DIY Storm Shelter - Video, plans, and spreadsheet calculator available!

If you are reading this you are probably a lot like me: you want a storm shelter. You don't have a ton of money, but you are willing to build it yourself. You probably want to know what the best design is, what it would cost, how it's done, common mistakes, and stuff like that.

Two years ago that was me. I'm not an engineer and I'd never touched concrete before, but I was confident I could figure it out and make it work if I did the research. After dozens of hours of research I broke ground. About $3,000 and 150 man-hours later I had a storm shelter. When I finished it and stood back I was filled with a powerful sense of accomplishment. My wife is thrilled, my family is now safe from tornadoes, and I'm so glad I did this myself. I want others to be able to do the same. So I documented everything and made a video. Take a look:

That's less than half of the complete video. The rest covers how to build with concrete blocks, designing the roof (the most critical part - you don't want a 20,000-pound roof failing while you are inside), building the decking to support the roof pour, and lots of other stuff. The full video is available as a direct download for $14.
I also created three other time-saving resources that are included when you purchase the video:


shelter plans pdf
I also drew up blueprints / plans for my storm shelter. They aren't stamped by an engineer, but I did have several engineers examine them and give me the thumbs up. Also included are some additional illustrations to explain some of the steps. The PDF is about 50Mb, so you could easily print these out as high-res plans.

Design your own storm/tornado shelter with this excel calculator.
Then I realized that some people might not want a 12x20 shelter. Maybe you want one that's smaller, quicker, and cheaper to build. So I made up an Excel spreadsheet that allows you to explore different sized shelters, their costs, material requirements, etc. Punch in the cost of materials in your area and what size shelter you want, and you'll get a list of needed materials, approximate cost, etc.

Simple Walkthrough for building a hurricane / storm shelter.
And then I remembered the times during the construction process when I was stumped about what to do next (this is normal on large, new projects). So I made up a simple two page step-by-step overview and included some extra tips and pointers.


My goal in doing all this is to radically speed up the research process so more people will feel comfortable building their own shelters. That's why I'm selling all these resources for only $14. (People have told me I should be charging $50 or more for all this information.) I'm also offering a no-questions-asked money back guarantee, so you can buy with complete confidence.

What a professional had to say:
"After my friend [a structural engineer] looked at your drawings he also felt that the form work was going to be more than sufficient to support the new 7" roof. Also your steel detail and 4000psi/with fibers was great. Once again he commented on your diligence - Great homework!"

What some of my customers have had to say:
Informative and concise.Thank you for taking the time to make this video and sharing it.

You helped fill in the gray areas and Gave Me Confidence

- WOW! One of the best DIY videos I've seen. Well Done!

Thank you very much. I saw the video and I really really find it informative.

FAQ: Faster ways to build?

One question I get fairly often is "is there any faster way to build the walls?" or "why not use formwork and pour the walls - wouldn't that be faster?".

Second question first: if you have access to formworks, GREAT! Just remember, concrete is basically a liquid when poured - your forms have to be SUPER strong to avoid a form blow out and spill. For a one-off job the cost and time of your formworks would probably be much greater then conventional stacked concrete blocks like I used.

FAQ: Building above ground

I often get asked how to build the shelter if there's no convenient hill-side to burrow into.

Well, there are three common approaches that are used that still make use of a layer of dirt to provide storm protection. Here are some simple illustrations:

A fully above ground tornado shelter that has been bermed over

Half bermed over storm shelter

How to Stock Your Storm Shelter: Water Storage and Filtration

Here's my personal choice for water filtration--it's a great combination of affordability and outstanding filtration (0.1 micron):
The Sawyer Water Filter

Sawyer now sells a smaller version of the same filter at an even lower price:
The Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System

There's also a more expensive version that will filter down to 0.02 micron - that's small enough to take our even the smallest viruses. I haven't tested it yet, but I'm confident the product lives up to the filtration claims.

Here's a link to a field test that was conducted in Fiji with roughly 400 Sawyer water filters. Many other humanitarian groups have distributed these in remote areas.

I recommend keeping some chlorine bleach on hand. Adding 3-5 drops per quart, or 1/8-1/4 teaspoon per gallon, will knock out the small pathogens very quickly. (For more details on chlorine's effectiveness, take a look at this neat chart from the CDC website:

Here's why I really like to have bacteria filtered from drinking water: several strains take half and hour or more to be killed by bleach. In contrast, most viruses are killed by weak concentrations of chlorine in less than 5 minutes.

This was one of the most interesting discoveries as I researched water treatment: Vitamin C powder (particularly sodium ascorbate, although ascorbic acid will work almost as well) neutralizes chlorine. I recommend having some of this on hand, especially if you'll be drinking chlorine-treated water for extended periods of time. Here's what I'm stocking. Note: Be sure you don't add sodium ascorbate to your chlorine-treated water until you've let the chorine work for a little while (15 minutes for viruses, longer for bigger stuff).

For more info on this chemical reaction, take a look HERE.

I didn't mention this in my video, but some people like water treatment tablets. I don't really know enough about them to give a recomendation personally, but REI has a decent selection, and they generally only sell stuff that's decent.

Another nifty tool that I've added to my stash is the Classic Steripen. It runs off 4x AA batteries. There are also versions that run off CR123s. I hope to cover batteries in a later video - specifically rechargeables and charging solutions.

If money were no issue for me, I'd probably also add one of these per family member: HTI X-Pack. This is perhaps the most awesome filter concept I've seen. HTI also makes a backpack version that lasts for 90 days instead of 10.
Oh, and I forgot to mention this in the video, but the final product after filtration isn't water: it's a "sports drink" with electrlytes and stuff in it to enhance rehydration. These filters will turn water from a mud puddle into watery gatorade. Very awesome.
In talking with the VP of HTI I was told you don't HAVE to use their "recharge" packs. Other sugary concentrates like Coca Cola syrup will work. Also of note: the X-Pack is only rated for 10 days but can be pushed beyond that. They said they've have people use them for up to 30 days.

Tornado Season is coming...

Tornado season it coming. Throughout the South tornadoes start hitting frequently in about March. Further North it's a little later.

This is important to consider if you want to build yourself a storm shelter. For me it was almost exactly two months from when we excavated to when we removed the supports holding up the poured concrete roof. Making and mounting the door took a few more days.
If you want a shelter for the coming season it's time to start making things happen. There's not a lot of time to waste.   
Also, building a smaller shelter can speed up some aspects of construction. The spreadsheet included with the video can help you explore the cost, material requirements, weight, etc of any size shelter you want (but my roof design is only good to 12' wide - an engineer could design wider, though).

diy storm shelter design calculations

Plans now available!

I've had a number of people ask if I could give them the plans I used in making my storm shelter. I did have some, but they weren't very presentable. So I went ahead and drew plans for what I built. I also made several other graphics to help explain various parts of the construction process. Specifically, there are plans for the slab and foundation, the walls, the decking, and the rebar for the ceiling. The PDF is about 50 Mb as all the images are very high resolution.

Video Complete!

I have finally completed the video walk-through! 21 minutes long and designed to provide a solid overview of design and construction of a storm shelter.

This contact sheet shows 40 odd frames extracted from the completed video.

Photos of Shelter Construction

I plan to release a video going through everything in much greater detail, but this is a rough overview of what we did.

Excavation for the shelter.

Constructing form-work for the pour. We did a monolithic slab and footer pour.

Laying up the walls. Roughly 450 blocks were used.

Why I made this site

Earlier this year I set out to build a storm shelter for my family. I spent a lot of time googling and trying to find quality resources. Eventually, I made a plan and built a shelter. In the process I discovered that there's very little good information out on the internet when it comes to building a storm shelter from scratch. There's also a lot of non-viable ideas that get tossed out with confidence, like burying a CONEX shipping container.

What I'm going to do with this site is post some quality content that should make it easier for families to build their own shelter. If you stumble onto this site and this is all you see, well, this site is still a work in progress as of June 12, 2012. Check back in a month or so.