I am just paranoid enough in this uncertain world to think that I’d be better off with a fallout shelter than not. Oh sure, you can throw together an expedient shelter in a few hours, but I think I’d be farther ahead adding some mass to the ceiling and walls of a basement room. Here’s how I plan to do it and I think the plan will work for anyone with a similar situation.
My basement is of poured concrete with no interior walls. My shelter will be created by converting the most earth shielded quarter of the basement into a shielded room. For ease of construction with a minimum of fit I’m making the shelter 8×12 so that I can use standard 4×8 foots sheets of plywood and 8 foot 2x4s. The walls are easy enough – just begin by sectioning off the designated area with two interior walls. Add shelves to the inside and outside of them so that whatever is on the shelves on both sides of the wall add mass. Jugs of water and canned food on one side and stacked ammo and other gear on the inside would all slow down any errant particles. This wouldn’t be as efficiently as 6 feet of concrete, but as with all things preparedness related – work with what you’ve got and dual use is the key. The exterior walls are shielded by earth and thus should be fine, but I’m leaning toward building shelving or cabinets against at least one exterior wall anyway. That leaves just the ceiling.
By screwing 3?4-inch plywood directly onto the bottom of the existing floor joists, I create 10 inches of storage space above the plywood and between the 2×10 joists. I can fill this space with material to add fallout protection. Traditionally this would be done with poured concrete. That sort of added weight will require additional support. That’s where the shelving and interior walls come in. By running 2x4s under the existing first floor joists so that each joist rests on six 2x4s (two feet apart) and the 2x4s are in turn are supported on each end by the top of the interior walls/shelving units that would support quite a bit of weight. Now what should I add to the newly created ceiling storage space?
I ruled out the poured concrete as a waste of space almost immediately. Initially I considered #10 cans of dehydrated food. But that would not be a dense enough material to stop a significant amount of fall out. I considered ammunition, but even though lead is an excellent shielding material I believe that would be prohibitively expensive. It would take a LOT of ammo to fill a 10×12 surface even six inches deep. That brings me to my latest idea prompted by a posting on Survivalblog regarding barter goods. SF in Hawaii wrote that:
“Salt is (1) very cheap now (2) can be sold in small packages at market (3) virtually impossible to obtain in TEOTWAWKI if you are away from the ocean (4) required for life. Add in iodized salt and doubly so. Remember the Goiter belts? (5) Divisible as it is a powder (6) recognizable by taste (7) virtually indestructible.” And “A $100 investment in salt now could easily be worth a fortune in another time and place.”
I have noted the importance of salt for home canning, meat preservation, and hide tanning in a post-electric world, and have one pound boxes of iodized salt taking up space in my basement already. Now factor in that for our water softener I have salt delivered to my door at fifteen cents per pound in 40 lb bags (also already stacked up and taking up space in my basement!). There’s 250 lbs of salt already on hand and taking up storage space that could be freed up. I think the course is clear. My shelter ceiling will be filled with salt. It is cheap, easy to obtain, easily dividable into marketable sizes, needed for life, and when sealed in the plastic bags it is delivered in and stored in what is probably the driest place in my home – ought to store forever.
JWR Adds: Be sure to over-engineer the bracing required when you add weight to a basement ceiling. A “dead load” can become a killing load if you under-engineer it. When designing, think in terms of both the blast wave from nuclear detonations and the effects of earthquake. If you aren’t confident that your design is like a proverbial “Brick Schumer House”, then talk to a structural engineer before you proceed. Better safe than sorry!