Why Survival Bunkers Are So Expensive
Narrator: Buying a survival bunker used to be just something for doomsdayers and survivalists. But this factory in Texas can’t keep up with demand because of the pandemic.
Ron Hubbard: People want these like yesterday. They want them so bad; they’ll pay up to get them right now.
Narrator: The most basic habitable bunkers start at $50,000, not including installation. But if you want to include a movie theater, pool, and rock-climbing wall, you can spend as much as $4.5 million. So why do people spend this kind of cash on something they might never use? And why are bunkers so expensive?
Meet Ron Hubbard. Not the founder of Scientology – just Ron, the founder of Atlas Survival Shelters.
Ron Hubbard: So how do you get prepared? Well, you get your food and water, but once you have all that, you’re going to need a bunker. And that’s when I come into play.
Narrator: He sells bunkers out of his 10-acre factory in Sulphur Springs, Texas.
Ron Hubbard: First and foremost, we want to make sure that the bunkers are airtight, because God forbid any kind of airborne plague or smoke, chemical warfare, biological warfare, whatever.
Narrator: Ron says he builds about 24 bunkers a year that are the size of homes, as well as hundreds of smaller storm shelters. He says there’s a real demand for an underground escape, pandemic and politics aside.
Ron Hubbard: Conservative or liberal, you’ve just got to be concerned for the safety of your family in case this country ever ends up into any kind of revolution, civil war, or if we go into some kind of world war.
Narrator: The craze for bunkers is not exactly new.
Announcer: A new housing development near Denver, Colorado, shows the nation’s first model homes with built-in fallout shelters.
Narrator: Thousands of Americans built their own nuclear fallout shelters at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and ‘60s. They were made out of steel to protect against radiation.
Larry Hall converted a Cold War nuclear missile silo in central Kansas into a 15-story inverted skyscraper. The government decommissioned the silo, and Larry bought it for $300,000 in 2008.
Larry Hall: Whether it was Kim Jong-un before this, or Iran with the previous threats, or when Barack Obama was elected as president, or when Donald Trump was elected as president. I mean, people have a variety of fears.
Narrator: The Survival Condo Project has 12 apartments, some costing up to $4.5 million each. So far, he’s sold all but two of the condos.
Larry Hall: We have residential level five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, and 11. Then there’s a library and classroom, a theater and lounge, exercise and spa. We also have a sauna complete with different-colored mood lighting.
Narrator: After all, if you’re going to spend a serious amount of time trying to survive underground, and if you can afford it, you may as well thrive.
In recent years, personalized disaster prep has grown into a multimillion-dollar business. At least 13.2 million Americans say they have plans and provisions in place to survive a month or more without power, running water, or transportation.
Prepping can simply mean storing a number of items to help cope during a blackout, or having a storm shelter to survive tornadoes and hurricane-force winds.
Since the start of 2021, storm shelter sales are up 30%. That’s on top of a 35% increase the previous year.
Michelle Barbee: Possibly part of what has driven that increase in sales is that 2020 was such a traumatic year for all of us. So putting a storm shelter in place for their family was something they can control. They could actually impact and have some control over the safety of their family.
Narrator: But bunkers are in a different league. Ron sells bunkers with a variety of add-ons like escape tunnels and hidden doors.
Ron Hubbard: So this typically will have a secret passage leading to a secret hatch going down to a secret room. This isn’t our grandfather’s bomb shelter. They have all the bells and whistles that you would have in a house. I mean, if you can have it in a house, you can have it in the bunker.
Narrator: This model costs about $500,000 and fits three private bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room, and a game room. Ron says he has over a year’s worth of back orders, even though prices for the materials to build the bunkers have gone up between 15% and 20% since last November.
Ron Hubbard: The cost of wood has tripled, the cost of steel’s tripled, the cost of gas has doubled. Everything’s gone through the roof.
Narrator: Some people decide to build their own shelters. About 60 miles outside of Dallas, a doctor in his 40s built his own 1,200-square-foot bunker. He asked to remain anonymous about his labor of love.
Doctor: I look at this as kind of like life insurance and disability insurance. It’ something that you have if you can afford it.
Narrator: So far, he’s spent around $100,000 on the bunker that sits underneath his home and has yet to actually use.
Doctor: I don’t advertise it. I don’t mind when I have family or friends over. I’ll give them tours, show it, but publicly I don’t want everyone to know about it.
Narrator: But what makes a bunker so costly?
Larry Hall: The pretty things like the stainless-steel appliances and nicer furniture and the higher ceilings are all really relatively low-cost. The things that are the cost drivers are the life-support systems. Those are tremendously expensive.
Narrator: Bunkers are made of steel and concrete. It took the doctor about a year and $22,000 worth of materials to plan and engineer his bunker. He paid an excavation company $12,200 to dig a hole 80 feet long and 50 feet wide and about 16 feet below ground. Then he built the bunker quickly, because he was afraid rain would ruin the excavation work. He poured a concrete foundation, walls, and filled in the dirt around and over it. He paid more than $20,000 for concrete, $12,000 for Styrofoam, and $2,000 for this single door. He said he’ll invest another $30,000 to build out a kitchen and other rooms. Of course, he’s already stocked the bunker with $30,000 worth of guns and ammunition.
Pandemic fears are likely to stay strong for years after it’s over. And the truth is, there’s always something to fear.
Ron Hubbard: Nobody knows what the future has, so the attitude is: it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.