Build Your Own Steel Reinforced Storm Shelter


The last few years have seen a lot of dangerous storms rip through middle section of the United States. We’re surprised to hear that many residents in that part of the country don’t have basements to take refuge in when in imminent danger. But a resourceful hacker will always be able to find a way to improve their own situation. This example is particularly useful. It’s a steel storm shelter which opens into the garage.

It all starts with a cage made of square tube. With the skeleton fully assembled it is wrapped in steel plate, adding weld joints running nearly the entire length of each of the cage’s ribs. The image at the left shows the steel door frame clamped in position. Check out the finished version on the right after the shelter has been slid into place and bolted to the concrete slab.

The Reddit discussion includes a debate on whether the door should swing in or out. Swinging out means you could be trapped if the opening is blocked by debris. But there may be scientific research that proves this is a better orientation. Either way, we hope the three dead bolts, door latch, and heavy-duty hinges will stand up to the pressure if this is ever used.

58 thoughts on “Build Your Own Steel Reinforced Storm Shelter

    1. Not that obvious. Depending on the debris and how well the cage is secured, it may become part of the debris. Now you dont have just a large log blocking the bottom of the door that you could escape by climbing over if the door opens inward, you have a collapsed cage held down by a log preventing you from getting out period until it is cut or removed.

  1. Just make it the way a lot of the commercial underground storm shelters’ doors are made. Have a hand actuated hydraulic piston attached to the door. If something heavy gets pushed up against the door, you might be able to at least open it enough to squeeze out.

      1. Yeahh, we are so neutral that we don’t even have an opinion of yourself and wash only with ph-neutral soap :-) BTW: Everyone of the shelters is equipped with a ventilation system with filters, a dry closet and bunk beds (i use them as shelves currently). Larger ones have kitchen and even operation theaters.
        Armageddon and the Zombie apocalypse can come!

      2. Yeah cool! They take money from just about everyone that hates to pay taxes and people there don’t want to have minarets built. ;) But hey, really nice mountains!

          1. They actually passed a law banning the building of minarets. That’s not religious freedom. Switzerland’s a hell of a country, but it’s not perfect. No country is.

  2. Looks like a great way to get killed or injured by a tornado to me. The engineering on that is completely unsound and depends on the garage still being there. Once that thing is exposed to high winds, those tall steel walls become huge wind sails. It’s not large enough to stay away from the walls and having debris hit the walls at 60+ miles an hour is a great way to get your back broken if you or your family is leaning against it. It would be far safer turned on it’s side, even if you couldn’t get out if debris was blocking the door.

    1. It is anchored to the floor. I have some questions about the design.
      How thick is the steel? I have not seen an EF-Tornado but I have seen a CAT 5 hurricane and would question if that would stand up to a CAT 5. I am glad to see that it has power and phone plus maybe data. I would consider a small hole so you could bring a CB radio in with you and if need be call for help from in the shelter.
      Finally I would wield plates on the inside and fill the gaps in the walls with concrete.

        1. Seems about right. There was an old farmer’s market building not far from me that was constructed from steel which was designed to double as a shelter in the event of a storm. Thankfully by time an EF5 hit (a month ago) no one took it seriously. That building was demolished in a matter of seconds once the tornado touched down. Even worse the chunks of twisted steel that went airborne took out a few surrounding buildings, some of which were homes.

        2. Actually I have seen what a CAT 5 Hurricane can do that is why I questioned if it would stand. This company makes steel safe rooms so there specs might be a good place to start.

  3. Depending on the expected situation the door might be better off as a portal style with bank vault style pins inserted into the door frame all the way around and the ability to be pulled in or pushed out. The pin, lever and socket assembly should be able to be dismantled (as much as needed) in case something hits the door and damages or bends a pin.. say a bolted in edge ring which can be unbolted to release all the pins if they become jammed, yet it’s still very strong. (Assemble with Never Seez and keep a socket wrench in the emergency room.)

    You could also weld a small box into an upper a corner and drill holes to the outside world and install a battery powered PA or some kind of alarm/horn to call for help.

    What about scuba air tanks and some sort of ventilation port? If there’s a gas leak at the home or in the area this could quickly become a coffin. A scuba tank might last long enough for the gas in the area to be shut off and vent out. And for vents just several large slotted discs which rotate over a series of small drilled holes through the outside wall. This would help reduce heat, humidity and increase fresh air flow while waiting for rescue.

    At any rate there’s a ton of ideas one could incorporate but it would be a bit beyond that ‘simple shelter’ this is and I’m sure something like this could make a big difference in surviving a tornado, etc. It would be fun to see an ‘ulimate compact shelter’ design contest or something.

    1. At least paint it day glow orange with labels that humans are inside. Take any space capsule labeling as a good example. Once you’re in there knocked out you want someone to know what it is and to get your out.

    1. I find it ironic. Over there (The US&A), you have storms and tornadoes and snow and heat and seriously messed up weather at places. Yet most (correct me if I’m wrong) suburban homes are built using wood and drywall etc?

      Over here (South Africa). We have mega chill weather. My home town, Pretoria, has freezing winters as cold as 2 degrees C (~36 deg F) and sweltering summers as hot as 30 deg C (86 deg F). The wind here is so mild it can barely hold a kite. We have no snow, ever. Frost every now and then and maybe hail twice a year. We don’t have things like winter and summer wardrobes. We just have a wardrobe for the entire year.

      Despite the total lack of destructive weather, *all* the homes here are built using brick. Load bearing (outside walls mostly) walls are double layer brick, with the walls inside the home being single layer brick.

      Our homes are made to at least keep the occupants safe without the need for a cellar/shelter yet all the nasty storms are over there!

      1. I have a feeling that homes in the US are made of wood because we have a relatively cheap and large amount of it available. It’s quicker to work with than brick, you can throw up a house in month or so, and by and large we want quick not quality.

      2. We don’t have to worry about the riots that have occurred in Pretoria either. There are very few communities here with the kind of security walls and precautions that are used in South Africa. Brick is much harder to get through than wood and sheetrock, and will do a better job of stopping bullets and cars as well. No matter where in the world you live, we each need to protect ourselves from something outside.

      3. Any structure of brick or stone is extremely vulnerable to earthquakes. We have them frequently on our west coast and have had several in the eastern U.S. which would crack a solid structure. Wood is more flexible.

        1. Sounds legit to me so thats why you dont build brick homes in the middle of the USA or the so earthquake haunted florida… I lived once in a house that was build 1384 and it survived a few quakes even if we dont have as many as california but still, this house has mor history than the USA.

    1. From that article, which seems pretty good:

      FEMA 200mph projectile testing recommends
      * poured concrete walls with rebar
      * OR rebar reinforced concrete block construction
      * a concrete roof slab capable of supporting your collapsed house on top
      * a helluva door (example doors provided in document)
      * NO shared structure with the house other than the slab so that your house is destroyed independently
      * preferably below grade
      * internal stores of food and water

  4. I’m just noticing the scorch marks on the roof after you moved the completed unit into it’s place… lol :)

    Next time I see news of a big ass storm over there, I will go out and sit on my porch with a beer in stormless South Africa, I will send a little thought your way and hope you’re safe in your shelter while everyone else on here gets ripped to shreds because your shelter did not meet their professional shelterbuilding association of the USA (PSAUSA) criteria.

    Good handiwork man :). It can even be used as a walk in safe whenever Mother Nature is not out hatin’ on everyone!

  5. Wait, no ribs on the floor? So it’s not a self-contained cube? No way. There’s your weak point – hit it at the top on a side and those long lever arms will rip the bolts right up out of the floor.

    Aren’t the commercial versions of these usually installed by cutting out part of the garage floor, to sink the shelter at least partway into/below the slab? This would be why.

    1. I think that that metal box will fold in a tornado. Back of the envelope calculations from

      Estimating the size of a door 6.5ft x 2.5 ft. The side wall looks ~2.5 times area of door so about 40 ft^2. An F4 tornado has wind speeds from 207-260 mph. The website above calculates ~135 lb/ft^2 in 200mph winds (low end of F4). That comes out to 5400 lb of lateral force. Imagine if that box were bolted securely sideways to a wall, a couple of feet of the floor. Then pile 2.5 tons evenly on the side wall. If the welds and bolts survive, try jumping on it to simulate buffeting– tornadoes aren’t known for being gentle. I would be shocked if the bolts survive, the weld joints survive, the bolt heads don’t get shorn off or pulled through the angle iron, etc.

  6. It has only 8 bolts holding it to the floor. They look like pieces of common (cheap) threaded rod. That box should be anchored with several more bolts, grade 8. Preferably cast into the concrete with large fender washers. It also needs a full steel plate floor so if it does get ripped loose it won’t be an open bottom box. In case of the box (with bottom plate) coming loose it should have padded or at least smoothly finished interior wall surfaces. Would be a bad thing to survive the storm only to get your skull cracked open on one of those ribs.

    On The Weather Channel’s “Storm Stories” a few years back they showed the remains of an underground storm shelter the owners were fortunate to NOT make it to. It had a concrete floor, concrete filled concrete block walls and a TWELVE TON (24,000 pound) concrete slab on top with three feet of dirt over the slab.

    A tornado sucked away all that dirt and nobody could find where the concrete slab went. The builders didn’t use steel rebar to connect from the floor slab all the way up through the walls and into the roof slab. They figured there was no way a tornado was going to shift a 24,000 pound chunk of concrete.

    The owners were lucky the tornado hit their shelter instead of their house.

  7. I lived just outside of Plainfield in 1990…F5 tornado in the middle of the day. I was there about 10 minutes after it passed through. This thing would’ve been ripped right from the concrete. If it did stay attached it would be buried under the pile of rubble that was your house. Not knocking the man’s idea, but it wasn’t thought out well enough.

    The only shelter I can see standing up to a storm of that strength is a piece of culvert buried horizontally in the side of a hill. Make up a steel door, and there you go. Anything buried in the ground would work I suppose, but thats the only method I’ve ever really seen that could be done on the cheap.

    For the people talking about the air supply, these storms are usually moving pretty quick, air would only become a concern if debris blocked the entrance. Been around a number of tornadoes and they are usually over in less than 5 minutes.

  8. The data available definitely suggests some worrying trends. According to NOAA, the total number of tornado reports has been steadily climbing over the past several decades, most likely due to improved forecasting and better reporting. In fact, data from the National Weather Service shows that, in the last decade, the average number of tornadoes per year has increased by more than 10% over the previous decade. And although the historical data does not necessarily show an increase in the number of severe tornadoes (EF3-EF5), there’s no denying we have seen a significant number of large tornado events in recent years that have resulted in a devastating loss of life, as well as widespread economic damages. Contributing to the increase in loss severities is the on-going development of rural areas with increasing populations and exposed values. Now you can add one shelter to it.

  9. This design doubles as oven if the collapsing house catches fire for some reason. Strategic location next to outer wall with an second exit might be something to consider.

  10. If there is a study that opening outwards is better, but it has a risk, you can have both. Bolt the door frame in a way that the bolts or their nuts are accessible from the inside, so in case you’re trapped you can remove the door from within.

    An alternative is a couple of egress hatches that are safely bolted into the construction. Something like a hole with a manhole cover bolted over. If the door can’t open, unbolt one of the hatches.

    Such steel box looks a bit too fragile for a larger storm on its own. Would be better to partially dig underground, surround with concrete to have a small mound with entrance door that looks quite like an European WW2 bunker, and you’re safe from even heavy-duty angry weather.

    I wouldn’t call it “epic fail”. I’d call it a beginning of a promising project.

  11. Anyone see what was left of the chevy cobalt Tim Samaris was riding in when it took a hit from EF 3? Probably sturdier than this, as they are made to hit things at high speed and maybe they won’t have to “pour you out like soup”. And I think that was just a sprout off of a multivortex that may have been weaker than EF3.
    I could see this thing becoming a wind sail, and unless the bolts (allthread, stainless or high grade) holding this down run all the way from the top down and are buried at least a foot deep into the concrete, and not just little “tapcons” either, its going to get tossed like a tin can and anyone inside is going to be hamburger when its found a mile or two away from where it was “installed”. The chances are slim it will ever take a direct hit, but I wouldn’t shelter in it! That looks like awefully thin “plate” too… A 2X4 doing 200mph will skewer that thing for sure! it needs to be plate on the outside, the tube skeleton and then plate for the internal walls as well, its harder to “punch through” two layers spaced apart, a single layer just helps sharpen the end of the 2X4…

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