Every year strong wind storms such as Tornadoes and hurricanes cause millions of dollars in damage to properties and devastation to families across the United States and pretty much most of the world.
There's a solution to protecting yourself and your family from one of these monstrous storms.
The protection comes from building a safe room addition onto or within your existing house.
Safe rooms offer what FEMA calls "near-absolute protection" .
What does near absolute protection mean? This means that based on all the scientific knowledge to this day about what we know regarding fierce windstorms such as Tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of the safe room will have a very high probability of begin protected and coming out of the storm without a scratch. Just knowing that you have a safe room is enough to drop your blood pressure a few points, especially if you live in a tornado or hurricane prone area.
How do you know if you need to build a safe room addition? Not everyone needs a safe room, but here's a few questions developed by FEMA that can help you decide if near-absolute protection is something you should consider to keep you and your family safe.
1. Do you live in an area that is of high risk for tornadoes or hurricanes?
2. If a wind storm is forecasted to hit your neighborhood, how quickly can you reach a safe shelter that can protect you from extreme winds and flying debris?
3. When it comes to wind storm protection, what level of safety do you provide for yourself and your family now?
4. Lastly, can you afford building a safe room addition onto or within your house?
Choosing a Safe Room Location
The purpose of your safe room is to protect you and your family from storms with extreme winds. Tornadoes and hurricanes launch objects at great speeds which then become missiles. Safe rooms are built to prevent missiles from injuring the occupants inside. Safe rooms should be located so that they can be reached quickly from all parts of your home, because with tornadoes sometimes you only have 30 seconds of visual and audible warning before it hits. Safe rooms built in hurricane prone areas must not be built where storm surge can flood the area, as this poses as serious risk to the safe room occupants. All safe rooms should be anchored securely to your homes foundation to prevent overturning and uplift.
Does a Newly Constructed Home Automatically Protect You From Hurricanes and Tornadoes
Unfortunately most homes are not built to withstand tornados and hurricanes because the building cost of the home would practically double. It's because of the added material and labor costs that a safe room built to provide near-absolute protection from these storms, is the best solution for people who live in areas prone to hurricanes and tornadoes. It is true however that newer homes better resist the forces of wind and windborne debris that are built in accordance with the latest building codes in areas that are prone to hurricanes . A tornado or hurricane can force debris and wind loads onto a home that can overpower what even these upgraded building codes are based on; therefore, a safe room is still the best protection for you and your family during these extreme wind events.
Sizing a Safe Room Design
A tornado is usually a short lived event so if you are in a tornado prone area, building a safe room for your family would dictate roughly 5 square feet per person to be protected. A hurricane on the other hand is usually a long event so planning a safe room for 24 hour storms requires factoring in more square footage per person to provide comfort. It's also a good idea to keep in mind that sometimes the door to a safe room can become blocked so the occupants must wait until a rescue team clears the blockage before the occupants can leave the room. Planning the size of your safe room is an important discussion to have with your entire family so that you can factor in all the variables that they will add to this equation. The larger you build, the bigger the cost will be, but if you have to wait out a storm for 24 hours in a claustrophobic space, getting that extra square footage could be a priceless amenity in the long run.
Basement Safe Rooms
A home with a full basement is one of the best candidates for a safe room addition, because it's heavy foundation floor, concrete walls, and concrete footers are sitting underground and away from flying debris. The weight of the foundation also anchors a safe room built in the basement extremely well. A negative about building a safe room in the basement is that the house above can block the safe room exit or a storm surge can flood the basement. All these factors must be considered before a safe room location and type are chosen for your safety needs. The cheapest solution to a basement safe room is to build one in the corner utilizing two of the concrete walls. This is called a lean-to safe room design and it uses the fewest materials and labor to construct. Keep in mind that a separate reinforced ceiling will be built over this type of safe room to protect from flying debris from the floor above.
Slab on Grade Safe Room Design
A slab on grade is basically a concrete floor on top of soil. When you build a safe room in a home that is built slab on grade, you typically have to pour a ticker floor in the area where the safe room will be constructed to give it greater ability to resist higher wind speeds than the rest of the house could stand. The thickened concrete slab will act like an anchor and provide greater structural support even if the rest of the house is destroyed in an extreme wind event. The walls must be completely separate from the structure of the existing house. By keeping the walls separate it's possible for the safe room to remain standing even if portions of the existing home have been destroyed. Sometimes you can renovate an existing bathroom or closet to act as your safe room. All the walls and ceilings will be rebuilt to withstand flying debris and extreme winds.
Picture a Box Within a Box = Safe Room
A safe room is really not that complicated and most contractors with a little help from FEMA can easily build a safe room in accordance to your needs and wants. Picture a separate box (safe) standing somewhere within your house and anchored to your foundation, that box is a safe room. Using standard building materials a safe room is constructed to withstand flying debris, uplifting, and being blown away. FEMA provides detailed safe room building instructions to help homeowners build a piece of mind within their home to give every occupant the reassurance that everything will be okay. Hopefully you never have to use your safe room, but if you do live in an area prone to severe wind storms such as tornados and hurricanes, it is a very wise idea to build yourself a safe room.