How to Design a Safe Room

The pros and cons of three types of safe rooms that can help protect your family during severe weather.


THREE TYPES TO CONSIDER

THE PROS: BASEMENT

Because it's below ground, a basement shelter provides the most protection from debris.

Depending on your basement's features, this can be one of the easiest and cheapest ways to install a shelter in an existing home.

THE PROS: IN-GROUND

Installing a shelter below a concrete slab — the one that form's your garage's floor, for example — is a good way to carve out room when space is at a premium.

THE PROS: ABOVE-GROUND

If you don't have a lot of space in your house, creating an adjacent above-ground storm shelter might make sense.

A separate above-ground space also is the best bet for areas with high water tables.

For maximum security, the shelter's walls must be separate from those of the main structure, and they need solid reinforcement.

THE CONS: BASEMENT

By converting all or part of a basement into a storm shelter, you give up storage space.

Basement shelters aren't appropriate in areas that might flood during a hurricane or storm surge.

THE CONS: IN-GROUND

Depending on the size of your slab, these shelters may skew small. That might be find if you're waiting out a tornado, but less comfortable for a longer-lasting storm such as a hurricane.

Like basement safe rooms, shelters built under slabs aren't appropriate for flood-prone regions.

Take care to ensure that any mobility-challenged family members can make it into the shelter without difficulty.

THE CONS: ABOVE-GROUND

An above-ground shelter may require a separate entrance. If you have to leave your home to get to the shelter, make sure the shelter is nearby and that you can get into it as quickly and easily as possible.

CAN YOU DIY?: BASEMENT

Depends on your basement and your skills. The simplest basement storm shelter is built into a corner, lean-to style, and uses two of the basemen's walls. But not all basement walls measure up to FEMA's standards. Unless they're reinforced with steel, they may not withstand damage from wind and debris.

CAN YOU DIY?: IN-GROUND

Working an in-ground shelter into plans for a building under construction is relatively simple. Installing one in an existing home is much harder because you have to excavate.

CAN YOU DIY?: ABOVE-GROUND

Possibly, or you can buy a pre-manufactured unit that meets the standards set by the National Storm Shelter Association. Make sure the slab is adequately reinforced to support the structure and is firmly attached to it. Consults a structural engineer to confirm it.

COST: BASEMENT

$1,500 TO $8,000*

COST: ABOVE-GROUND

$6,000 TO $12,000*

COST: IN-GROUND

$3,500 TO $10,000*

*price=installed


Disaster-preparedness guides often instruct you to head to your basement in case of dangerous weather, but that's not always an option. In Joplin, Missouri, where a powerful tornado killed 158 people in 2011, almost nine of every 10 homes had no basement. And basements aren't always safe because of broken windows, flying debris and the potential for flooding.

For many there's a better option: specially built safe rooms and storm shelters that help protect your family while the weather rages. "If you know there's a safe place, you don't have to worry so much when you see a storm coming." says Ernst Kiesling, executive director of the National Storm Shelter Association, which studies and improves hurricane and tornado shelters. An appropriate shelter depends on your location, the size of your family and your home's condition. For example if you're in an area with a high risk of hurricanes, consider a larger shelter because you may have to wait out the storm for hours. Tornadoes pass by relatively quickly.

The chart above helps you figure out what kind of shelter best suits your needs. Make sure your shelter meets Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommendations for "near-absolute protection" in extreme weather. Satisfactory shelters should withstand a tornado classified as EF-5, with wind speeds possibly exceeding 200 miles per hour.

"This is not an area where you want to do the minimum," Kiesling advises. "You don't want to worry whether the coming storm has 160 mph winds or 250 mph winds. Your shelter should be able to withstand the worst-case scenario."


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