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Get Prepped: Shelter

How to Choose and Power a Crisis Locale

Underground Bunker

Underground Bunker (View larger version)


One of the most common mistakes made by preppers, according to Practical Preppers’ Scott Hunt, is putting too much money and effort into building an impenetrable fortress. “I’ve seen people who literally put millions of dollars into building bunkers, and then didn’t have enough money left to buy adequate supplies of food and other essentials,” he says. “A lot of them are just out of balance. They put all their eggs in a bunker, so to speak.”

And while there’s an argument to be made for designing a structure with features that can to provide shelter against natural disasters or nuclear attacks, thick walls and sturdy doors in themselves may not be sufficient protection against security threats. Hunt’s partner David Kobler, a military combat veteran and security expert, advises that it’s smarter to design layers of security that surround your dwelling, so that intruders can’t actually reach it. No matter how thick the walls, “If the bad guys get close enough to fire a shot at your house, you’ve already failed,” Kobler warns. “And if they can drive a vehicle up to your front door, you’ve lost.”

Instead of focusing merely on survival against threats, Hunt advises preppers to put more thought into how they’ll actually live in a structure for extended periods.  “Shelter means a lot of things,” he says. “You have to think about how you’re going to heat it, how you’re going to cook, how you’re going to generate electricity, how you’re going to collect water. Your shelter has to be sustainable.”

Location: Perhaps the most crucial aspect of shelter is not what sort of building you build, but where you put it. Hunt advises picking a location in a valley, near a water source and woods, and ideally close to arable cropland where a prepper can grow food as well.  Proximity to energy sources is crucial as well. Hunt advises: “My optimum location would have southern exposure for solar energy generation, a decent amount of wind, and a creek that falls a couple of hundred feet for hydroelectric power.”

Bunker/Safe Room:  There are a variety of shelter designs to pick from, ranging from custom-built circular homes that provide greater energy efficiency and resistance to hurricane winds, to repurposed steel shipping containers.  Another option is to build a “rammed earth” building with thick, sturdy walls made of clay and sand. Building a portion of the structure underground adds to the protection from disasters, and also can provide residents with a cool cellar for storing fruits and vegetables without refrigeration. A metal roof is a good investment, because it provides better-quality water from rain catchment systems.

Power Generation:  Ideally, multiple sources of energy will help protect preppers against running out of juice. Houses should be built facing south with pitched roofs, so that they can be outfitted with solar panels for either passive water heating or electricity generation. Wind and hydroelectric power are other options for electricity. A generator that runs on biomass fuel is useful as a backup.

Heating/CoolingIf a source of firewood is nearby, Hunt favors using a wood stove. “Wood really is the best renewable resource out there for heating your home and your water,” He explains. “That’s what the Amish do.” Another option for heating water is to have a passive solar water heater, but it’s still necessary to pump the water, which requires additional energy.  An on-demand propane-fueled water heater, which only burns fuel when a prepper actually needs it for showers, cooking or washing, is another option.

Cooking: Again, wood may be the best option for cooking stoves, and it’s possible to use the same stove to heat a room and cook as well. According to a 1991 article in Mother Earth News, preppers who cook with wood as a heat source may need to learn different culinary techniques. The surface of the stovetop is hot enough to fry foods in a skillet, and at the same time has enough area for simmering and slow cooking, and the oven inside the stove can be used to bake bread and roast meat.

Bug-Out LocationPreppers may want a back-up dwelling at another location, where they can seek refuge in the event of a fire, an attack or another disaster. One option is to buy a custom-made “tiny house” structure on wheels, which can be towed from the main compound to another site if necessary.

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Steve B.
Steve B.

As if the extreme weather was not enough we now have Russia trying their damnedest to put a nuclear reactor in everyones back yard or at least those that can afford one.   The more reactors there are the greater the chance of another Chernobyl like accident.  Then on top of that we have strange fungi now stalking healthy people.    So when you get around to planning your bunker, shelter or storm cellar you might want to look into including a NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) air filtration system.

Steve B.
Steve B.

If you are planing to use an underground bunker as a survival space please keep in mind that living in a small confined area without windows for a long period of time is not easy.  As a matter of fact, it may be the hardest thing you ever do.  All of the prepper information I have seen deals with bunkers, supplies and protection without giving any thought to the biggest problem of all, the psychological stress of living without outside stimulus.  You may think that you are prepared to live underground for 3 months but what about your family?  Check out the link below and other links for Biosphere 2.  
Please keep in mind that in Biosphere 2 they had acres to walk around in and could see out where as in an underground bunker you are in a small confined space without windows.  The people involved in that experiment lasted 2 years.  Please keep in mind that all the prepping in the world will not do you a bit of good if you go bonkers after living 2 weeks underground.  If you have an eight foot snow drift stacked on your exit door you are trapped inside until the snow melts which could be 3 months or 3 years depending on what produced the snow.  If that snow or anything else blocks your air vents you will die unless you have also stored a supply of air.  It would be a good idea to have an excellent (NBC) filter system for any air vents.  For the people who have purchased bunkers it would be a good idea to make some trial runs of just a week at first, then two weeks and then longer if you can.  Staying locked in your bunker for a month should show you all of the problems you will be facing with a longer stay.  Keep a daily record of your stay.

Corey Reynolds
Corey Reynolds

No!!!!!! If you have fire wood stove, once you burn the wood, the smoke goes up in the air and reveals your position to the whole world!!!! try using solar, wind, and hydro electricity. it does not put up smoke once burned, unlike wood and propane. It is about stealth and efficiency. So, Try using fuels that are renewable. Mostly, try using energy that is renewable and stealthy.

trevor oehler
trevor oehler

Is it best to have firewood and a fireplace to creat energy but how can u use that energy.

Alexander C. Fillmon
Alexander C. Fillmon

@trevor oehler Using wood in the same method as a steam generator is very difficult as the amount of logs required is immense. Firewood doesn't have as much energy inside as coal. If you want a burning fuel I'd recommend coal, but even coal will run out. One method you might consider if you're dead set on using firewood would be wood gasification, it isn't easy, but it does work. I'd personally recommend using water generation if you're located near a stream or small river with fast-semi fast currents, wind or solar. Unfortunately the last three I listed can get expensive, so it's best to use several methods. Also consider using LED lighting, not using AC (I've lived all my life in Florida without it) and using wood fires for cooking and heating. Remember though, a fire can easily reveal your location to wandering marauders or militia groups, so consider all your options carefully.