Sunday, August 25, 2013

Converting the Bomb Shelter (Air Raid Shelter)

When we first saw the house, we thought there might be an outbuilding under all the overgrowth in the backyard.  After talking to the neighbors, we found out there was a genuine WWII concrete bomb shelter.  (Though they keep telling me it's called an air raid shelter.)  This isn't an Anderson shelter, it is a full-on concrete bomb shelter with a baffle wall.  Here's a photo of what it looked like when we finally made it through the overgrown back garden and got a semi-proper look.

Since the focus has been on the house, it has taken a while to get around to the bomb shelter.  We initially cleared out all the junk (there was a rusted car door among loads of other pieces of useless junk!  But I did save a sewing box crate.  More on that later.)  The post has been a long time coming and is rather long, so sorry for the ramble!


I started a massive clean-up project of removing overgrowth, about a ton a rubble and a wasp nest from around the shelter.  It was physically demanding work (and a little scary) but finally got the area cleared.

That's when I started looking inside the bomb shelter.  We'd talked about doing something to the shelter down the making it a super small/weird man cave.  Or kitting it out to be as-authentic-as-possible to what it would have been like in the 1940's.  At any rate, Niall and I both see it as a kind of amazing piece of history, so we didn't want to remove it or change it structurally.

Our electrician surprised us by putting in a light and a plug.  And I started to think it was kind of a shame that the bomb shelter was sitting empty.  I realized it's actually a pretty sturdy little building, despite the floor being disgusting.

The door (I kind of think it's adorable) rotting away.  There were all sorts of bugs living inside and a few frogs.

New Floor and Paint

I cleared out all the rubbish, swept, vacuumed, swept again, scrubbed with bleach, and ended up with this.


Since the shelter's concrete floor is laid directly into the dirt there is rising damp.  I did a lot of research and talked to as many folks as I could think of to find a solution.  Our go-to builders are all tied up with jobs, and I we wanted to keep costs down.

Long story short, we ended up renting a cement mixer and getting a quarter ton of concrete (four bags aggregate, four bags sand and one bag of cement.)  I laid down in a damp proof membrane and then did my best to mix up a cement floor.  (We were going for a 55mm thick slab, as I'd read that's what we'd need for this type of project.) 

I am a concrete know-nothing, so I called my brother for some help.  And talked to a few guys at the building yard.  And watched a lot of youtube videos.  I poured the floor, leveled it with a long board and level, and then used a trowel to smooth.  My brother had told me about 'cream' that rises when cement is laid.  I loved that tip; when I initially poured the concrete it was a rocky mess.  But, sure enough, the cream made its way to the top so I could smooth the grey liquid over the rocks. The floor ended up okay-ish.  I was actually quite proud that we managed to get it in, and get the yard cleaned up from the massive cement making mess!

Painting inside was a bit of a trick.  I called several paint companies to see what they recommended using to paint a 70-year old concrete cell.  Several told me they didn't make anything suitable.  Dulux recommended their cellar paint, primed with a few mist coats of vinyl matt.  The cellar paint is about £80/tin.  So instead, I got a can of mis-tint vinyl matt and a mis-tint can of their exterior masonry paint.  I love mis-tints.  It was £15 for both.  The colors weren't exactly what I wanted (ie. white) but since they were about £90 less than what I'd pay retail, I decided it was okay.  The masonry color looked grey outside but light brown in the bomb shelter.

The area isn't big, but we used almost 20 litres of paint (and that's with two coats of the vinyl watered down.)  I say 'we' because a certain three-year old was very keen to help.  And help she did!  The concrete was almost like a sponge and took so much paint!  (You can see the newly-poured floor below.)

We ordered some yellow vinyl flooring.  And since it looked so rough around the edges, I put in some skirting.  Since the walls aren't flush, neither is the skirting.  And I'm going to have to do some touch-up and fill the gaps.  But it will do for now.  Hopefully the damp proof layer and paint will work against the elements.  Check back in a few years!


The trusty green wooden door, as I mentioned previously, was rotting.  Not just the door, but also the frame.  The structure is fairly similar to a gate, and since I made one of those I thought I could handle a smaller version.  But as we talked about it, we realized having a door with glass would really help to lighten things up.

For weeks and weeks I looked for a used wooden door with glass (or glazed) that we could cut down to size.  I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that I looked a lot of places and no luck.  

One day the girls and I drove out to Yooz (it's kind of like Restore, a big charity that recycles building materials) and found some wooden window that I thought maybe would work.  As luck would have it, they were giving wooden windows away on the day we were there, so they were free!  Our joiner is also completely booked, but he talked me through some basics on how to make a door myself.

I removed the fixings and used the Kreg Jig to attach an extra piece of wood.

Then I drilled some holes and chiseled (poorly!) a space to put in a tumbler latch.

And put in a new frame, then attached the door and painted it.

We had a few spare door knobs that I put on the new window/door.

Ha!  The one year old it pleased with her new play area.  We cleaned it again and scraped the paint from the window.

Glue is so tempting!

We got a little step stool from Ikea since there's a drop from the door to the ground.  The door has gaps, the skirting has gaps...things aren't perfect.  But they're good enough for now.

So just for a quick's what it used to look like.

Hopefully the girls will find the bomb shelter a fun play area...and maybe in time Niall will get his man cave after all!

Cost Break Down-

Concrete Mixer/Concrete/DPM:  £71
Paint:  £15
Vinyl Floor:  £21
Door hinges/hardware/wood:  £28
Skirting/Adhesive:  £14
Total:  £149


Alicia said...

Wow! Love your bomb shelter blog....way to go girl! You just keep on amazing us all with your DIY talents!!!!

Robo Hits said...

I glad to see your post about the Bomb Shelter and Blast Resistant Doors. Hope you continue with the more.


skidskid said...

Hiya, I'm working on a tv programme called Shed of the Year (channel 4) and I wondered if it would be possible to speak to you about your bunker! My email is - please drop me a line if you have a mo and I'll give you more details. Many thanks, Alice