Two years ago, as I began preparing for TEOTWAWKI, the first thing I did was take a real, accurate assessment of what I had and what I was going to be able to do for my preparations. One of the first issues I needed to face was the fact I would never have a true “survival retreat” located out west, far away from any major population centers, and tucked away in some forgotten corner of the country.
As much as I would love to have something like this in place, the balancing act between having a family, financial commitments and restraints, employment, and several other obligations, I needed to accept the fact that should the worst happen I was going to have to deal with it in my current location and from my current home.
I live with my wife and two small children in Ohio, in the suburbs midway between two decent sized cities. Just two decades ago our town was a sleepy little farming community, but developers came in, bought up most of the land, and began carpet-bombing middle-class homes and planned urban developments. We still have the feel, the atmosphere, of being out beyond the cities, but the tractors and combines no longer run in this area.
With these limited options, the only thing available to me WTSHTF is my home or a neighborhood effort to create a fortified, defendable position to try and ride things out—not ideal, but it is what it is . . .
At that time I decided to use our home, part of our home really, to create this fortified location to protect my family, store our supplies, and lay low for awhile. Our home is about 2,000 square feet, with lots of windows and entry points, and built by a home developer whose motto seemed to be quantity over quality—again, not the ideal home for creating a defensive position, but it’s what I had to work with.
The only thing of any value I had, as far as creating a defensible retreat for my family, was our basement. The basement is poured concrete and has around 1,200 square feet of useable room; it has three window wells and one stairway leading to the first floor for entry points.
My dilemma was how do I make this basement a retreat location—easy to defend, with adequate storage, and most of all hidden from potential looters or those wishing to do harm and steal our supplies?
How do I make this basement disappear?
With the thought of creating an invisible basement retreat, I got right to work. I have the three window wells leading into the basement from various points along the foundation of the house, so this was the first issue I decided to address. One of the window wells is actually located below our wood deck at the back of our house, behind the kitchen. At night, when the lights are on in the basement, the window was barely visible due to light leak—and only then if you were looking for it specifically. I came up with a plan for this window; since the only means of getting in and out of the basement was the stairway leading down from the first floor, I decided to make this a second means of exit, a more covert access and escape. First, I pulled out the window and replaced it with an insulated wooden panel and hinged it at the top. Now, the window well to the outside could be accessed quickly in case the basement should be discovered or overrun in a survival situation. The deck outside was already raised, with just enough crawl space for a full sized adult to be able to crawl out between the support beams. At the side of the deck I cut the boards and placed bolts on both sides of the loose wood panel. This way nobody could open up the boards from the outside.
The leaking light problem was fixed with the hinged, insulated window I had installed, so the only time I needed to worry about light was when the window hatch was open for somebody to come in or go out. To minimize this effect I purchased a carpet remnant, twice as long as the wooden window panel, and screwed it to the inside portion of the hinged window—essentially creating a light flap.
Now, the basement had an emergency exit leading out into the backyard should the need to escape arise.
The other two window wells are on either side of the house. They are standard sized window wells, with glass window panels to allow light into the basement. The wells are surrounded by a metal well grate, and at the bottom have gravel and a drainage pipe.
These windows presented a large problem due to the fact they were obvious, and they were also standard on all the surrounding homes in the neighborhood that had basements. About half the homes on our neighborhood had basements, while the other homes were simply slab homes built upon a solid concrete foundation.
To conceal these window wells, I decided landscaping both sides of the house would be needed.
First, I purchased half-inch, treated lumber and cut the panels the fit and cover the glass windows. Using Liquid Nail and silicone, I attached the wood panels to the outside the windows, completely covering the glass and eliminating light from the inside of the basement.
With the lumber in place, I gathered some larger rocks from a nearby construction site and used them to fill the window wells about half way. Next, I placed about a foot of peat moss in the wells, filling in the gaps between the stones and covering them. After the peat moss settled, I filled the rest of the wells with regular topsoil. Along the entire length of both sides of the house I built up the topsoil to completely cover the concrete foundation, sloping it outward toward the yard. Now, the walls along both sides looked like a garden plot—and the window wells were both completely invisible.
To complete the camouflage, I planted perennial flowers—being sure to intersperse plants that bloom throughout the spring, winter, and fall. I also included bushes—choosing firs for year round coverage.
Once completed, our home just looked well landscaped with lots of foliage along the entire length of our home. The home now appeared like just another slab foundation, no-basement home from the exterior.
Next came the interior, and the issue of the stairway leading down to the basement. The hallway which contains the basement stairs is a short hallway that also contains access to a half-bath, a laundry room, a coat closet, and the doorway going out to the garage. In all, this hallway is only about 14 feet long yet has five doors—it’s actually pretty goofy looking, and a major design flaw, but it’s what I had to deal with. All the doors in the hallway were matching, so I needed to figure a way to disguise the basement steps.
I decided to turn the doorway leading to the basement into another coat closet—matching the one straight across from it as much as possible.
To do this, I purchased lumber and sheetrock, and built the back wall, top shelf, and flooring section to the same measurements as the existing hallway closet. I also created a bracket, hinge, and support system that allows me to attach all the pieces needed to complete the closet in about five minutes.
When fully deployed; with the addition of coats, hangers, and other stuff thrown in on the top shelf and flooring, the disguise is complete—I now have a second fully functioning coat closet hiding the stairs to the basement. The back wall of the closet also swings open enough to allow anybody in the basement to quickly leave the basement.
I did this closet with the thought, and the hope, that should the “worst case scenario” come true, looters will be moving quickly—looking to get in and out, strip away and steal whatever they can use quickly and without time to fully investigate, or even wonder, why there might be two matching closets in the same hallway.
Now, I have a usable, defendable, secure retreat perfect for disappearing for short periods of time.
My next project was to outfit the basement with supplies, create defensive positions, and to make a livable space for several people that could be used for an extended stay should outside events require the need to go underground.
In Part Two I will show you how I finished my “Suburban Basement Retreat”, and how you too can create a safe space for your family in case of emergency.