Underground Shelter Installation & Placement

Installation & Placement

It is very important to choose an appropriate underground shelter placement location. If possible, the shelter entrances and the steel blast doors should be concealed from view, with placement at the proper depth for adequate radiation protection.

Choose your underground (UG) site carefully. The first attribute for a good shelter location is an area with a low water table- that is, an area where you can dig a trench 18 to 20 feet deep without hitting ground water. In many areas, the water table can vary by seasonal rainfall (areas subject to hurricanes fall into this category). You should also hire a good soils engineer to tell you what type of soil is in your chosen location.

Rocky Soil

Rocky soil will work, but it can add time and expense to the excavation. Never back fill with large rocks. If you have solid rock you will need to blast (which is very expensive but doable). Gravely type soil is fine and drains well.

Wet Soil

Wet soil of any kind, is a total non-starter. Spring excavations will show you the most likely 'high water' level. For installations later in the year, carefully estimate the high water level of the soil. If you reach wet soil during excavation, back fill to a safe, dry soil level before installing the shelter. If you need more cover for warmth or radiation protection, mound the dirt to make a hill over the shelter. In areas of potential blast or high winds, make sure the slope of the mound does not exceed 30 degrees.

Hills & Valleys

We would suggest that you look for an area that is not at the bottom of a vast slope. When placed in these locations, over a period of hours to days, the water that has collected over a shelter will super-saturate the soil and find any imperfection in the integrity of the shelter...and come inside. When a shelter is located up-slope, on high ground...the rain will run AWAY from the shelter, and not saturate the soil deep underground (unless the soil is 100% sand...). In short, high ground good, -- low ground, not good.

We have built “submarines”, where the entire shelter is below the water line, but they are welded plate shelters (steel fuel tanks), with solid steel pipe entrances. Submarine shelters must be held in place by heavy steel straps that are anchored into concrete. Steel plate shelters are heavy and harder to handle in the hole. A 48” diameter entrance elbow made of corrugated pipe may weigh 250 lbs., where a 1/2 inch walled steel pipe entrance will weigh thousands of lbs. Water problems can be dealt with, but they increase costs, and the shelter components are more difficult to assemble on the job site. Keep in mind that wet soil and clay type soils do not 'arch' and will greatly compromise your blast protection.

Clay Soil

Clay type soils hold water for a long time. When this type of soil is saturated, your underground structure is not only holding up the weight of the soil, but also of the water it holds. Clay soils are not even recommended for use against concrete foundations, as clay creeps and moves, and will eventually crack concrete or fiberglass walls.

In clay excavations, water will collect in and around the disturbed areas and the clay will hold the water, forming a “swimming pool” effect. Clay soils will require a good drainage system, such as a French drain.

Always consult a good soil engineer before installing your underground shelter. Carefully follow their installation recommendations. If you are installing in clay, your soil engineers may recommend that you totally remove the clay overburden from the top and sides of the shelter, fill the excavation with crushed rock up to about 3 feet or so of grade and then apply engineer's fill or road base for another couple of feet before applying a top soil layer. A layer of sediment screen over the crushed rock before the engineer's fill goes in will protect your French drains from becoming clogged in the future.

Deformation of Shelter

Some deformation of the end caps/bulkheads in steel shelters is completely normal and expected. We know this will happen and we locate the bolt pattern holding the air handler brackets in a close, square pattern knowing that the strut will lift away from the end cap upon backfill. We plan for this when installing the deck (that's why the deck does not contact the end caps) and the ventilation intake pipe. Corrugated pipe is not a particularly accurate cylinder, as it is wound in a spiral format....like a paper towel tube. Some deviation in the diameter dimensions is very normal. Most of them seem to come out a little larger on the ends than in the middle- but not always.

We recommend using a large track hoe (size 290 to 330) instead of a backhoe, to dig the initial hole. The track hoe will get the job done much more quickly, and time is money. It also provides a huge safety factor when digging a deep installation. When backfilling the shelter you will need either a track hoe or a backhoe with a long arm that can reach the center of the excavation in order to drop the load evenly over the shelter hull. Never, never, use a Bob Cat to back fill your shelter. It does not have a long arm, and the backfilling will be uneven, causing possible deformation of the hull.

Pick your location carefully. Don't be in a hurry. Dig a test hole and do a perk test. It will more than pay for itself in the long run—and NEVER back fill with clay.

Shelter Location Assessment

The following assessment may help you in your underground shelter placement decision.

Download a printer-friendly version of this assessment.

  • 1

    How high is your water table?

  • 2

    What type of soil do you have in your location (sandy, clay, rocky, loamy)?

  • 3

    How well does your soil drain (drains well, does not drain well)?

  • 4

    Are there large rocks, shale or other obstacles?

  • 5

    Do you have perma-frost?

  • 6

    Is the location on a hill (top, middle, bottom)?

  • 7

    How close to the proximity to your home, do you plan to place your shelter?

  • 8

    Do you want an entrance into your home, basement or garage?

  • 9

    Do you need an entrance that is more than 48” in diameter?

  • 10

    Will your home or outbuilding be constructed at the same time as your shelter?

  • 11

    Can your landscaping easily be disturbed?

  • 12

    Do you have a sprinkler system?

  • 13

    How densely forested is your area (light, medium, heavy?

  • 14

    Where are your utilities accessed?

  • 15

    Is there room to leave the overburden (leftover soil and rock), or must it be hauled and stored at another location?

  • 16

    Where, in proximity to your home, do you plan to place your shelter (front, side, back, under driveway, etc.)?

  • 17

    Can a crane and large truck easily access this spot?

If you would like us to evaluate the answers to this assessment, please email it to us.

Transportation & Installation


All of our shelters are priced FOB ‘from the factory’ and do not include the cost of transport. Transport costs vary with gasoline prices; therefore, it is difficult to estimate these costs. We would be happy to get transport quotes for you at any time. Just send us your zip code and the shelter size you are considering purchasing.

Shelters up to 32 feet in length can be transported on one trailer. Long shelters, or shelters with large diameter entrances, require two trailers. This does not double the transport cost, as the 2nd trailer will be shorter.

Installation Costs

Installation costs vary widely. Installers in Utah have been charging between $4,000 and $6,000 for the installation. This has included the price of the crane for 2 hours, a track hoe for 2 days, and all the crushed rock for bedding purposes. This price may vary with the soil type (large rocks, sand, clay, etc.). Expect higher installation costs if you have a small lot or if the fill must be trucked off site.

Installation Supervisors:

Our customers often request the help of an installation supervisor. These supervisors oversee the installation process, but do not run the machinery. We can give you the names of several supervisors that have worked for us in the past; however, they are not our employees. They typically charge about $500 per day, plus travel, food and lodging, and have been very conservative in their food and lodging requirements.

If you choose to hire an installation supervisor, you may wish to hire a person that is also a licensed electrician. Most people like to have a source of power from another building brought into their shelter, or they require an electrical connection to alternate power sources. We have found that the money saved by not needing to hire another electrician usually pays for the price of the two-day supervisor.

Installation Requirements:

We will send you further installation information, after you have ordered your shelter. Installation is not our area of expertise, but there are some basic directions that must be followed.

  • Always use a certified and licensed installer who has large diameter pipe installation experience. Let him guide you in the installation process. If you hire a local installer, he will usually be familiar with your soil type, depth of water table, and local requirements.
  • Check well ahead of time to see if you need a permit to install your shelter. We have seen permits take as long as 6 weeks before being granted.
  • Always call for blue staking well before the installation time. If they are busy, they may keep you waiting up to 2 weeks.
  • Do not place corrugated steel shelters into the water table. They will leak. If your water table fluctuates, or you have a high water table, place you shelter at least 6 inches above the water table and mound earth over the top to the required depth of shielding.
  • If the water table is high, consider purchasing a steel plate shelter instead of a corrugated steel shelter. Do not place the shelter floor of steel shelters any deeper than 6 inches into the water table, as it will accentuate ground shock from blast.
  • Place fill (crushed rock) to the radius of the shelter, before backfilling with dirt. Place the crushed rock evenly on both sides of the shelter. Do not allow more than a 4-inch deviation of crushed rock on either side of the shelter.