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How to Build a Tornado Safe Room

(4 votes, average 4.25 out of 5)
Written by Terry Swift   

tornado shelter


So you have assessed your risk and decided to build a tornado safe room, also simply called safe room or storm room.

A storm room is a wise investment. They are relatively inexpensive, typically ranging from $2,500 to $5,000, a small price to pay for the safety and well-being of your family and most precious and important belongings. And depending on where you live, you may even be eligible for tax credits and/or insurance discounts!

But there are many types of storm rooms-- many designs and many different types of materials used to construct them.

Some specifications that should be common to all storm rooms are as follows:

--The room must not have any windows
--The room should not be constructed in a flood zone or storm surge zone
--All surfaces of the room should be able to withstand winds of up to 250 mph and windborne projectiles
--The room's door should open inward to assure easy opening after the storm in the case that fallen debris blocks door face
--The room should be anchored securely to a concrete foundation to resist overturning or uplifting

Keeping those common design characteristics in mind, here are some additional steps to help you determine how to build your own personal storm room.


Step 1: Determine where your safe room will be.

Ideally you would want to include a safe room in the construction of your new home, preferably in the basement but possibly on the first floor of the home.

The next-best option if you own an existing home with no safe room would to be build the safe room separate of, though easily accessible from, the house. This can mean a simple room addition.

It is possible, though very likely much more expensive, to retrofit an existing home with a safe room. For instance, you will likely need to add thickness to your slab where the safe room will be. This is not exactly practical. Or cheap. You may also have to reconstruct basement walls if you plan incorporate your safe room into it, given the fact that some basements are not constructed of steel-reinforced concrete material. This is also a far cry from practical or easy!

Step 2: Determine what type of structure you will build.

There are many different ways of building a safe room. Some storm safe rooms are nothing more than pre-fabricated reinforced concrete structures which can be plugged right into where you want them. These might look much like a septic tank in design.

A popular choice is the DuPont StormRoom with Kevlar. The walls are constructed of kevlar, a product used in bullet-proof vests by police and military. The kevlar is bonded to a 4-inch panel of engineered foam, sandwiched between two layers of plywood. This serves as a sort of trampoline, sending projectiles in retreat as the wind blows them against the exterior of the room.

These are but two options. As stated before, there are many more. Research online, talk to contractors in your area who build or install safe rooms, and seek out people who own storm rooms. Ask what they like and wish they'd done differently when having their own built. You'll get a good idea of what you want.

Step 3: Determine how to customize and equip your safe room.

If you live inland and are building your safe room strictly for protection from a possible tornado, you may be able to get away with building a smaller structure with fewer features. It is recommended that you allow 5 square feet per person in your safe room.

On the other hand, if you are building for protection against hurricanes, it is recommended that you allow 10 square feet per person.

The reason for this discrepancy has to do with comfort related to length of time typically spent in a safe room during a storm. A hurricane has a much longer wait time--perhaps 24 to upwards of 72 hours--than does a tornado. It's not likely you'll spend any more than two hours in a safe room to ride out a tornado.

Determine your needs and allow for ventilation of your safe room, possible toilet facilities and just general elbow room!

Don't forget your first aid kit and emergency kit, including any medications you need, emergency radio, batteries, flashlight, basic tools, blankets, water, etc. A safe room's number one function is to protect you from the storm. But you will want to survive the aftermath of the storm as well, and be as comfortable as possible while doing it, so don't forget to equip your room!

Comments (1)add comment

jswana said:

I've heard of these types of tornado safe rooms but living in the city, never felt the need but they seem very, very wise to have when living in rural areas where they're (the tornadoes) unfortunately likely to touch down. Thanks for sharing.
May 18, 2010
Votes: -1

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