Safe rooms can provide shelter from the storms

Published 8:48 pm Thursday, May 19, 2011

With hurricane season approaching, homeowners are at work to storm-proof their houses by fixing roofs, securing windows and ensuring the home’s stability.

One way to prepare for bad weather is to have a storm shelter built in your home, especially if you are considering or undergoing a renovation or even building a new home.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends storm shelters as a good way to protect your family from the high winds from hurricanes and tornadoes.

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FEMA defines a storm shelter “as a room within a room that will remain intact even if the surrounding house sustains major damage.”

The organization recommends the room should be able to withstand winds up to 200 miles per hours and debris such as tree branches and concrete blocks.

Mike Bolch, the federal coordinating officer for FEMA in North Carolina, said while any time is a good time to invest in a shelter, during construction or renovation is a good opportunity to take the plunge.

Storm shelters can double as bedroom closets, utility closets or bathrooms if you install them in a new home.

“Any time is a good time to install a safe room, but when a home undergoes restoration, that’s the best time to include a hardened bathroom or a reinforced closet,” he said. “It’s easier and less expensive to plan and build a safe room during a full-scale repair.”

A safe room placed in an existing home can cost more than if the same-sized room is installed during new construction of a house.

FEMA advises against safe rooms being installed in areas subject to high-velocity waves, floodways and areas prone to storm surges associated with category 4 and 5 hurricanes.

The cost of safe rooms also can vary based on size, location inside the house, type of door, foundation and location of the home, according to FEMA.

An 8-foot-by-8-foot storm shelter can cost $4,500 to $8,500, and a 14-foot-by-14-foot room can be $15,000 to $25,000, according to FEMA.

Tim Reinhold, senior vice president of research and engineering for Tampa, Fla.-based Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, said one way to incorporate a shelter is by transforming a closet into a safe room by replacing the sheet rock with layers of 3/4 inch plywood.

For a good amount of protection, Reinhold said you should install five layers.

“There’s a lot of difference you can make with just one level,” he said.

Reinhold recommends hiring a contractor to handle the construction unless the homeowner is extremely handy.

“You want to know what you’re doing or have a contractor who knows what he’s doing to (build) that for you,” he said.

FEMA suggests homeowners who aren’t as knowledgeable about construction can purchase pre-fabricated safe rooms that require less work to install.

The National Storm Shelter Association, a non-profit organization, has lists of reputable storm shelter vendors at its website at

For more information on storm shelters, review FEMA publications on the topic available at or call 1-800-480-2520.