Shelter from Tornadoes in a Home Safe Room
Texas has the highest average annual number of tornadoes in the United States. According to the Texas Almanac, an average of 132 tornadoes touch down each year. While tornadoes are more common during late spring and early summer, that does not make them predictable. They can occur at any time, any day, of any month, and that can be frightening for a family. Do you have a residential safe room for your loved ones to take shelter at a moment’s notice?
New or Existing Home? You Have Options.
While an in-ground shelter or tornado cellar is the safest place to be during a tornado, a residential safe room can offer similar protection for homes without a basement. A safe room can be integrated into a new home design or most existing homes.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) a safe room is defined as, “a structure that will provide near-absolute protection from severe storms.”
Safe rooms must meet specific safety standards and be constructed according to federal laws, and they need to be able to withstand 250 mph winds and over 3,000 pounds of force, more than an EF-5 tornado.
This is a client project where we added the safe room into the floor of the master closet.
How to Build a Safe Room?
First, you will need to determine if your safe room will be built above or below ground. You should then consult with a registered design professional such as an architect or engineer who is familiar with the construction of safe rooms. They can make recommendations for reputable builders and can also guide you so that your safe room will meet or exceed current FEMA criteria.
Residential safe rooms can be added to the design of a new home build or built as a stand-alone above or below ground shelter. There are companies that focus solely on manufacturing storm shelters that can be ordered and installed in your home.
This above-ground storm shelter can be installed in your garage, basement, or wherever you can anchor it to a concrete foundation. Photo by Protection Shelters LLC
Alternatively, you can upgrade a room such as an interior bathroom, bedroom, pantry, closet, or office to become your safe room. This option allows you to continue using your safe room every day and not just in an emergency.
If you plan to modify a room or retrofit an existing room, you must plan for the safe room to be anchored to the foundation, but the walls and ceiling framing must not be connected to the house framing. Imagine if a tornado tore off the roof of your house, you would want your safe room to still be standing independently and not be compromised by damaged house ceiling or roof framing.
How Large Should a Safe Room Be?
When planning the size of your safe room, keep in mind how many people (and pets) it will need to accommodate, and any special accessibility needs your family might have.
Remember, if you are converting a closet, for example, into a safe room, it will need to be large enough to hold all the people taking shelter in addition to the clothes and household items normally stored there. In the event of a fast-approaching storm or tornado, you will not have time to empty the closet to make room for people.
What Materials are Needed to Build a Safe Room?
A typical safe room is made of concrete, steel, and plywood or fiberglass. It must be adequately anchored to the foundation to resist overturning and uplift. Safe rooms can be built on a concrete slab-on-grade foundation, a garage floor, or in an interior room on the first floor of your home.
You may also want to consider a prefabricated manufactured shelter or safe room to save on costs. Just make sure it meets FEMA’s recommendations, that it will be securely anchored to the foundation, and that it will provide adequate ventilation.
How Much Does a Safe Room Cost?
The cost of your safe room will vary, depending on the type of foundation your home is built on, and the size and location of your shelter. If you are building a new home or planning a renovation, making small changes to a room already being built is a cost-effective way to add a safe room. Additionally, check with your local emergency management office to see if funds and grants are available for retrofitting your safe room.
What Goes Inside a Safe Room?
Once your residential safe room is built, you’ll want to equip it with emergency preparedness items. Comfort and safety supplies such as water, flashlights, batteries, a radio, non-perishable food, and blankets will help your family be comfortable for a few hours until the storm passes. Survival items should be added to ensure you can weather a few days or longer should a severe disaster hit your area.
If you’re unable to find a contractor to help build a safe room for you, there are some DIY options available (see below and click on image for more detail). Always do your research and consult with professionals when possible.
I have an existing 20X30 carport with concrete floor. I want to convert to museum with ballistic panels, safe doors etc to display gun collection. I am looking for a contractor to do this for me.
Can I build a safe room in my bathroom in my hallway and is in the middle of the house with an outside wall?
We are building a new house ..what do we have to do to put a storm shelter in a bathroom
If possible, use a room with no windows or exterior walls. You could also consider a heavy-duty door with stronger hinges and a reinforced frame. You could add reinforcing panels of steel or plywood to the walls and ceiling. Use screws instead of nails for stronger connections. Strengthening how the walls are anchored to the foundation is important, as well as adding metal straps to tie the roof framing to the walls to prevent roof lift. FEMA has a guide to designing storm shelters. Check it out here: https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_taking-shelter-from-the-storm_p-320.pdf
When it comes to safe rooms, the more interior walls, the better. If a bathroom with an exterior wall is your only or best option, use it but have a plan in place to access safety and shelter supplies (shoes, bike helmets, blankets, etc). The better option might be a center hallway of the house, especially if the bathroom has a window.
I am thinking of building a safe room in my basement. I have a couple storage rooms that could be used.
What part of the United States do you live in
Check with your town to see if they have a storm shelter registry. If a home is destroyed in a tornado, it helps the first responders to know where to look for you in a basement or underground shelter.
did you know Fema gives Cities Grants to help Citicents Pay for their Storm Shelters, the Cities just have to put in the application, and if you live in an area that frequently has Tornados, Hurricanes, your City most likes likely could get one, I am about to go talk to our City Mayor. Our little town had 1 red light a little Piggly Wiggly and 2 Dollar Stores, So this is going to be like pulling teeth to get him to do anything. I”ll have to slap on some of my southern charm!!! lol Good luck to any who try it out Let us know how it goes!!!!!
would it be cheaper to build a safe/storm shelter room inside in a closet or in an open carport above ground?
In deciding the best location for your saferoom, you should take into consideration space available, how many people will shelter there, and the budget available. If you have a large walk-in closet, you could add reinforcing panels of steel or plywood to the walls and ceiling. Strengthening how the walls are anchored to the foundation is important, as well as adding metal straps to tie the roof framing to the walls to prevent roof lift. FEMA has a guide to designing storm shelters. Check it out here: https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_taking-shelter-from-the-storm_p-320.pdf
Another option is to purchase and install a pre-fab, stand-alone shelter. These heavy-duty, welded steel “pods” work well in a garage or can be fit under a stair during new construction. I would avoid putting a storm shelter in an exposed carport unless the product was specifically designed and tested for an exterior installation and to withstand extreme wind and flying debris.
Elizabeth, to address your question about which is cheaper, you may have to talk to a local contractor in your area about the cost to modify one of the rooms in your home vs. installing and outside storm shelter pod. For comparison’s sake, here’s a $3,700 stand-alone shelter available through Home Depot that can be placed in a carport (please note this is an affiliate link, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if you choose to make a purchase).