Underground Shipping Container Bunker

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Burying Shipping Containers Underground.

Today’s video covers the subject of burying Shipping Containers underground for use a Bunker, Shelter or Storage Space. This video is provided as free content for readers. As the limit on YouTube hosted video’s is 10 minutes this video is the first 10 minutes of the full video available for members.

To view the Shipping Container Home Design video series in its entirely you need to become a member. You can become a member here.

Transcript from today’s Video. Part 1 of 2 – Burying Shipping Containers

In todays video we are going to be exploring one of the most often misunderstood applications of Shipping Containers in construction, that of burying shipping containers underground to form an “instant underground building”

Now this concept or idea of using a Shipping Container as the framework of some sort of underground structure is actually quite well entrenched in the mythology of Container Homes.

There are more than a dozen websites and online forums that I have seen that discuss both fully and partially burying containers as a cheap and effective way of creating underground buildings –  the “survivalist and preparedness type forums” are the without doubt the greatest contributors to this particular discussion.
As with all of our education and design resources our goal here is not to simply disclose our recommendation against this or any other application in a single dismissive statement but rather to explain to members in some detail the “why” that underlies the answer.
Throughout our education material it is our hope that this approach of explaining  the “why” and how of container homes will empower people wanting to learn more about Container Home construction to make a well informed, educated decision as to wether a Container based construction solution is the right solution for their needs.

So lets get started with todays tutorial.

There are two primary reasons that containers are unsuitable for burying underground as any form of structure – The first is the issue of corrosion and the second is the problem of structural integrity and we are going to look at both of these issues in detail but before we do I wanted to briefly mention why I think this common misunderstanding took hold in the publics mind the first place

Its my opinion that the origin of the “instant underground building” created by burying a shipping container started when people began by comparing the practice of burying other large steel vessels underground, primarily in the form of steel bulk liquid storage tanks

Now on casual observation its obvious to some degree how people might make this connection and say well if they can bury these steel tanks underground why couldn’t you bury a shipping container ?  After all shipping containers are super strong and manufactured from corrosion resistant corten steel – right ?

Well in reality the design, specification and construction of underground steel bulk liquid storage tanks is a highly specialized field and the “specifications” involved are very different from the demands of shipping container design and engineering both in terms of corrosion management and structural requirements.

BTW for anyone that’s interested I’ve attached a copy  of the ACT-100U Specification which covers Single Wall Underground Steel Storage Tanks in the downloads area of this tutorial – there  are a few elementary requirements in the specification that might be of interest to members.

One is that the steel for a single wall underground steel storage tank must be a minimum of [5/16] of a inch that 7.9 mm and [1/4] of an inch that’s 6.4 mm thick on the walls and heads respectively – now compare that to an ISO container

You might remember from video 2 in this series Anatomy of a Shipping Container  that the steel that forms the side walls on a shipping container is only 1/16 inch thick that’s just 1.6 mm which even to the most non technical viewer watching this I am sure stands out as a truly massive difference.

The second is that the specifications require that an underground storage tank exterior shall be 360 degree coated with a minimum 70 mil thick polyurethane coating with an epoxy top coat.

Now if your unfamiliar with Polyurethane Coatings they are very different from enamels and latex paints an  applying them correctly is a specialized application in a tank manufacturing facility and in my opinion it would be nearly impossible to get correct application  on the underframe subassembly components of a shipping container in anything like a DIY environment.

For anyone that has watched the earlier tutorials you would already be aware of my personal crusade to encourage people to approach the preparation and painting of shipping containers in the correct manner. I make no apologies for the fact that I am very outspoken on this subject – that very very few people, even design professionals approach preparing and painting containers safely and to ensure the maximum life of the project and that when its above ground. The idea that someone doing this for a “cheap instant underground building” would take the time and effort required to prepare and apply a 70mil thick polyurethane coating correctly in a DIY environment – to me is just extremely unlikely.

So all of this leads of course into the specifics of this tutorial – lets follow along the path of the corrosion discussion at first and address the counter point that many people make about shipping containers and corrosion when they say that shipping containers don’t rust like normal steel because they are made from corten steel.

Corten Steel also sometimes called “weathering steel” is of course the primary construction material for Type 1A GP or General Purpose and Type 1A HC or High Cube Containers

Now picking up on the overarching core theme of these tutorials – which is about debunking the many myths and misunderstandings associated with ISBU based construction lets explore the often stated “corten steel doesn’t rust” myth – this often quoted statement simply isn’t true.

The truth is that corten steel is a copper, chromium, silicon and phosphorus alloyed steel – and this alloy displays a greater level of resistance to corrosion when compared with unalloyed steels.

Perhaps the best way to put this in perspective is by revealing that the standards governing container manufacture state that a manufacturer must guarantee that a container will remain corrosion free for a period of 3 years – although I have seen some 5 year guarantees from some manufacturers

The balance of the video is presented in the Members Area.

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  1. Well unless you turn the container to a side and spray a protective coating on the bottom and side and top then you can bury it

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment Frank.

    Corrosion Management is one issue the other is Structural Reinforcement – I suggest you watch our full video on this subject here….


    As far ” coating the underside of the container” – you actually have a pretty good chance of coating the side walls and the roof and getting the coverage required for corrosion management – the underside is another matter there are just way too many nooks and crannies and as we talk about in the video there is no way anyone could do this in a competent way in anything like a DIY environment.

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