Introduction: Underground Seacan Emergency Quarters

Picture of Underground Seacan Emergency Quarters

I buried a 20 foot long steel seagoing container to be used as a combination root cellar, cool summer sleeping quarters and emergency shelter. It's excavated into a side hill so that the door end is exposed for entry. It's furnished with a single bed, wood stove, table & chairs and storage shelving. Here in central Alberta, Canada winter temperatures often drop to minus 40F. My Cave has been in use for 4 years now and even on the coldest days it stays above freezing with one small (3 sticks of wood) fire per day. Potatoes keep very well from one harvest to the next.

Step 1: The Excavation

Picture of The Excavation

The excavation was made with our small farm cat and backhoe. The far end was dug about 3 feet below ground surface and the bottom was then graded level from back to front. The width was about 4 feet wider than the container to provide working space.

Step 2: Finished Excavation

Picture of Finished Excavation

The finished hole was then back-bladed to a smooth uniform bed.

Step 3: Moving Seacan Into Excavation

Picture of Moving Seacan Into Excavation

Next the container was pulled into the excavation with a chain.

Step 4: Partial Backfill

Picture of Partial Backfill

After placing 2 inch foam insulation board along both sides and the back, the hole was partially backfilled to provide access to work on the roof insulation.

Step 5: Looking Inside the Container

Picture of Looking Inside the Container

Partially backfilled container with roof insulation piled inside.

Step 6: Insulating and Reinforcing the Roof.

Picture of Insulating and Reinforcing the Roof.

As each panel of insulation was laid in place, railroad ties were placed tightly together to support the weight of the earth backfill.

Step 7: Entrance Retaining Walls.

Picture of Entrance Retaining Walls.

Railroad ties were also piled on each side at the front end to serve as retaining walls for the backfill.

Step 8: Finishing Up.

Picture of Finishing Up.

View of roof insulation and rail tie reinforcement. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of the completed project, however it is crowned with approx 3 feet of earth which is now grassed over providing good drainage and protection from erosion.


runderwood (author)2016-03-21

It's been 6 years from the original post. Have you experienced any buckling on the walls or roof. And any rust through issues. Maybe a couple of current pictures would be great. I love the idea, been thinking this could be done for many years.

Schmidty16 (author)2013-07-20

If it were me i would take 4 of there and put em next to each otherand put in acouple doors

bigpurple (author)2013-03-22

Awesome root cellar!

sjoobbani (author)2011-09-15

Where'd you get the Seacan, and how much?

farmerboyk (author)sjoobbani2012-04-13

Here's there site:
Not sure how much they cost, I didn't really look much :P

cjones-7 (author)2011-10-27

awesome idea, lived in one of these for a year in afghanistan on my first deployment. surprisingly comfortable

hanelyp (author)2011-10-16

I was wondering about drainage around the underground room. It looks like there's an air gap between the foam board and the shipping container on all sides, which should allow water to drain underneath easily. From there it looks like the front is open allowing water to drain. It's not clear, but it sounds like the earth cover is domed over the container and slopes away, which would direct rainfall away from the container.

Twicewidowed (author)hanelyp2011-10-17

Thanks for your comment. Drainage is taken care of via the domed earth cover as you indicated.

jocket (author)2011-04-15

I love your idea. Did you paint or coat the exterior to keep it from rusting?
Do those boxes come any bigger, like regular tractor trailer boxes - 53 feet
Thanks, Jocket

Twicewidowed (author)jocket2011-04-16

Thanks for the reply. No , the containers are well painted to resist rust in their normal ocean going environment. They come in 20 ft and 40 ft lengths (I have 2 of each length) and I believe they are also available in longer lengths but I'm not sure. I wish now that I had buried a 40 footer rather than the 20.

sjoobbani (author)Twicewidowed2011-09-15

I think there's a 60 foot one aswell, or at least it's much longer than 40 feet.

bherrboldt (author)2011-07-24

Just so all of you know those storage containers are not meant to be buried. The only true structural strength in them is in the corners and its only ment to hold weight on the top thats why they can stack em ten high. The sides are not made for pressure or impact if you are going to burry them you really need to reinforce them structurally.

sjoobbani (author)bherrboldt2011-09-15

That's what the pieces of wood are, so that it distributes the load evenly, and to the corners. but you have a good point

tinker234 (author)2011-07-29

wow hey could i somehow add windows also could i make it airtight and could i well where do i get one

marthafk (author)2011-05-16

I live in Tornado Alley and this would make an awesome storm cellar! Since I live in a flatland area, I'd berm the dirt over it to make an artificial hill.

Thanks for a great article!


Twicewidowed (author)marthafk2011-05-17

Thanks for the reply. I would make an excellent storm cellar. Covered with earth it is impervious to almost anything but flooding.

SWV1787 (author)2011-03-28

were did you get your container?

Twicewidowed (author)SWV17872011-03-28

There are several sources in Edmonton. I've bought 3 containers so far...2 twenty footers and 1 forty foot. They were all delivered right to the farm. Very useful units. Thanks for your reply.

What is the price on those, if you don't mind my asking?

No, I don't mind. The run about $3200 each delivered.

diyoutdoorsman (author)2011-03-29

All of the containers that I'm familiar with have their door latches on the outside and are not operable from the inside. Meaning that you could get locked in. Did you modify the latches to be operable form the insiside? If so, can you explain how you did it?

That's a very good point. Although there is no way that the doors can accidentally latch there is the possibility that a prankster (or mortal enemy) could lock you inside. Presently I'm using my "Cave" as a root cellar and leave the doors ajar when inside. The best options I've come up with to prevent being locked in are: 1) Installing a door stop inside so that the doors cannot be latched, 2) Cutting a small hole in the door so that a pry bar can be poked thru to lever up the latch. But when it comes right down to it, if someone is really bent on locking me in they just have to block the door with something heavy.

Thanks for the comment.

You're right, if someone wants to do mischief it's hard to stop them. You might be able snap a couple of padlocks on the latches to keep them from being fastened on the outside. Then you might fabricate a slide bolt on the inside to keep the door closed during bad weather or when you just want to shut the world outside.

mowdish (author)2011-03-29

Interesting idea. How do you vent the smoke from your fire?

Twicewidowed (author)mowdish2011-03-29

There is a stove pipe through the door to the outside. I only use one door for entry. By the way, I built a wood and glass insulated partition two feet inside the steel doors to insulate the interior from the steel doors.

RedneckEngineer (author)2011-03-28

Good looking root celler, wish I had the space to do this. One day maybe I'll be as prepped as this! Can't wait to see some more stuff from you.

Scatmanbrandt (author)2011-03-28

This is a good idea, wish I still lived out in the country to implement it myself. The only thing I think I would change is burying it a bit deeper to add more protection in case the world goes to war and they start bombing everywhere. This is also a good way to start building a hobbit hole from Lord of the Rings if you ever feel inclined to do so.

About This Instructable




Bio: Semi-retired 90 yo twice widowed farmer. Fair weather biker. Authored 3 books available on Amazon by Floyd Ells. Working on 4th book, The Ultimate Triage ... More »
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