Underground constructions make great bomb shelters. But, they can also be used for creating a regular living space for the benefits they offer. You must have noticed that underground temperatures are on the lower side even on a hot sunny day. It is because the area doesn’t receive direct sunlight. You can construct underground shipping container shelters for a living space or storage purposes.
The process of creating an underground structure with a container is similar to creating a traditional basement. Prepare a solid base to place your shipping container underground. You can then place your container and add protection to its exterior walls and roof. After finishing this exterior construction, you can consider working on the interiors as per your preferences. For modification of your container interiors, you must check out our other articles. They will provide you detailed information for fitting doors and windows, building interior walls, and other such stuff.
Here is a step-by-step process of creating an underground shipping container:
Before starting any construction, it is essential to take permission from your local authorities. Your design and construction must comply with the building code, sewage, domestic services supply, disposal, and safety regulations.
Once you have secured all the permissions, you can plan for the design of your construction. You can take an expert’s help in designing your house. You can either hire an architect or buy a readymade house plan. You can also follow the DIY route by taking a little help online. Feel free to browse more of our articles for learning the technicalities of building container homes.
Sourcing shipping containers
From your design, you are aware of the number of containers required for your underground construction. You must source them after properly examining them on site. If you have invested in a used container, remove all the rust and dents from it. You can consider sandblasting the internal surfaces to expose the metal surface. This can be sealed and repainted with non-toxic paint material to avoid corrosion.
The load-bearing capacity of the container lies at its four corners. That is the reason these containers are stacked like blocks. The walls and the roof of shipping containers cannot bear the load. So, you need to keep that in mind while burying your shipping container. Don’t ever put pressure on its roof or walls as the container won’t be able to bear the load. Some people tend to stack planks of wood on the exterior walls of a buried container for reinforcement. You must know that this support won’t last long. These railroad ties or the wooden planks are biodegradable and will dissolve in the soil someday. Moreover, they are a source of moisture for your container walls.
Additionally, the rain will contribute to the load and make the soil above your container roof heavy. As discussed above, the roof of your container cannot take much load. You need to make provision for this load in advance. Sealing the exteriors with loose material like gravel or sand won’t help. Instead, use concrete blocks for protecting your underground container effectively. You can also consider using cinder blocks for making a secured and watertight casing for your shipping container. For the roof, you can utilize cross beams and i-beams for effective load-bearing.
Waterproofing the exteriors
The very nature of the shipping containers is absorbing moisture from the surroundings. This will lead to their rusting and falling apart one day. To prevent this from happening, you need to waterproof the container exteriors. The roof also needs to be protected from moisture that might come from rain. Use the waterproofing compounds available in the market for waterproofing your container exteriors. You can use marine-grade epoxy, anti-corrosive metal prime, and a marine-grade enamel coating as three protective layers for your container.
Building a foundation
When you are planning for an underground shipping container, you cannot just dig the land and place it inside. Even if the soil in your area is hard, it is not a stable base for such a heavy container. Your shipping container will be off-balanced if you will place it directly on the soil. You need to dig the land out according to the measurement of your container. Also, consider the number of containers you are planning to bury while digging. Leave some space around as a provision for drainage and ventilation. You will have to create a solid base for placing your container over it. Building a concrete foundation is recommended here. You must check out our foundation-related article for detailed information on creating one.
The underground constructions are prone to rust and moisture. Direct contact with soil might spoil your container metal. Since, we have built a casing for our container to reinforce it, creating an embankment is optional here. It will, however, further ensure to prevent your container from the surrounding moisture. You can use cheap gabion baskets, tires or sandbox for your embankment.
Making provision for drainage is also essential when you bury your shipping container. It will prevent your concrete construction from run-offs. It is just like you wouldn’t construct a traditional basement without drainage. If you are not considering building drainage here, you are putting your shipping container at risk. It will rust and its life will be greatly reduced. While fixing these drainage pipes, ensure to protect against clogging as well. You can install french drains and surround them with a layer of gravel to prevent clogging.
Making a provision for ventilation is often overlooked by many people. If you are planning to spend long periods inside this building, you must consider ventilation. Not only for you, but ventilation can also be required for a storage area. It is completely dependent on the items you are planning to store in your underground container. So, determine the need for ventilation based on your purpose of constructing this underground container.
If you are using more than one container for building your underground project, consider using supporting beams for additional strength. When you cut through the container metal for combining it with another, a lot of its natural strength is lost. The supporting beams help to add back this lost strength. These beams need to be installed inside the underground structure to provide support to the roof.
Natural light cannot reach the basement constructions. So, you should consider using solar lights to save on your power bill. These lights are quite luminous and available in different colors. You can consider utilizing a mix of solar tubes and propane for your power needs. This allows you to live off-the-grid forever. You can install solar tubes over the roof of your container. Cut out the roof strategically to receive natural sunlight in all your rooms with the help of solar tubes.
Once you have finished your basic structure, you should seal all the openings and waterproof them. Check all the electric, gas, and water entry points for sealing. You don’t want a leaking underground container structure after all that effort. You can use Styrofoam for waterproofing your roof. Cover it with heavy gauge polythene sheeting and a layer of gravel on the top. Alternatively, if you want to create a garden on your roof, build a solid concrete slab over your container. This will carry a load of soil, water, flowers, and small plants that will form a part of your garden.
Important considerations while burying your shipping containers
There are a few things that you need to consider for your underground shipping container. Let us discuss these considerations in detail here:
Invest in a new container
When you are planning to purchase a shipping container for underground construction, always go for a new one. A used container is the one that is now redundant for the shipping industry. They stop using it for a reason. These containers don’t have much life left to them because of rusting. No doubt, the price of a used one is cheaper than the new container.
You can get a used 40 ft. container between $2500-$5000. Whereas a new one costs between $3500-$7000 or even higher. The better a container is built, the more is its price. But, what about the amount you spend on repairing it to a usable condition? Even after that rehaul, the life of a used shipping container cannot be compared to a new one. So, choose a new container for your underground construction.
High-quality handling equipment
You need to rent handling equipment for burying your shipping container. A 40 ft. shipping container weighs around 8000 pounds or above. While hiring the equipment, you must keep this thing in mind. Enquire about the loading capacity of the equipment you hire before paying for it. Also, speak about your motive to hire it so that the company can provide you the best equipment. If you end up hiring something that cannot take the load of your container, you’ll be in trouble. You might damage either your container or the equipment you hired in such a case. So, make a wise choice instead of going for a cheaper option.
Constructing an underground shipping container is not about buying a container and just burying it. It involves a lot of processes for creating a durable and secure place. You are not opting for a traditional construction for saving costs. So, you must determine all the costs involved in this construction before starting the process. This will ensure that you do not end up spending more on this project than expected. The costs involved in this process include:
• Cost of the shipping container
• Transportation charges
• Equipment hiring cost
• Storage costs (when you aren’t ready for the container delivery, you might have to store it at a secured place)
• Cost of construction material
• Concrete cost
• Labor cost (when you are employing labor)
Adding all these costs will give you an estimate of your total construction cost. You must compare it with the traditional building cost and decide accordingly.
Benefits of underground shipping containers
People consider building underground constructions for many reasons. Some just want to hide away from the world. On a serious note, the various benefits offered by these underground structures are the reason behind their popularity. Here are a few of these advantages:
• Shipping containers are a cheaper option for developing underground structures compared to traditional construction.
• The underground temperature is least affected by the temperature above. It is, therefore, beneficial for people living in areas with extreme temperatures.
• Very little noise reaches below the ground surface. So, such structures are the best for creating a quiet living space.
• You can make your underground dwelling a part of your garden landscape and beautify its surroundings. How interesting it is to just disappear while walking in your garden. You can have a private space to yourself which no one knows about.
Underground shipping containers give a lot of scope to your creativity. You can create a beautiful living space with it. Consider choosing a light-colored paint for your interior walls for reflecting more light. Also, adding a fully transparent glass door at the entrance helps to get in more natural light inside. Finish up your underground construction with eye-catching landscaping.