Three Letters Re: Keeping Secrets in Suburbia–Constructing Our Hidden Basement Room

James Wesley:
In the article “Keeping Secrets in Surburbia–Constructing Our Hidden Basement Room, the author describes the difficulty they had removing hard-packed dirt with the consistency of dried concrete, and using an air chisel to break it up for removal and excavation. I’ve faced a similar problem with an underground excavation of a basement and egress tunnel in the granite and sandstone beneath the foundation of my own retreat home in the Western US.

My answer came in the form of a good deal on a slightly used Bosch #11304 “Brute” breaker hammer electric jackhammer, suitable for use either with 115-volt/15 Amp household current or a 1,500 kilowatt electric generator. Though I picked mine up used for a bit under $1,000 [less than an ounce of gold, and well worth it!] they’re available from such internet retailers as ToolBarn for $1,389 plus shipping or can often be found as rental equipment at industrial tool rental outlets for around $50-to-$75 a day.

The advantage for me in owning one rather than renting is that this allows me to minimize my use of my own tool to an hour or less a day, then moving on to other projects so as to minimize exposure to noise, jackhammer vibration and dust. I also found it much easier to remove the broken stone from my workface in two-gallon metal pails rather than the more common 5 or 6-gallon plastic pails around the place; these were both easier to maneuver in the close confines and, of course, lighter in weight. – George S.


I loved the fact that everyone pitched in on this [excavation project]. My wife puts up with my tin foil expenditures, and would help if I asked but it is reluctant help at best. My basement is a full basement and wide open and unfinished, on purpose. While we do tons of Martial Arts and I store foodstuffs downstairs, I don’t really want it to be a hang out place. I wish I could fashion a “cave” in the fashion that Andrea did, the layout of the land just wouldn’t allow it. I did however use some carpentry 101, and created a false room in the basement where I keep all of my tactical gear (four load bearing vests, shotgun bandoleers, et cetera), ammo, etc. Basically there is always space under the steps and since I have 10 ft ceilings in the basement that can add up. Basically I enclosed the walls of the steps with drywall, and cut out a non-load bearing stud and dropped in a doorway. Under the highest part of the steps I built shelves on the inside to hold ammo cans. On the outside of the doorway I built a closet space to hang all of my hunting camouflage coveralls, cold weather gear etc. On the inside of the closet it looks like an unfinished wall with plywood on the wall but there is a hidden pull string that opens a section of the plywood allowing access. Inside I have a string of Christmas LED lights to see. This cleared up a lot of space in the basement shelves for more food and provides more OPSEC for those things that people shouldn’t “run” across.

Thanks for all you do Mr. Rawles. Your words and blog site influence a lot of sheep to become sheepdogs and I for one appreciate it. I have listened to the unabridged “How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It” audio book three times now and it is worth every penny. I have it in my personal library, but I have more time to listen than to read. Thanks again. – A.J.K.

Hi Jim,
As a general contractor, one important item which was not discussed in the construction of the hidden basement is the subject of drainage.

I hope the author will have no problems with this, but given the clues regarding snow and clay I personally would be concerned. Perhaps drainage is already taken care of in some fashion with the already existing basement…I don’t know details…but anyone considering such construction needs to give serious thought to how they will handle moisture. Groundwater has a remarkable knack for finding its way in. I would include a perimeter drain and a sump pump (assuming there is no way to [gravity] drain to daylight (i.e. a hillside slope)) in my plans if considering such a project.

Many thanks for the blog. – Tom in Southern California