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Storm Shelters and Concrete Storm Shelters – Weathering the Weather

As the illusion of ever-increasing complexities and danger is amplified by 24 hour news and the apocalyptic shows on Discovery and the History Channel some may wonder if they need to better protect themselves in their own homes.

Can one’s own home be a safe haven during the worst of storms?

In 2004 and 2005 US was hit by several hurricanes and we saw (or experienced) the destruction of these events. Homes today are being built by high structural standards – however they are designed, in reality, for wind events that occur in mid-sized hurricanes. Get a really big storm (a Category 4 or 5) and all bets are off.

Beyond evacuation and other very wise precautions, you can still provide for a way to get to safety in your own home by building what is called a safe room.. These are sometimes called storm shelters.

A safe room is a small windowless room that has been strengthened to resist the effects of wind pressures and the impact from windborne debris generated by extremely severe weather.  These are becoming rather common in Florida and other hurricane state.

A relatively cheap storm shelter can provide you and your family with a sense of security knowing that there is a space in your home that will withstand the forces of the worst hurricanes. These can also act as tornado shelters.

What is a safe room? It is usually a small space within the home that has special walls, ceilings, fastening systems and doors and are (to use an engineering term) really, really strong They can serve the vital purpose of providing safety for you and your lovelies during those scary events.

I’ve designed a few myself for folks who value the room’s existence even if they never actually use it. Seems a lot like insurance, doesn’t it?

These rooms can be separate or can be some part of the home, like a walk-in closet, which is built like the proverbial brick stink house. They need to be isolated from the main structure so that as the main home becomes unglued and turns into countless fragments, this little oasis of space remains unscathed.

The best way to do this, above ground, is to build a concrete storm shelter with walls that are reinforced masonry, with all the cells (the holes in the concrete block that you have seen) filled with reinforcing bars and concrete. Generally we form and pour concrete slab roof over top. This can be relatively inexpensive do to if you are building your home – it is easy to work into the structure.

One of my clients had me design his master walk-in closet and bathroom into a safe room. Its ceiling was designed to be concrete and rest just below the bottom chord of the trusses. The trusses could blow off and basically the entire home could collapse yet he and his family would remain safe.

Any structural engineer can design such as space for you. FEMA has a great guideline called FEMA320A “Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room inside your house”.

Of course, we can’t nor should we worry all the time. Life has its inherent risks. But, like insurance, a safe room can offer peace of mind – even if you never really use it.