If you’re considering setting up a survival space in or around your home, don’t jump immediately to digging a hole in your yard and setting up an underground bunker. After all, a bunker might end up killing you. If your home has a basement or cellar, you may already have the foundations of a viable survival zone. What do you need to do to turn your basement into a livable survival room, and what mistakes should you avoid as you’re setting up this new space? Here are some tips to keep in mind.
Inspect the Basement’s Structure
Using your basement as a survival space is certainly convenient. If you get into a sticky scenario, all you have to do is head downstairs and seal the door behind you. Basements can be fickle, though, and it’s essential to make sure the room is structurally sound before you use it to ride out a disaster.
Take the time to clean out your basement so you can inspect it from floor to ceiling. Look for signs of structural instability — cracks in the walls or floor or drywall falling off the walls — or signs that water is leaking into the space. You don’t want to hole up in your basement or store your emergency supplies there if it caves in on you at the first sign of trouble.
If you’re not sure what to look for, consider hiring a contractor or building inspector to help you complete this step. There is nothing wrong with bringing in an expert, especially when your safety might be at risk.
Deal With Any Moisture
Basements are notorious for dampness and moisture because water can seep in through the walls. And since this room is often below ground level, water lingers instead of drying or evaporating. This can be a massive problem if you’re going to use your basement to store supplies, let alone as a survival shelter.
If left too long, water intrusion can also encourage mold and mildew growth, which is dangerous for anyone sheltering in the basement since exposure to mold and mildew spores can cause respiratory illness, and it can be especially hazardous for anyone with preexisting respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Water in your basement can come from several sources, ranging from water leaks in the walls to the ambient humidity. Determine the water source and work on blocking it. If you have water seeping through your concrete walls, consider stripping the walls and painting them with a waterproof coating before replacing the drywall and insulation. If humidity is an issue, invest in a dehumidifier to keep the space drier.
Remember that starting with a solid, safe environment will help ensure you and your family have the best chance of survival if or when the time comes to make use of your basement as a survival shelter.
Manage Air Quality and Recycling
If you’re sheltering after a nuclear explosion or from an airborne viral threat, you won’t want to bring in air from outside as it could be laden with potentially fatal contaminants. In these cases, you’ll need a self-contained air storage and recycling system or a set of high-end filters that will remove dangerous impurities from the air before allowing it to cycle into your shelter.
[Editor’s note: Following is one man’s idea of how to make a DIY nuclear-resistant air filter, if interested. Personally, I would choose to contact someone with the correct knowledge if you really want to have a quality air filtration system adequate for surviving something as devastating as a nuclear event.]
Some houseplants can also help manage your air purity, converting carbon dioxide to oxygen and filtering some toxins from the air. They won’t be sufficient for processing all the air in your space, especially if the basement is completely airtight, but they can remove some of the strain from any filters you’re using.
If you’re working on turning your basement into an airtight shelter, air recycling and quality should be two of your top priorities. Remember, you can survive a few days without water and weeks without food, but you can only survive three minutes without air.
Establish Your Water Sources
Now that your basement is safe and ready to withstand an emergency, your next step is to start securing supplies. In most situations, once you enter your survival area, you want to leave it as infrequently as possible. As long as the air is secure, your next biggest concern will be water. On average, in a survival situation, a human being needs one gallon of water per day. Half of that is for drinking or cooking, and the other half is for hygiene needs like washing and brushing your teeth.
You’ve got a couple options here, though, city water will likely be unsafe or unavailable, so having another option will be a good idea. Ultimately, you’re probably going to have to store enough water for everyone in your household as digging a well in your basement may not be feasible.
If you’re storing water short term, the plastic bottles or jugs they come in are more than sufficient. For longer-term options, you’ll need something a little bigger and more cost-efficient. Storing tap water in 55-gallon drums or a waterBOB is a better option. A waterBOB is a 100-gallon plastic bag designed to make storing water in your bathtub safer and more sanitary.
Just make sure you’re treating your water to ensure it has no contaminants. There’s nothing worse than dealing with an apocalypse only to find that your water is full of algae or other microorganisms.
Set up Food Storage
Next, we come to food storage. A supply of emergency food is the backbone of any survival room, and the one you’re building in your basement is no exception. Having a food supply that can weather any storm means you won’t have to go scavenging in the apocalyptic wasteland that used to be your hometown. Canned goods, bulk dry foods and even things like freeze-dried foods all deserve a place in your emergency food supply.
Don’t just throw all your supplies in the corner. If you’re stocking up for an extended stay, you’ll need a comprehensive inventory and an organizational system. This setup is necessary to keep you from wasting food. As things approach their expiration date, you can rotate them into your regular pantry and use them up while replacing the supply in your emergency kit. Good shelving can help you make sense of your goods and keep them nicely organized.
One thing to keep in mind is that canned and dried goods tend to be very heavy. A cheap set of shelves from Wal-Mart isn’t going to cut it when you’re trying to organize your emergency supplies. Invest in some heavy-duty shelving or build it yourself to ensure it’s strong enough to support your food stores. If possible, anchor your shelves to the walls, floor or ceiling to keep them from falling over, especially if you live in an earthquake-prone area.
Remember, too, that cooking via traditional off-grid methods, such as using camp stoves, in your basement is NOT a good idea since it’s an enclosed space and WILL build up carbon monoxide which is deadly. Opt, instead, for MREs, and even eating canned food that hasn’t been heated up if you cannot leave to cook properly.
Grow Food in Your Basement
After a few weeks of dried rice and beans, you’ll likely be craving some fresh food. If you’re settled in for an extended stay in your basement, you may want to look into growing some food. This feat might seem impossible — how can you grow plants without sunlight? You might be surprised.
All you need is a good source of water and an off-grid power source to keep your grow lights running. With those two things, you can raise nearly anything underground, as long as you’ve got the room for your crops.
In the event of something like a nuclear strike, this becomes even more valuable. Depending on your proximity to the fallout, planting crops in the soil around your house might be impossible. Many plants absorb nuclear isotopes from the ground, which contaminates the fruit and makes it dangerous to eat. The isotopes left over from a nuclear meltdown or attack mimic some of the nutrients the plants normally absorb from the soil.
Hydroponics and aquaponics systems are well suited to indoor and underground environments because they use water instead of soil. Aquaponics can also include fish. The plants purify their water, and in turn, the fish waste acts as fertilizer for the plants. Set up a couple of solar panels on the roof to keep your grow lights running, and you’ll find growing food in your basement a lot easier than you might think.
[Editor’s note: IMO, you’re better off simply purchasing meats, fruit, vegetables, and dairy in free-dried #10 cans or something similar. Yes, it’s more expensive, but the food quality is top-notch, takes up very little space, and will last for many years. About the only major drawback besides initial expense is that you’re going to need to store even more water than you otherwise would because all freeze-dried food need re-hydrated.]
Manage Your Hygiene in an Enclosed Space
In an enclosed space like a basement, hygiene is going to become incredibly important — especially if multiple people are sharing your shelter. People will need to bathe, brush their teeth and use the bathroom. Many finished basements come with bathrooms installed, but if the grid fails and you lose power and water, your toilet may become useless as well.
If showers aren’t an option, stock up on things like wet wipes so you can keep your body as clean as possible without actually getting into a bath or learn to use a wash rag more efficiently.
When it comes to washing clothes, you can make a DIY washing machine out of a 5-gallon bucket with a lid and a clean plunger and hang clothes up to dry.
Give Yourself Multiple Points of Egress
Even if you’re planning on sheltering in your basement survival shelter for a long time, the last thing you want to do is get trapped there if something in the main house collapses and blocks your exit. When you’re designing your basement survival shelter, make sure you have multiple escape routes — just in case.
Many basements already have at least two exits — one that connects to the home and one that opens out into the yard. Depending on the design, you may also have a window. It may be situated at the top of the wall, but it can serve as an exit in a pinch. Be sure you have a ladder to access it and that it’s large enough to fit through.
If your basement only has one exit, upgrade the area with at least one additional point of egress on the opposite side of the room from the current one. Always give yourself multiple ways to escape if it ever becomes necessary to get out of your survival shelter.
Add Insulation for Temperature Control
Your basement might be pretty comfortable right now, thanks to your home’s HVAC system, but what happens if the grid fails and you’re suddenly left without power? Being underground will help regulate the temperature a little. However, you’ll be in for some blazing summers and freezing winters as the exterior temperature seeps into the home and your survival shelter.
When you’re repairing and reinforcing the walls and ceiling, don’t forget to add some insulation before you reinstall the drywall. Insulation, plus the soil surrounding the basement walls, will make it easier to regulate and maintain the temperature in your space. This setup is also useful for protecting your food supplies because extreme temperatures will affect that too.
You’ll also want to stockpile enough blankets, sleeping bags, and clothing to ensure you can stay warm without having to resort to potentially unsafe DIY ideas which, again, could produce harmful carbon monoxide.
Be Smart When Sheltering in Place
As long as you’re a safe distance from whatever disaster is ending the world as we know it, sheltering in place is a great option. If you’ve already got a basement, it becomes even easier. Be smart when you choose to shelter in place. Know when to hunker down and when to evacuate — and be ready for both eventualities. Either way, it’s always better to be prepared for the end of the world than to let it catch you off guard.
Sheltering in a basement doesn’t have to be cold, damp or uncomfortable. With some upfront work, you can turn your basement into the perfect survival shelter so you’re ready for whatever disaster might come your way.
[Note: This was a guest post.]