Storm Shelter Made from a School Bus

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

I saw on the news today that a couple bought a school bus for $800 and buried it underground (another $800 to dig the hole), and it serves as a storm shelter for their mobile home park.

Living in tornado alley, we've been contemplating some sort of storm shelter. I mentioned this concept to my brother and he's intrigued. He said our schools auction off old buses frequently so getting one wouldn't be difficult. He owns a backhoe, so digging the hole would be free, except for the fuel.

Our question is, how do we waterproof the bus? I can't find anything on the internet about waterproofing an underground bus. My brother is afraid water will filter in and mold will set up.

Have any of you done this before? If so, how did you keep it dry? The last few years, our springs and falls have been so wet, to the point of disastrous flooding. How would we keep water from seeping in with each rain? We can caulk windows and doors of course, but what about other crevices that we can't get to, like under the hood and dash? Maybe we just wrap the entire bus in tarps?

Any ideas?


Hornick, IA(Zone 4b)

My thoughts would be check weather you have any slope to use to your advantage. How much area you have, then consider placing a berm over the bus instead of digging down the full depth.. ventilation should take care of mold, in addition of keeping it clean and the use of some bleach, when cleaning. the berm would take care of any tornado the vent system could be damaged but all would be safe inside unless you put it it in a natural runoff area. The berm would deflect any water to go around the sides. However you may need to check your local codes to see if the bus would be okay.

Durhamville, NY(Zone 5b)

I think sealing it water tight is going to be a big challenge. Windows don't seal good on a new bus let alone a 10+ year old one. There are air leaks between the area where the switches are and the out side. If I was going to do something like this I'd take the bus body off the chassis. The next time I have to run a bus over to the repair shop I'll take a look under one to see how the body is held on. I suspect just U-bolts.

This would allow you to have a better access and you can sell the chassis for scrap and get much of your money back. Personally If I could afford more money I'd consider going to a used intermodal shipping container.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Yep ~ I agree on the shipping container. We know two people here that have buried them for storm and storage shelters.

Even then, they have sealed the outside of the container for deterioration with a tar or asphalt based sealer.

When they excavated the location they placed gravel for better drainage under the container and one even went to far as to plumb a drainage pipe should he have a water problem.

The vent pipe (which you will want) will help with the moisture/condensation as mentioned by randbponder.

Off to read Doug9345s' link... Kristi

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

I imagine something like this would be great for a food storage cellar also? I agree with the idea of only burying the bus part way and then could you make the 'berm' with concrete? Just pour over the top. That would still be pretty cheap because you wouldn't need much for forms, labor, and there would be no floor or walls poured. If you wanted to really double your money, maybe you could buy the bus halfway, then cover with the cement, making the top perfectly fat. Now you can use the top for? a picnic table, patio area? or even set a small lawn shed or play house over it?

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

Concrete is expensive and heavy. I worry it would cave in the bus. We do want to bury it completely. It would be too ugly to leave sticking out. But someone mentioned putting tar all around it. That's feasible.

I really like the idea of burying a storage unit, like a storage trailer. But with the bus, we'd already have seats so everyone could be comfortable. We could even run electricity to it and have fans and a TV. We'd have to make it as comfortable as possible for my mother. She never leaves her home, not even for tornadoes. We've had some close calls and she lives in a mobile home next to us. She refused to come to my sturdier house (built with actual rough-cut oak 2 x 6's). We'd bury the container in her backyard so she wouldn't have far to go. But she'd only go if it had a TV, a heater, and a comfortable chair or seating.

So my brother have been mulling over our options. We'll look around and see what we can come up with cheaply. If we put electricity in it, I think we could be very comfortable, like a home away from home. The I could even check out DG while I'm underground. LOL

Hornick, IA(Zone 4b)

Butterfly Chaser; School bus construction is very sturdy, for the purpose you are looking at. and you are right you don't really need it for a bomb shelter. Digging part way down. put gravel or drain tube around the bus, cover most of the windows with either sheet metal or even treated ply wood . cover it all with earth berm would be sufficient. Of course don't forget the ventilation and your electric. the earth berm would deflect all the high wind of a tornado, once the earth has had time to settle and pack down. A tornado usually won't last for more than a few minutes in one given spot. so the 200 + mph winds wouldn't have time to erode enough of your earth berm away.
Nearly all of the caves built around here have earth berm over the top ; not much more than 1ft. You would want the berm to extend out away from the bus far enough that it would just look like a small mound.
While true, most caves are constructed of cement blocks and have a domed roof, I think your bus idea would last as long as you wanted, just maybe not the 100 years plus that most of the block constructed caves around here do.
Our cave is small compared to a school bus. So it was rather cramped and we didn't want to stay in it any longer than necessary, so once the storm had passed, even though it was still pouring down rain, we made a bee line for the house.

Ripley, MS

Nancy, check with your county to see if there are funds available for storm shelters, some federal money was sent to some of the more frequent hit areas. You might come out better that way.

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

Well, thanks for that info, Sandra. I didn't know about that. I'll check around and see what I can find out. We were hit pretty badly back in 68, 72, and 81. I don't think our area has had any major damage since then, but those tornadoes did a lot of damage and killed a few people. We lost our walmart, our high school completely and lots of homes. We hold our breaths when the tornadoes come rolling thru. Some funding would be great. We could put it in my mom's backyard, which would be the center of the neighborhood and all the neighbors could use it too. Thanks, Sandra!! You may have just saved some lives.


Ripley, MS

I hope you can get some help, let us know!

Clay Center, KS(Zone 5b)

Thoughts about a "storm" shelter:
Is it left unlocked? Who might use it, ie, drug users, homeless, etc.?
If it is locked, then how is it accessed it when a storm is threatened?
Liability issue, who might "fall" or "wander" into it, or be injured? What liability insurance covers it?
I agree with the idea, but the risks could out-weigh the benefits.
Please give me your input.

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

We're a private neighborhood, and we're all related. So there wouldn't be much liability unless someone came trespassing. Just those of us (family) who live on my brother's land would be using the storm shelter and any of our friends and family who happen to be in the area when a tornado is spotted.

We inherited a tiny storm shelter years ago when my brother bought all this land. It flooded and was moldy and tiny and none of us wanted to go in it. He ended up filling it in. Before that though, there was never a problem with anyone getting in it except us or the neighbors who owned the land at that time.

Should someone wander in and get hurt, we do have homeowner's insurance and I'm sure that would cover it. But it's a rather unlikely scenario.

Baytown, TX(Zone 9a)

As for sealing the windows they sell an item on tv that is in a spray can that seals about anything......just can't think of the name of it. They cut a hole in the bottom of a boat and then sealed it with this stuff and then put it in the water and supposedly it did not leak.

I will try and remember the name of the stuff. I think you get two cans for $19.99 plus ship and handling. Don't know how far it would go.


Jacksonville, FL

EPA will not let you bury any solvents or oils.All lines,parts, running gear and tires would have to be removed completely.

Some places you can bury the shell or body of the bus,of course thats all you need anyway.I have a bus and thought of the same thing,since deisel is so high travel is seldom.

Good luck.

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