to handle them.
Converting a shipping container to a bunker is a gigantic undertaking. It can easily become a waste of time and resources that will irreparably consume your preparation time.
It is important to note that there are professional services that will help you make your bunker with much more reliability than buying a shipping container.
These companies will use pre-stressed precast concrete and help you get them buried and set up. Companies that provide quality service include Atlas Survivor Shelters, 20th Century Castles, Hardened Structure, or Rising Company.
However, this option has a few problems as well. For one, it will be very expensive. Make 100% sure a bunker is the best way to protect your family and research each company listed above before you proceed.
Keep in mind, though, that there are other options. You could always simply reinforce your own home. This will keep your family in a familiar, protected area, making it much easier to teach them escape routes and other survival plans. They will already be extremely familiar with the layout of the area which automatically makes them safer than if they are in an unfamiliar structure.
Here’s a thought, why not use shipping barrels to keep some of your preps in, and place that in your root cellar, safe room, or into your properly constructed bunker?
Still Thinking About Doing It?
If you really, really want to do this, it can still be done. This one man did it, but according to Tree Hugger, it cost him a grand total $12,400. Now just imagine what you could do with that kind of money for your preps.
To avoid the metal bending inwards and rust, he had to pour a concrete cap to keep the pressure of the dirt in check. Even so, according to his youtube video, the whole thing will collapse in “a few hundred years”. maybe less? Another thing he worries about is the slump pump, on which he recommends keeping a close eye.
Here’s a recap of all of the reasons on video, one last attempt to change your mind:
In short, do not use a shipping container as a bunker. It will be a giant waste of resources and it will almost definitely not work properly. Ultimately, it will put your family in danger so, please, focus on other methods to keep them safe.
updates 09/12/2019 by Dan F. Sullivan
My dad was military. My grandfather was a cop. They served their country well. But I don’t like taking orders. I’m taking matters into my own hands so I’m not just preparing, I’m going to a friggin’ war to provide you the best of the best survival and preparedness content out there.