Converting a Standard American Home Into a Hardened Retreat, by CentOre

Not everyone can find or afford a solidly built brick home with fittings to hang bullet-proof shutters and doors.
We agree with the bulk of the writings we have read concerning the ‘non-defensibility’ of the average United States home.  Our group has choices as to which house will become ‘The Retreat’ for the entire group when the SHTF.  Our group’s consensus is our ‘Primary’ retreat will probably be a 2,600 square foot triple-wide ranch style manufactured home.  It has three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a living room and family room.   There is an adequate kitchen with a totally inadequate pantry.  Two of the three outside doors have glass panels in them, and there are the normal large windows throughout.  While designed for up to six persons, we figure we can bunk up to fourteen before hot bunking or spreading out to one or more buildings may have to come into play.

Weather is a constant factor.  We may have snow on the ground for up to seven months of the year, but generally only four or five months.  The accumulated depth of snow is more important that the ‘total inches per year’.  Roof snow loads are taken seriously here with most homes having at least one ‘snow rake’ for roof snow removal.  We look at snow as a definite defensive plus.  It’s cold outside, but we have collected all the wood stoves we will need just by offering to haul them away where people put them in their front yards.

We are a group with many and varied backgrounds.  While three of us are retired military, and another couple of people are military brats, none of us have training in on-the-ground defensive and offensive strategies and/or tactics.  Therefore we expect there are many holes in what I write here today.  We welcome and look forward to constructive criticism.  Our general situation is we live in a rather remote area.  The local town boasts a population of over 1,000.  That must be at the height of tourist season on a particularly warm and sunny day.  Our area’s population is spread out over an area of about forty square miles.  That forty square miles includes quite a bit of State, Federal (both Forest Service and BLM) lands intermixed with homes on private lands.  As much as pre-planning will allow, the group has made the decision the house above will become our primary home/retreat.  The primary is situated in a section (one square mile) of privately held land. Surrounding this section on three sides are empty sections owned by the U.S. Government.  The fourth side is bounded by a small river with water that carries cold mountain run-off.

Existing house attributes
There is a two and a half mile long ‘private’ drive from the county road with no through traffic.  House spacing in the area is 300 feet or more.  There are only about 100 homes with a total of 225 lots in a full section of 640 acres.  Most of the homes are occupied by retired couples who ‘snowbird’, leaving their homes empty four to seven months out of the year.  Some of the homes are vacation cabins owned by people in our nearest metro areas.  Metro areas are two and a half or four hours away depending on which metro we talk about.

The particulars of Primary are: a total linear dimension at eve line = 240 feet, with a cement side walk on all but one short side.  Sidewalk length = 180 feet.  The three foot wide sidewalk is set out from the building foundation three feet creating a flower bed.           

Existing shop building attributes
There is a steel clad ‘shop’ building within thirty feet of the Primary with an overall perimeter length of 190 feet.  The shop building is three story structure.  The third story is a 21′ x 24′ ‘apartment’.  The lower two stories are lined with built-in, very sturdy shelving that is 24 inches deep and three feet of height between each shelf.  This shelving is continuous the full length of two walls and full height of the walls.  The shop building will sleep sixteen people with no modification. Therefore we have an immediate ability to sleep up to thirty persons.

There is a 48” wide concrete side walk between back door of house and side door of shop.  Over half the perimeter of the house and shop buildings is gravel, and or scarified pumice/sand ground from 0 to thirty feet out from the perimeter walls.  There is very little vegetation immediately adjacent to these walls.   Looking 30 to 60 feet out, there is moderate vegetation all in the form of Jack Pines that are 30 to 50 feet tall. 

Reasoning: Needs of the group           
Security of group versus ability to observe outward must be balanced in such a way that neither is compromised.  We needed to find a way to ‘harden’ the buildings while maintaining our ability to observe our surroundings from inside the structures and lookout points.  In addition we felt we needed a separate medical and/or ‘stranger’ quarantine area for up to 5 persons.

Anticipated size of the group

 While our planning is for up to 30 people one never knows what the real number might be until TEOTWAWKI actually arrives.  Therefore our pre-planning includes bedding up to fifteen additional persons during times of transition.  Such as a) TEOTWAWKI; b) Cross-training with other groups; c) Housing transient members of other groups.  This would put a strain on our logistics manager and staff.  We only anticipate and pre-plan for this large a number for very short periods of time.

Lay of the Land out 500 yards

Our area is basically flat with no topographic features except lots of trees for at least a mile in every direction.  Local topographic maps have contour lines at fifty foot intervals.  The contour lines can be from a half a mile to as much as a full mile apart in this area.  Even though the terrain is flat, it is elevated and there is no possibility of flooding.

Lay of the Land 500 to 1,000 yards

Area is basically flat with the area north-westerly beyond 700 yards falling away to a small barrier river.  Most of this area, while wooded, has been thinned to reduce the possibility of forest fires spreading.  This significantly enhances visibility for look-outs.

Lay of the Land 1,000 yards to one mile

Area is basically flat with the area west-northwesterly beyond 700 yards including the barrier river and a large area beyond the barrier river.  This zone includes thinned areas and many dense patches of timber that remain un-thinned.


Local Materials available
The primary local, natural building material consists of Jack Pine, and Lodge Pole Pine, lots of Lodge Pole Pine!  It is the dominant vegetation for many miles around our location with Jack Pine a close second.  For the purposes of this paper I will lump the two species together and just call them ‘pine’.  When one is handed lemons one should make lemonade.  We have decided that pine will be our primary ‘hardening’ material.  Also, we have an unlimited supply of pumice sand.  Both the pine poles and the pumice are easily transported as neither are heavy.  Another local material, although not naturally occurring, is barbed wire.  We have in excess of six miles of barbed wire within a mile and a half radius centered on our primary.  While not razor wire, properly positioned barbed wire can still put a dent in someone’s day.

We see a need to create lanes of fire to channelize attackers into kill zones we are doing this through the selective removal of pines.  We are leaving ‘wedges’ of trees between our fire lanes.  By immediate appearance these will be ‘safe areas’ for attackers.  Upon close arrival anyone who plans on using the wedges as cover will find broken glass, nail boards, and barbed wire used concertina style.  The work is pretty well done on the land we control, and, we are in position rapidly to extend them when TEOTWAWKI arrives.

Another consideration in our area is forest fire.  We withstand one or two forest fires nearly every summer within a twenty-five mile radius of our retreat.  Through our selective removal of trees to enhance and/or create fire zones relative to fire points, we will also be greatly increasing our fire survivability.  We deal further with fire fighting below.

Plans and Methods:
The need to create and place obstacles dovetails nicely with our need to accumulate fire wood.  The majority of pine poles will be up-rooted.  The root balls are needed for strategic obstacle placement.  Root balls of the pine are generally three to four feet in diameter and usually extend down into the ground no more that 24 inches, with the exception of the tap root which may go down much further.  When pulled from the ground and with the main stem trimmed as closely as possible to the root ball these units become quite stable when turned 90 degrees.  Further, the remaining roots are tough twelve to twenty-four inch projections that become very hard when exposed to air.  When trimmed at an angle with loping shears at about the ¾ inch diameter mark they become formidable obstacles.  Further, when tied down into rows they become a people tight obstacle that provides no offensive cover.  That is, we can see and shot objects that attempt to conceal behind root balls.  The primary trunk will be cut to a length of 12 to 14 feet, with an average diameter of 5 inches.  The balance if the tree [tip] will be set aside for now.  The poles will then be set in the dirt along the outside edge of the side walk, with their upper ends leaning against the outer wall of the retreat at the soffit.  Any poles deemed unfit [twisted trunk, woodpecker nest holes, etc.] will be set aside for fire wood.  Entrance areas will have layered logs that resemble the fence and gates in a bull fighting arena.

We estimate the need for 660 poles averaging 4 to 6 inches in diameter to completely ‘stockade’ the retreat house.  We suspect we will be processing about two thousand trees initially for firewood and firing lanes.  Once the stockade is completed we will begin to make firewood in earnest.

To augment our firewood collecting, the surrounding government lands hold many ‘burn piles’.  These are piles of cut and broken tree material deemed not usable commercially.  An average burn pile contains around six cords of wood.  We can, with minimum effort glean a cord or two of very dry firewood off of each pile.
All firewood will be ricked inside the stockade and against the outside of the primary’s walls in the area earlier referred to as the ‘flower bed’ area.  Ricked firewood will be cut in 16 inch lengths.   If we rick to only six feet the retreat perimeter will hold over seven cord of wood.  We anticipate needing up to six cord per year for heating and cooking.  We will make a minimum of ten cords per year just in case our calculations prove wrong.  Additional firewood will be ricked on the first two tiers of shelving in the shop building.  There will no visible [outside] change to the shop in doing this.

The lower three feet of the stockade will be bermed with the pumice sand for added stability and projectile ‘catching’, and to slow any attempts to remove them.
All in all we have a layered defensive perimeter of 5 inch pine poles, separated from the ricked wood by about four feet of dead air space.  The 16 inches of ricked wood will in turn is backed by the 6 inch wall of the primary structure. Our 16 inches of wood will be accepting lead donations end-on.  Research supports our common belief [but still possibly wrong] this should stop run of the mill rifle and pistol rounds of up to .50 caliber.

Once this defense is finished we will turn our attention to the pine pole tips we set aside earlier.  Their size will be approximately 5 inches at their butts, tapering to 0 at the tip.  Loping shears and hand saws will be used to trim limbs from this main stem tips, leaving 12 to 16 inches of each limb attached to the main stem.  These limbs will then be trimmed to create sharp points.  When the main stem diameter reduces to around two inches the stem will be cut and turned into pine sap rich kindling. Some of the larger cut of limbs will then be reserved for individual sharpened sticks, with the balance turned into more kindling.

The sharpened ‘group sticks’ will be 8 to 15 feet long.  They can be laid out randomly, or with the small end of one stick overlapping the large end of the next stick, wired together to make a continuous barricade as long as is needed.  We have completed a little more than a dozen root balls and ‘sharpened tips’.  They have cured out to be very tough and remain quite sharp. A couple in our group have a 30 foot Class “C” motor home.  They have ceded its use by our group as a stranger/visitor, or ‘quarantine space’.  It can be strategically parked and be in full view at all times of the person manning the OP/LP.  The motor home can berth and support five people. Well, perhaps six, if they are very good friends!

We have completed two PSYOPS ‘kits’.  They are ready to deploy at TEOTWAWKI.  To deploy before then would only rile up the sparse neighborhood. It is my task to be keeping the contents of the kits current with the times between now and ‘then’.

‘Tank’ Traps
Our primary defense against a motor vehicle supported assault is, and will continue to be, the strategic management of standing timber.  While we are hardening our retreat we will remain constantly aware of which trees to take and which trees to leave.  We recognize there will not be sufficient timber to totally stop a vehicle.  However, it is anticipated the combination of standing timber and other ‘directional aids’ such as root balls, etc. will slow most vehicles or channel them into prepared traps where  they may be dealt with on a prioritized basis.

Tools on hand or available:
Saws, axes, pruning saws and loping shears have been and will continue to be our primary tools to perform this work.  Axes, saws and shears all require different tools and methods to make them and keep them sharp.  Not only does a sharp tool perform better than a dull one, but a sharp tool is less likely to contribute to accidental injuries. Files, whetstones and other hand held tools are generally quite small and, therefore, easily misplaced.  A file ‘misplaced’ and left outside for even one night’s morning dew will effectively end its useful life as a sharpening instrument.  You cannot have too many sharpening backup options.  The old ‘three is two’ argument applies here quite well.

Use of Water:           

Installed roof sprinkler system
Living in a very high risk forest fire area, combined with my personal background search and rescue and fire fighting we are very conscious of fire control.  We anticipate that fire prevention is out of our control since all of our fires seem to start on nearby National Forest or BLM Land.  Therefore, we are concentrating on control.  First, land clearing created by the stockading of the retreat will greatly increase the horizontal retreat-to-timber distance.  Next we have installed farm and ranch grade pulse sprinklers [one maker of these sprinkler heads is Rainbird] on the roofs of the shop building, the main house, and the greenhouse.  The three sprinklers are strategically placed to provide overlapping coverage to keep all roof surfaces wetted, as well wetting surrounding trees and ground covers.  By extension, they also keep our defensive works wetted.  When placed at an average roof height of about sixteen feet above ground level, and at normal water pressure from our own well, we create an 85 foot ‘wetting radius’.  These ‘fire preventers’ have been installed on the Primary’s dwellings for many years, and tested at least annually.  There is a gasoline fired generator tied in via a cross-over switch so we are not reliant on our public utility district for firefighting water.  The generator is tested monthly.  In addition only alcohol free gasoline that has been ‘Stabil-ized’ is ever used in the generator.           

Creation and placement of “portable” ponds
We live in a semi-arid area.  Some people call it an actual desert.  Water is generally at a premium.  However, we are fortunate to have good drinking and plant water 13 to 18 feet below the surface.  Therefore, we have figured water into our defenses.  Through the creative use of barrier materials we expect to have some control over approach paths that attackers might use.  We believe in stockpiling to quite a degree.  Some of the items we stockpile are 100 foot by 50 foot rolls of 10 mil clear and black plastic.  When you keep the unopened boxes away from temperature extremes and sunlight this type plastic will store for years.  Taking advantage of our very flat terrain the use of some shallow ‘ponds’ figure in our defenses. 

Using pine root balls, pine sharpened sticks, smooth and barbed wire, we will funnel attackers into narrow defiles that have “wading puddles” that are about a foot deep, and too broad to jump across as the only path of advancement.  So, what use is this?  Well, according to the National Weather Service we only have thirty ‘frost free’ nights per year.  Most nights will give our ponds at least skim ice.  A lot of the time our ponds will be mini skating rinks.  Getting wet in this terrain and altitude will most likely contribute to hypothermia at the very least.  So, by combining our defensive works to funnel attackers into certain, narrow areas, insuring those narrow areas are centered on firing lanes from our positions, and causing attackers to meet a water barrier at the time we are able to increase our effective fire may act as enough of a deterrent to cause people to think twice about coming closer.  We hope so, but are not counting on it.           

Garden hose use in fire fighting
Garden hoses are usually shunned when firefighters talk of structure fires.  While most of my personal fire fighting has been confined to ships, aircraft and oil field structures, I offer the following:  A garden hose with normal household water pressure equipped with a nozzle that creates a solid stream can be quite useful.  The solid stream is needed to get the greatest range.  The water stream is directed to the base of the fire just as one should do using a CO2 extinguisher.  When the stream comes in contact with the burning material the water will flash to steam and rise.  This conversion from liquid to steam pulls the heat out of the fire, cooling the fire and, therefore, reducing its rate of spreading.  This can gain you valuable minutes while you wait for additional help to arrive.  Others recommend a fine spray type nozzle based on what a firefighter would use.  Firefighters use the spray pattern quite often.  The difference is, they are using firefighting equipment that is probably delivering at least 60 PSI at 60 GPM.  Their spray nozzle can project water about as far as you can with a small solid stream from your garden hose.  It will still gain you time.

Finally, one must keep everything in proper perspective.  One of our group is always coming up with things like,”Yes, but what if they fly in and hit us with napalm?  We’re all gonna be dead.”  Our response is generally to concede that enough napalm will in fact ruin our day.  But then we point out that all we are doing, and all we can do is attempt to increase the odds of survival in any given situation.  A more realistic problem in our area involves the numerous one ton, four wheel drive, jacked up trucks.  Our goal for them remains to slow or delay their progress within reasonable shooting distances. We are a group of like minded preppers who strive to be as ready as possible when TEOTWAWKI descends upon us.  We feel one of our greatest strengths lie in understanding there is much information out there that we don’t know.  We continuously strive to explore new subjects and hold regular training and “Table-Top Scenario” sessions for all members.