According to the National Weather Service, tornadoes killed 125 people in the United States in 2008. Hurricanes can be equally destructive. Having a safe room built into your house can protect you and your family from the dangerous forces of nature.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed plans for a family shelter space for use in the event of a natural disaster. The safe room plans, researched by Texas Tech University, come in a variety of designs for rooms in the basement and rooms on the main floor for homes without basements.
The safe rooms are built out of reinforced concrete, reinforced concrete block, or wood-framed walls with plywood and steel sheathing. The room is covered with a similar structural ceiling/roof that is independent of the house structure. Everything is tied down to the foundation from the top of the safe room to resist the uplift forces generated during a tornado or hurricane. The exterior materials and structure of the safe room are impact resistant to protect the occupants from windborne debris.
Should I build a shelter?
In the event of a tornado, an in-home shelter would be well worth the time and money. Because tornadoes can occur with little or no warning, there is no time to escape to a well-built community shelter and leaving in an automobile at that time is dangerous.
Hurricanes can be seen for days by satellite before they hit land, so a family has some time to move to a safer location away from the coast. Leaving the area where a hurricane is going to hit is better than riding it out in an in-home shelter.
However, it is difficult to predict where hurricanes will make landfall, and those predictions may come too late to allow families to get away. Such was the case when Hurricane Floyd threatened Florida in 1999. When Hurricane Floyd was packing 155-mph winds (just under a Category 5) and chugging toward the East Coast of Florida, residents were caught in highway gridlock because so many people were trying to flee at the same time.
Construction plans and estimated costs
Each house design offers its own best location for an in-home shelter, but basement and interior locations are safer because they provide more protection from flying debris. The in-home shelter must be adequately anchored to the house's foundations, and the walls and roof must be designed to resist the impact of windborne debris that could be blown through typically constructed walls and roofs.
If the house has a basement and it is not in a flood-prone area, below grade in the basement may be the best place. If the house does not have a basement and it is slab-on-grade, making the in-home shelter an interior room may be the safest location.
The FEMA manual, titled "Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House," provides plans for several different types of in-home shelters and an in-ground shelter as well. The construction can be wood frame or concrete block and concrete. All plans have details and a materials list. The plans can be given to a contractor for estimates.
The costs in the FEMA manual were put together by the National Association of Home Builders. Depending on the type and size of the in-home shelter, and the construction type of the house (e.g., slab-on-grade, basement, crawl space), the estimated costs range from $2,000 to $6,000 for the new construction. Retrofitting an existing house typically costs more.
For more information, download a free, complete copy of 'Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business.'