How to Build a Storm Shelter Out of a Shipping Container

There is no doubt that it can be scary and nerve-racking to go through a natural disaster. You probably know that hurricanes and tornadoes can cause considerable destruction and harm.

Do you live in a region susceptible to hurricanes and tornadoes? If yes, you should consider building your storm shelter to protect yourself.

We can define a storm shelter as a super-strong and secure safe room that can withstand tornadoes, hurricanes, dangerous high-speed winds, and flying debris. You are often told to find shelter in your basement and then wait out the storm. You can also leave if the storm is considerably far away.

However, it is worth noting that sometimes your home is severely hit, or the dangerous winds may tear away your home, which can leave you highly vulnerable to the storm.

Can a Shipping Container be used as a Storm Shelter?

You can use a shipping container for many purposes. There is no doubt that because of the abundance of storage and shipping containers, they have popped up as funhouses and emergency shelters. And for many survivalists among us, now there is also a shipping container bunker. Did you know that steel shipping containers are among the most affordable storm shelter or bunker solutions?

You will be glad to know that a shipping container will help provide you with an ideal base for an effective storm shelter. Shipping container tornado shelter is often made from steel and is wind tested. If you reside in an area prone to tornadoes or hurricanes, it is best to anchor it down.

You can use concrete pillars or a concrete slab with rebar to anchor it. This will help reinforce your shipping container, ensuring that it won’t move.

How to Build a Storm Shelter out of a Shipping Container

Do you want to build a storm shelter out of a shipping container? Follow these tips and steps.

1. Know the Dimensions

The first step entails assessing the dimensions of your property. This will help you in determining how big your shipping container needs to be. You should measure the area accurately where you will place the shipping container. After you have taken general measurements, you should take your family size into consideration.

2. Mark the Area

You will benefit from marking the area where you will place the container. This will show how big the storm shelter will be. It is worth noting that this gives you a much better idea of the interior space, which you should never overlook. This is because you might be down in your storm shelter for some time until the hurricane or tornado passes.

3. Placement

Whether you are planning to bury your shipping container completely or sufficiently far that a tornado or hurricane will not send it to Oz, make sure that you carefully consider how you’ll use your shipping container when working any outplacement details. For example, if it is an underground shelter, figure out how you will provide access both in and out.

4. Make the Most Suitable Structural Design

A sturdy storm shelter will help you make it through severe and dangerous storms, such as tornadoes. If you would like to bury your shipping container, even partially, then you will have to ensure that the container withstands the earth’s pressure.

If you would like to make your shipping container storm shelter sturdier, you may consider having it buried. If you do this, the dirt will act as an anchor, keeping your storm shelter in place if heavy winds manage to make it to your neighborhood or area. You will have to install an upper hatch at the top of your storage container as well as a secondary hatch on its side.

5. Make it Airtight and Insulated

Also, note that you will have to make sure that your container is airtight and insulated. This will keep the elements from getting inside. Keep in mind that this will also help keep mold and mildew from spreading, which can be a serious health issue as it can lead to both respiratory issues and throat irritation.

Did you know that the shipping container floor usually has treated plywood on sturdy steel cross-members? It is best to seal under the container floor. Also, you will probably like to set it firmly on a solid cement slab foundation. And you will need to seal your storage container with plastic tarps, roofing tar, or truck bed liners to keep it habitable.

6. Consider Ventilation

It is important to consider ventilation, as it is another important design element. This is because severe storms, such as tornadoes, require that you stay in your storm shelter for a long period. There is no doubt that proper air flow is important as it ensures that everybody can breathe in the shelter without panicking. You can add a couple of extra air vents or doors in order to maintain proper airflow.

7. Set Up Seating and Accommodations

The interior of your container should have the right accommodations. You can, for example, set up some pop-out seats inside. This is a good idea as everyone will need a comfy place to sit and rest while waiting out the hurricane or tornado. These seats can also help conserve space when people are not using them.

8. Use LED Lights

Using LED lights inside your storage container storm shelters is also an excellent idea. This is because they will allow everyone to see where they are going. Also, note that LED lights can last a long time without giving off any heat. As a result, you will not need to worry about your family members or loved ones accidentally burning themselves if they get close.

Will FEMA Help Pay for a Storm Shelter?

You can use several kinds of federal assistance programs in order to build your shipping container storm shelter. For example, you may apply for financial assistance or obtain a Hazard Mitigation Grant. It is worth noting that the application process for assistance will likely vary depending on the kind of assistance program as well as the requirements and conditions for eligibility.

Did you know that FEMA usually uses the popular term “safe room” in order to include or specify storm shelters, such as hurricane shelters, which meet the agency’s strict criteria with regards to design as well as construction?

It is worth noting that builders and homeowners that use the FEMA criteria often build storm shelters that offer “almost absolute protection” against the severe wind. According to FEMA, people in these shelters should have a high probability of escaping injury or death.

Did you know that the federal share (maximum) for any mitigation project, such as storm shelters, is now $4 million? Keep in mind that you can get federal funding for up to 75% of eligible costs. The good news is that small or impoverished communities might qualify for up to 90% of eligible costs.

And it is important to know that the Tornado Shelters Act also allows small communities to utilize grant funds allocated for community improvement and development to construct storm shelters even in a manufactured home park.

However, note that these parks must be home to low and moderate-income families in order to qualify for FEMA funding. Also, these parks must be located in a US state where one or more tornadoes occurred in the past 3 years.

Keep in mind that the community is under an obligation to build an effective storm shelter that can easily accommodate all the park members, and the shelter should have a proper warning siren.

FEMA will have to approve the plan before you can avail and use the grant money. You should know that FEMA makes all funding decisions based mainly on the most effective and efficient use of grant money.

You will be pleased to know that the US HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) also permits borrowers with FHA-backed home loans to easily incorporate storm shelters when applying for the financing of new construction and rehabilitation.

However, keep in mind that the construction of your storm shelter has to comply with all FEMA standards in order to meet the requirements and conditions of the loan.

How do you Reinforce a Shipping Container for Underground?

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Looking to reinforce your shipping container for underground use? There is no doubt that one of the most important parts of your building preparation is to make sure that you reinforce your entire shipping container tornado shelter against the severe pressure from the ground.

Did you know that a lot of people don’t realize and appreciate the amount of weight and pressure produced when any object, such as a container, is buried?

Note that even a large object, such as a shipping or storage container, cannot handle the huge amount of pressure and weight on all sides as well as the top.

Did you know that the fairly thin container sidewalls are usually made from corrugated steel? You have to reinforce the container from the inside so that it can withstand the pressure and weight. To reinforce your shipping container, you have to follow these steps.

Step One 

You should weld multiple steel posts spaced apart equally across the edges of your shipping container.

Step Two 

In order to support and reinforce the top of your shipping container home or shelter, weld several steel bars carefully across the top of the container on the inside.

Step Three  

You have to weld multiple steel plates carefully on the top of your shipping container to help prevent all the dirt that will pour in to adequately cover the top.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Shipping Container Fireproof?

Keep in mind that no structure is 100 percent fireproof. However, you will be pleased to know that the inherent nature of a shipping or storage container’s structure is quite fire-resistant.

However, you should use proper flame retardant insulation. Also, it is best to protect the outside and inside walls using a reliable fire rated sealant that can provide more protection from any internal fires. We recommend that you keep your fire extinguishers nearby for any emergencies.

How Long Does a Shipping Container Last?

As you can see, the process of constructing an underground storm shelter is not just tedious and time-consuming but also quite expensive.

This is why you should choose the best materials and supplies to build your storm shelter so that it can last a long time. Keep in mind that under the best conditions, a shipping container may last up to thirty years.

Final Thoughts

Turning a shipping container into a storm shelter is an excellent idea, especially if you live in a region or area prone to severe and dangerous weather incidents, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. If you plan carefully in advance, your storm shelter will likely serve its purpose, holding up for several years.

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  • 3 Responses

    1. You made a good point that the longevity of the materials used is also very important when planning to get a below-ground storm shelter. It might be nice to have one in my property because my local area get hit by storms pretty hard. It would be nice to have some contingencies for that.

    2. You made a great point when you said that having pop-out furniture and amenities would be ideal in a disaster shelter. I’ll also have to make use of the fact that LED lights being a good light source that won’t heat up your shelter. My family and I just moved to a tornado-prone area and I was thinking of buying some intermodal shelter systems to prepare s for the worst. I’ll surely look back at this article when looking for ways to make the shelter safer and comfier for my family and I.

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